Version Tested: PC
Available On: PC
Genre: Adventure, Indie
Official Site: Dream
Release Date: July 31, 2015
Where to Buy: Steam
As a proponent of narrative-based “experience” games, I had high hopes for Dream. I’ll admit I’m a bit biased, launching into this genre with Dear Esther and Gone Home under my belt years ago. The prospect of a man waking up in a consistent lucid dream seemed interesting, so I kept an open mind about the experience by avoiding an overly critical mindset and plunking down to see what this game had under the surface. I’ll admit, there wasn’t much substance to impress.
Dream, developed by HyperSloth (there’s an image for the mind), operates like many other experience games; you assume the role of a protagonist (Howard here) and unravel a story about his odd dream sequences. You, as Howard, wake up from a bad nightmare and stumble back to your bed in a headache-induced stupor, only to be launched into the dream world. You can traverse several dreams with strange environments built of floating cubes, barren deserts, and over-engineered office buildings. Winding stairways defy gravity. Corner offices function as a deranged man’s home. Traveling up can sometimes mean heading left first. Nothing makes sense in this mind-constructed world.
Dream has an interesting concept at its core, but there’s a strong rushed feel to the game. Slight development pinpricks like terrible environment interaction (getting stuck, weird physics) and a bad speech-to-text translation are reminders that this game should have remained in development for longer before it’s release. To add, the character modeling and world design aren’t anything impressive. Some areas in the “desert” dream appear to be overused designs. I don’t know much about 3-D modeling, but I’d argue some of the modeling in this game was accomplished in an afternoon, especially Howard’s own model which nearly resembles a Raggedy Ann doll. A bathtub full of blood with some rubber duckies floating are some of the chilling environments to enjoy, but it’s not redemption for this game’s poor delivery.
At times, there isn’t a clear path forward, because several dream sequences let you wander without a guide. There’s a phone conversation shortly after the start of the game that players are required to sit through, and due to the game’s save nature (hint: no manual save) I had to listen to it twice. I think I ran in circles for about an hour on one play session. To add, the inventory system takes several seconds just to cycle through one item, so imagine my frustration when trying to find my location on a map after cycling through several items, most of which don’t seem to have a purpose. Once I think I hit a combination of keys that altered my menu text to a foreign language. Ever tried to navigate menus in a foreign language?
By far, the worst aspect of this game is Howard himself. What’s important to find in these newer “experience” games is a strong connection to the main character, as is a no-brainer with narrative-driven games. Dear Esther had a man on the edge of derangement. As Katie in Gone Home, players walked in her shoes as they explored a new house, unraveling a recent event about her sister. Howard doesn’t have any redeemable qualities. His bedroom looks like a teenager’s den with game posters and an aging console to pass the time. We’re given snippets of his story though cube dream sequences about how he rebels against his parents. Either Howard is a teenager or an immature adult that doesn’t have a likable quality.
What is likable are the puzzles in Howard’s world. There’s a series of four caverns located in the desert sequence. Each cavern has a series of lights that must be turned off simply by walking underneath them. However, each cavern has a strange ghost wandering the halls that sound deadlier than it is–an encounter merely sends you back to the beginning of the cavern. These aren’t stupefying puzzles, but they’re enough to get the noggin stirring. It’s difficult to say what purpose the puzzles serve other than some strange psychological obsession Howard may have manifested into a puzzle, but I’d argue their absence would make worse for an already ailing game.
Dream‘s downfall is two-fold. It’s death by a thousand cuts and one last, massive gash. Small inconsistencies, slight glitches, unimpressive modeling, a rushed feel, and an unlikable character weight it down from warranting a purchase. The puzzles are refreshing and the dream snippets are interesting additions, but there’s little here to enjoy since development isn’t top notch. I cringe every time I hear speech and read a subtitle that doesn’t match. Chalk it up to translation errors, but there’s no excuse spending a few more weeks matching subtitles to what’s actually spoken. If you’re looking for a strong experience with a dash of puzzles here and there, steer clear of Dream and stick to a more familiar developer.
- Gameplay: A rushed product. Howard is a stiff character. Sometimes direction or goal is unclear.
- Graphics: Nothing out of the ordinary, but Howard is poorly modeled. There are some moody, creepy environments at times.
- Sound: Some audio tracks are nice and the soundtrack is available for purchase, but it’s a far cry to help the rest here.
- Presentation: There are interesting puzzles and plenty of questions to raise about the nature of the game, but too many design flaws and rushed mechanics distract.
Dream is an interesting puzzle / exploration game that has potential, but a rushed feel, clunky mechanics, poor narrative design elements, and an unclear direction keep it from shining.
- Interesting, sometimes challenging puzzles
- Creepy environments
- Rushed, buggy feel
- Weak protagonist
- Clunky item system