You know how it is - so many games, so little time. Particularly if playing games becomes your job; that pile of shame soon rises to an embarrassing height. But, if we're totally honest, that pile of shame has existed since well before we got this job, with many a title bought with good intentions but barely began, and even more on our wishlist. One such game was the original The Longest Journey/Dreamfall saga, which we somehow never got round to, despite being a big fan of similar point-and-click adventures - a combination of an ailing PC and never having owned an Xbox meant it was one of those games we just never quite found time for. It was just our luck, then, that another entry in the series would come round before we'd had chance to go back to the originals and swot up on the story. And after the first hour or so of Dreamfall Chapters, oh how we wished we'd got round to playing the earlier games...
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You see, for the newcomer, Dreamfall Chapters can feel like a bit of a confusing wall of terms, references and mechanics, with little in the way of explanations at all. Dreamachines, Storytime and a shadowy world of people's nightmares make little sense if you're not already familiar with the setting and story. Likewise, the first puzzle you have to solve relies on protagonist Zoe's 'Dream Powers', a set of special abilities she can use to manipulate the nightmarish world she finds herself trapped in, without giving you any indication of what they are, what they do, or even that they exist.
Not long after the beginning of the game, you come across a terrified young girl haunted by a weird tentacle-y monster emanating from her wardrobe; its only a nightmare, and not at all real, but you need to help convince the girl of that so she can head off to sleep again.
With nothing to interact with save the wardrobe and the girl, it's not really initially obvious how you're meant to solve the puzzle, especially considering the somewhat obtuse options you have to choose from - Mind, Time and Light. Luckily, though, it turns out that while the graphics may have come on a lot, the old fail-safe point-and-click strategies are still the same, and so we stuck with tradition, and simply tried everything until something happened, in this case reading the girl's thoughts with 'Mind' to find she'd dropped her torch under the bed. Fumbling around between interacting with the bed and the various abilities, we eventually got hold of the aforementioned torch, at which point it was a simple matter of shining the beam on the tentacles to defeat the monster. Or at least, it would have been, had the tentacles been a little bit more lethargic - instead, they were whipping around so rapidly that it was actually impossible to point the torch at them. This is where Zoe's 'Time' ability comes in - letting you stop time for a moment, you can use it to freeze the tentacles in place, letting you shine a light on them with ease, defeating the monster, and saving the girl in one go.
Almost as quickly as you've figured out the abilities, though, they're gone, with the game now jumping to the present day, as Zoe finds herself in therapy to help her come to terms with the events of the previous game; a relationship that's about as stable as her current mental state; and a futuristic dystopian European city filled with political unrest. Here, you find yourself essentially helping Zoe with a bunch of more everyday tasks: fetching dinner for her boyfriend, going to work in a robotics shop, and even helping out with the odd political rally, sometimes requiring a bit of logical thinking to get out of a jam - perhaps playing off a couple of store keepers to get a cheaper gift for an influential character, for example. It's here the story starts to take a bit more shape, and Dreamfall Chapters turns out to be surprisingly witty at times too - an early scene at Zoe's work where she takes a useless talking robot, affectionately known as 'shitbot', for a stroll around town for testing is comedy gold.
But Zoe isn't the only important character in the whole Dreamfall Chapters saga - every other chapter or so, you'll switch to the burly Kian, a Azadi warrior in the magical fantasy world of Arcadia. Imprisoned and sentenced to death following the events of the previous games, he's now rescued by, and later joins up with, the very people he once fought as enemies, in order to repay a debt. A world of mysterious creatures, magic and mystery, Arcadia is lightyears apart from Zoe's high-tech futuristic metropolis - but as the story unfolds, you'll soon discover there's more that links the two than it first appears. Occasionally, the game will even bring a third character into the fray for the odd chapter, making Dreamfall Chapters pretty much one of the only games where you play as a baby. A very important and magical baby, but a baby nonetheless.
It's a testament then to Dreamfall Chapters' writing and story design that, despite its chopping and changing between characters, worldlines and timeframes, the game can weave a deep and interesting narrative that combines both medieval fantasy and futuristic sci-fi into something pretty special. With enough mystery and intrigue to keep you playing, enough action to keep things ticking over, enough humour to stop things from getting too grim - and, thanks to a rather Telltale-esque 'Balance' system, whereby you can alter how the story plays out based on your actions, responses and choices at key points, enough choices and consequences to feel like you've barely touched half of what the game has to offer by the end, there really is a lot to like here.
As such, if you're after a solid story, embellished with plenty of puzzles, then Dreamfall Chapters is your game, never failing to miss a beat during it's complex, interwoven tale of magic and mystery, science and nature, and choice and consequence. Existing fans of the Dreamfall/The Longest Journey saga should find lots to like, with familiar faces and plenty of brain-teasing puzzles to figure out along the way - and while newcomers may find it a bit tough going to begin with, as cameo after cameo pops up with little explanation, if you stick with it, you'll soon figure it all out - in much the same way Zoe herself does, as she struggles to remember her past, and eventually, save the future.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4