D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Review (Xbox One)
"This is the story of a man with a very strange fate."
You'll hear this quote every time a new chapter starts in D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die, and that's about the only sure thing you can expect from the game. D4 is completely bonkers, with a cast of characters that range from the mundane to the downright strange and more twists than a M. Night Shyamalan film, but its unpredictable nature only adds to the fun.
The game starts out like any other crime drama, with a tortured private eye talking about the one crime that keeps him going. In D4's case that private eye is David Young, and the crime is the murder of his wife Little Peggy. He emerges from the crime scene (which happens to be his own bathroom) and hears a knock on his back door. Opening the door introduces us to Amanda, a human who thinks she's a cat and one of the many WTF characters in D4. Amanda bursts in with a live rat in her mouth, and... well I don't want to go into much more, but that alone should tell you what kind of craziness will ensue.
The game centers around David's ability to "dive" into the past using items called "mementos." He holds the item, puts his hands over his face, and suddenly he's in the past. There he can find pieces to the puzzle that otherwise would be lost in time and get closer to solving the mystery. In these first two episodes most of the action takes place on a commercial plane mid-flight, and from there things spiral further out of control.
There are two ways to control D4: the controller or via Kinect hand motions. The motions aren't complicated, it's mostly swiping and closing your hand into a fist, but the commands fall into the same problems as every other Kinect game: they're damn near unresponsive. At one point my arm was completely still but the hand was all over the screen. During a particularly tense quick-time event, nothing would register and I was continually missing the on-screen prompts. The controller makes things mucheasier, acting like a Telltale Games production, but some of the charm is lost. Of course, if your experience is anything like mine, the Kinect motion controls (which are activated by raising your hands over your head) will randomly turn themselves back on for no reason, forcing you into trying them again. I still haven't figured out how that happened.
The Telltale/D4 comparison is probably the best way to describe what kind of experience D4 is, but unlike Telltale's "watch a little, act a little" structure, D4 could give you a prompt at any time. Strewn throughout cutscenes will be prompts for the Y button, which if pressed properly will add Credits to your pocket and information to your brain. This makes every second of every scene worth watching, making sure that you the player will be glued to the screen until the final credits, and that's a pretty cool idea.
Speaking of Credits, those can be used to buy items that increase David's three main lifelines: Stamina, Life, and Vision. Vision is a temporary power-up that allows me to see exactly what I should investigate next. Life is, well, David's life bar that depletes if he gets hurt during cutscenes. Stamina is the statistic that will get in your way the most, as everything David does takes up stamina. Open a door? Lose some stamina. Flip open a book? That'll cost ya some stamina. Opening an overhead compartment? Yup, that drops stamina too. Depleting David's Stamina causes him to pass out and forces you to repeat whatever you did between the last save and David fainting. Food is scarce, but you'll be able to buy some from a white cat on the plane. Yup, that's not a typo.
Investigating these areas and piecing together the story is tons of weird fun, fitting right into the Swery65 pedigree. There are two kinds of weird, the weird that makes you laugh and the weird that makes you cringe, and luckily for me D4 is much more about the former. I smiled and chuckled at many of the characters and jokes within the game, all of whom are strengthened by the excellent voice acting. David's gruff Boston accent is perfect, and hearing Peggy's haunting voice as it follows David around is equal parts depressing and foreboding.
If this is the beginning of the D4 saga, I will have a lot of trouble waiting for the rest of the story. Memorable characters, an excellent story, and just enough weirdness without going overboard make this game a must play for Xbox One owners. Despite the shoddy Kinect controls while I played and a few hiccups encountered within, this is a solid candidate for sleeper hit of the year. I'm looking forward to diving back into D4 when the next episodes launch.
This review is based on a download code of D4 provided by the publisher.