D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die review

Xbox One

Odd characters, weird goings on, a cheesy script and a crazy theme: it is, of course, a SWERY game. In particular D4 or Dark Dreams Don’t Die, a Kinect point-and-click supernatural crime drama, psychological thriller and comedy. If you’re a fan of SWERY’s madness then there’s enough crazy here to satisfy your craving, but underneath it is there a decent game?

D4 follows David Young, a Boston detective turned private investigator after his wife was mysterious killed by a killer whose name begins with “D”. Add to that a sprinkling of amnesia and the supernatural ability to dive into the past through the use of items called momentous, and you have the setup for an initially clichéd but potentially compelling crime mystery as David searches the past, solving cases in an attempt to uncover “D’s” identity and change his wife’s fate.

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This optimistically titled “Season One”, offers three to four hours of narrative and a whole host of collectibles and challenges to extend your time with it further through replay. Whether you’ll feel the need to dive in multiple times will certainly depend on your tolerance for SWERY’s special brand of crazy, as it’s overflowing with it, to the point where it even gets in the way. Characters are so awkward, stilted and bonkers that it’s hard to immerse yourself in the world and the investigation. It’s set up as an episodic sitcom/drama with ridiculous title screens and credits after each chapter that makes it feel less interactive and more peculiar. Additionally some incongruous design choices threaten to frustrate you.

Being a point-and-click game, you naturally interact with the world primarily through ‘clicking’ on objects and people within it. However, every action costs you stamina from a limited bar, once it’s empty then it’s game over. To counter it’s depletion you need to find and eat food, either picking up what’s lying around in each area or stocking up on provisions by talking with your cat, Amanda, and buying them from her with credits you earn for solving cases and generally investigating the world. It’s a strange mechanic, one that works against the point-and-click trope of interacting with everything. Fortunately, with a little searching there’s more than enough food lying about to keep your stamina healthy, but it’s a distracting concern whilst you’re trying to gather evidence.

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Across three locations – your apartment, a plane and an icy lake – you’ll investigate multiple cases all linked to your hunt of the killer known only as “D”. Either using gestures through Kinect or the far easier controller you’ll grab, push, or simply hover over evidence to trigger the narrative or uncover more information. Additionally a handful of action sequences test your reactions with quick-time events, which can chip away at your health if you fail to gesture or press a button quick enough.

Whilst the rest of the experience is drowning in strangeness, these action sequences strike an excellent balance of weird and exciting. They’re visually busy and entertaining, as well as challenging enough to punish slow reaction but not so much as to frustrate you. This is also the best use of Kinect I’ve seen so far, as you use one of two hands to counter incoming punches and objects in a slapstick style that’s truly enjoyable and immersive. Elsewhere in D4 the Kinect is still not quite accurate and stable enough for consistently picking up your actions, making the controller the better option, but in these sequences it all seems to work wonderfully.

An attractive cell shading aesthetic makes D4 visually interesting, along with some neat background warping tricks through bubble gum, liquid and glass, and whilst comparisons with Telltale’s recent titles is unavoidable and the point-and-click mechanics approach the mundane and clichéd, SWERY’s over the top characters and story make it feel unique. Certainly if you can stomach SWERY’s style then it’s easy to recommend D4, but I’m less impressed. I found the characters annoyingly unnatural and the dialogue patronising and drawn-out. The most enjoyable aspect was investigating, but the stamina mechanic’s discouragement of exploration stifled the hunt for clues.

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Indeed then it wasn’t my cup of tea: the crazy was too crazy. However, it’s unique modernisation of the point-and-click genre is appreciated, and for those who found joy in Deadly Premonition you’re likely to find that same enjoyment here. If locked behind your mild mannered façade is a loon itching to get free, then D4 is right up your alley, for everyone else it’s best you stay clear.

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Some say Greg isn’t one person but a group of many people posting under the pseudonym “Greg”. No one knows for sure but either way, as long as he continues to fight the good fight of reviewing games, then we will always consider him a hero.