Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (DTLJ) is a sequel to The Longest Journey (TLJ). They’ve moved away from the old point and click style adventure towards a third-person 3D style world. Having just come from playing TLJ this was a bit of a shift in thinking. It also took me quite a lot of fiddling to make the controls comfortable enough for me that I wasn’t getting frustrated with them. Still, given this is a 2006 game, and they were trying something a little different, I guess that’s to be expected.Once I had played with the controls for a little – and luckily they give you a danger free prologue so you can play with them for a bit – I found something that worked for me for the rest of the game. I will say, however, that sometimes trying to move your character, or the camera, to focus just on the object you want to interact with, can be very, very frustrating at times.
You begin the game as Brian Westhouse, a bit-part player from TLJ which both links TLJ to DTLJ and begins to provide a bit of backstory for both him, and the game.
From there you begin playing a woman called Zoe, who has pretty much lost all direction and passion for things. She lives in Casablanca in 2219. She wakes up in her room, and the immediate environment helps introduce you to more control concepts, and also introduces the well realised world. The joy of the world is how well the old and new is mixed. Just like our world now, where we have older buildings next to skyscrapers, people who hold onto older technology next to smartphones, Zoe’s world has a similar mix.
The story, as with TLJ, starts very, very slowly, with only a few hints (and the Prologue) to guide you forwards. A bit of wandering, and some visits to friends, later and Zoe arrives at her self defence class, where we learn that in addition to the change in perspective for the game, they decided to add combat to the mix. Really, really poorly done combat.
I’m not sure why they did this as the game really doesn’t need combat, and when it is used any “dramatic tension” the scenes could have had just become irritating frustrating periods. Luckily, combat really is relatively rare and exploring and puzzle solving is more the order of the day.
For a while I did wonder if this game was heading more towards the RolePlaying Game (RPG) style of (for example) Oblivion and the like. However, beyond the combat and the perspective, the way it works is much closer to a traditional Adventure than an RPG.
Also, while there is a bit to explore, each area is relatively small with little interactivity or much in the way of hidden areas.
We quickly learn that April Ryan (protagonist in TLJ) is somehow connected in this story – providing yet another link back to the earlier game. We also find Zoe eventually travelling to Venice, though a somewhat changed Venice, Newport.
Apparently the events in TLJ led to something called the “Collapse” which pretty much turned the political structures of Stark upside down. It’s interesting to see Venice as rendered in 3D, rather than the fixed view of the point and click TLJ. It’s partly a trip down memory lane, and partly a wonderful dissonance as things have changed so much.
For now I’ll leave the details of the story there, and focus more on how it’s handled.
You begin playing Brian Westhouse, as I mentioned, then begin playing as Zoe. As the game progresses you’ll play other characters, including April Ryan. This works for the purposes of the story, but is more than a little jarring to me. While the shift from Brian to Zoe makes sense in that you move from Prologue for one, to main story to the other, the other shifts begin to push me away from being so involved in the story. I began to be invested in Zoe and finding out about the world from her point of view. Then I’m suddenly playing as someone else, in some cases on the “other side” to Zoe. I can see this working in a book or film, but for a game, I think it was a poor choice.
On the other hand, one thing it did allow was a few moments where one character will make a comment about a situation, then a bit later you’ll come across the same situation as a different character, and get a completely different perspective. I did appreciate that, but I still wish they’d left that “trick” for another game.
I did enjoy DTLJ’s story, though it felt like it took a bit longer than TLJ to really start. One unique (for the time, I suppose) idea is that some puzzles have multiple solutions. In some cases you can get through via combat, or fast talking – for example. Sometimes there are two similar solutions to a puzzle, depending on who you meet first. I really liked that, once I realised it.
I also love the fact that the world, and story, are just as strong as in TLJ. While there are many old characters returning, it’s not all a “greatest hits” parade, and often those characters are used as a way to push things into new areas. Once the story really gets going the same drive as in TLJ to find out more about the twin worlds, and what’s affecting them become stronger, and the mystery more fascinating.
As with TLJ, the cutscenes are often quite long, but on the upside you can pause them at any time you want! Or skip them, if you really want.
And then we get to the ending. Except it’s really not much of an ending. It reminded me a bit of Back To The Future II (BTTFII) which was deliberately written, and presented, knowing that III was just around the corner. In other words, DTLJ felt like it was only half the story. Some threads are tied up at the end, but many questions remain, and new ones are even introduced at the end (yes folks, stay in your seat until after the credits roll!).
I have little doubt they meant to release the next half of the story, but it never happened. Apparently Dreamfall: Chapters (funded via Kickstarter) is that part of the story. Even knowing that, however, I’m still left flat by the ending. It felt like it was building towards a climax and then just suddenly … stopped. Sure there was a little more at the end to tie a few things up and lead to that final story, but it felt somewhat tacked on and rushed to me. It was also one of the few times during the game that I felt irritated at being so obviously rail-roaded.
Having said that, however, I did have many, many hours of fun playing this game. I was able to get “comfortable enough” with the controls, combat was limited enough, and the story kept dragging me forwards. Really, if I ignore the ending, it’s a story-slash-game that is in my top ten.