Swery, or Swery65, or maker of Deadly Premonition, or mad-genius if you prefer, has come back in a big way with his team Access, this time on Xbox One. Features this time include, but are not limited to, romance, intrigue, and some absolute, balls-to-the-wall madness.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is another case of “the weirds,” and anyone familiar with Deadly Premonition, Swery’s last major project, will have an idea of what to expect. D4 is a bit different though, fully embracing a soap-opera style, from absurd intro cutscene to melodramatic and over-acted characters. That’s something to point out at the top here: everything absurd is normal here, and when you see a large man consuming five hot dogs in one bite, just take it in stride, because it’s gonna get crazier.
D4 follows David Young, a former Boston PD detective who quit the force when his wife was mysteriously murdered and he was shot. The injury gave him the power to travel into the past using items tied to specific moments, momentos, if you will. It’s a pretty straight forward supernatural detective set up, but in the first three chapters you experience in Season One, which is what you get with this first entry, it’ll throw you for a loop here and there.
The game’s real schtick is a Kinect adventure-game style control scheme. Though D4 was built from the ground up for Kinect, you can still function it with a controller. Normally you’d be moving your body, using your hands to select items, or using voice commands to choose dialogue options, but all can be done by moving a cursor with the analogue stick, which is the style I opted for. It all works fine, but sometimes when you’re deep in the many-layered menus, it can be a nightmare to escape. Other than that, the interface actually came off as pretty slick, and the large boxes seemed like a genuine way to incorporate standard adventure game fair into Kinect controls. Either scheme works well though, since the Xbox One’s newer Kinect is definitely much more responsive than the previous model.
D4 just engrosses you in its style and it really never lets up. Characters have a “schtick,” which categorizes them a style of character you’d expect to see in an anime, and they’re committed to that one note, never leaving that area of expertise. Yes, the more plot-centric characters have arcs that are clearly being set up, like David himself, and the enigmatic Olivia Jones, who looks just like David’s dead wife. It’s hard to say whether or not a character truly works, though. Yes, they fill in your desires for entertainment, they add tons of character to the setting, and the mystery of everything, but the absolute absurdity and lack of information will definitely turn some players off.
D4 embraces what it is completely, which is a detective drama, formatted like a soap opera, full of out-of-the-ordinary characters and places, with tons of supernatural occurrences. That amalgamation has just as many varying degrees of success, and with this being very clearly the set up to something much larger, with no word on when it’ll be expanding, D4 is a hard sell for most.
One thing worth pointing out is that Access has made me fall in love with quick time events with the way they have portrayed them in D4. Maybe that’s a little bit of hyperbole, but D4 uses motions or tilts of the analogue sticks in tandem with button presses and mashes to extreme success, creating what feels almost like a rhythm game almost in their QTE-based action scenes. It’s a cross between what both Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us and Heavy Rain wanted to be, but it just works here, and though the big pop ups of what to do are ridiculous and distracting, it goes with the committed style of absurdity that is so apparent throughout everything provided here.
And D4’s story does set up for something good and possibly something worth waiting for. The majority of the game is simply exploring the given environment and finding clues to progress to the next scene. It comes off as slow at first, but it gives you time to get to know all the characters, it starts giving you an idea of what the plot wants to tell you, and it just works.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. It’s a mouthful, and so is trying to explain exactly what makes Swery’s latest forte into madness work, but it does. Its a fun experience, sometimes boggled down by weird controls and a not-so-intuitive menu system, but there is the start of something magical here, I just wish we knew when more was coming.