Dreamfall – “Adventure 2.0”

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When “The Longest Journey” was released, the adventure genre was still alive… barely so, but still alive. When its sequel, “Dreamfall”, came about less than three years ago, the genre had died. Perhaps not in the strictest of senses, as its influence had disseminated far and wide across the video-game genre spectrum, infecting everything from role playing to survival horror, but adventure game cannon was long gone. Apparently, Ragnar Tørnquist wanted to bring it back by producing “Dreamfall”, an attempt at revitalizing one of the most precious video-game genres. It’s a feat in itself, as few games have tried, and fewer even succeeded in re-imagining adventure game beneath the light of the XXIst century, with the blinding lights of modern shooters obfuscating every single piece of original entertainment. But “Dreamfall” tries, and succeeds, at that monumental task, and with an utter commitment to the original spirit of the genre, something which even “Fahrenheit” (often regarded as the second coming of the genre) failed to uphold.

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“The Longest Journey”, like so many adventure games, was something of a rocky gem. It’s narrative and aesthetic shone brightly, but a dated game-play model and an unfortunate sense of humor were in need of severe revising. “Dreamfall” is, in many ways, the hidden gem of “The Longest Journey”: it’s more pondered and contained, and more aware of the flaws of the genre in which it inhabits. That self-awareness allows it to counter-weigh such flaws, making it a more polished game than its prequel in almost every way. The exploration, now in full 3D allows for a greater sense of freedom and immersion in Tørnquist’s brilliantly concocted fantasy world; the puzzles are simpler and easier to understand (clearly a compromise with today’s difficulty standards); the narrative feels more balanced and structurally more sound, featuring denser characters and more twists, and being fully deprived of inopportune humor. Even the visual style, which at first glance seems to have lost some of the magic vibe of its predecessor, as a consequence of the move to 3D, ends up using the extra dimension in its behalf, conjuring up a dynamic, pulsing world out of the beautiful, yet static, paintings that composed “Journey’s” backgrounds. And on a purely technical analysis, “Dreamfall” is still one of the most impressive games today, with detailed backgrounds, a stunning lighting engine, and incredibly expressive character animations… all coming from a middle-sized European studio. That alone would be worthy of applause.

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But that’s not to say that the polishing of “The Longest Journey” yields a perfect gem. Unfortunately, some of the containment that can be felt in each of its expressive vehicles ends up marring the spontaneity of “Dreamfall’s” creators. The story, while equally elaborate as its predecessor’s, lacks the sense of bewilderment that you’ve come to expect from fantasy set pieces  – a flaw easily attributed to the more prevalent sci-fi mood in “Dreamfall”. That the plot is left unfinished by the end of the game, is also hard to sink in, even if it stems from Tørnquist’s apparent desire to further dissect his world. While the perfectionism of his tale remains breathtaking, the cost of the final cliffhanger is that the story does not achieve any sort of conclusion for the player, which, knowing the difficulties of the small studio behind it, makes it likely that a sequel may never be brought to life, thus leaving the story untold. The final polish that opens further cracks in such a gem, comes from attempts at making the game more pleasurable for modern players: by increasing the number of basic puzzle pieces, more akin to mini-games than actual puzzles, and adding short, simplistic action sequences, in which you play a stripped down version of a brawler. While these elements might have served to punctuate the slow-paced rhythm of the exploration portions of adventure gaming, they are so bland that they add nothing to the strengths of the game.

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Despite the sometimes excessive compromise with modern design, “Dreamfall” furthers the quality of its predecessor, effectively bringing its light to the XXIst century. It maintains the spiritual legacy of classic adventure gaming intact, but does so while lightening its silly idiosyncrasies in favor of more simple game design dynamics. And so, once again, Tørnquist devises a world that sucks you in entirely, filled with mystery and drama, and an aesthetic beauty that is unique to his creative imagination. Not only does it reinterpret adventure gaming, as it redefines it, completes it, and makes it shine as the inner gem it has always been… a gem that’ll mesmerize you with its seductive light.

score: 3/5

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  • Comments (5)
    • Munira
    • June 5th, 2009

    Fair review. Though personally I still prefer TLJ over Dreamfall. I guess it’s because I had different expectations and was let down by them 🙂

    The story, while equally elaborate as its predecessor’s, lacks the sense of bewilderment that you’ve come to expect from fantasy set pieces – a flaw easily attributed to the more prevalent sci-fi mood in “Dreamfall”.

    Oh I completely agree. Personally, I thought the story was a lot deeper and richer in the first game than Dreamfall. And the soundtrack and mood were better in the predecessor as well. But those are just my thoughts.

    Great article!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • June 10th, 2009

    First of all, thanks for the compliment, it’s always great to hear from someone that’s on the other side of this massive curtain we call internet.

    I think that both “The Longest Journey” and “Dreamfall” are accomplishments, each in their own way. The first for being a wonderful farewell hymn to a genre that, almost entirely alone, sustained the narrative quality of video-games, and the second, for trying to adapt that same genre to a new age of video-game design. Though I am not a particular fan of either game, I think they’re both excellent, even if I can’t help but valor more the first, mainly for its thematic originality and more elegant design… even if its off-beat humor makes me sick every time 😀 .

    Thanks for the comment, it’s I’m glad to know that someone out there still appreciates good adventure games.

    • Muhammad Nasrullah
    • February 20th, 2010

    Great site and great reviews. I played TLJ a long time back and never played dreamfall. I finally took the time out and played it later last week and I loved the game. I loved how there were multiple characters with a story that kept on growing more and more complex with every passing chapter, the environments were beautiful and the ambiance really pulled you in. The voice acting was superb and you really connected with the characters. As with most adventure games, I guess we will get attached to the characters, but Dreamfall did an awful job of ending the game. There was no sense of achievement that you feel after playing a game. *spoilers* Zoe goes into a comma, Reza and April die, the resistance is killed off, Kian gets arrested, April’s friends never get closure. It feels too much like the developers/producers ran out of time and didn’t squeeze in the last two chapters. I’d really like to play a final episode of the game which gives closure!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 22nd, 2010

    Thanks for the nice compliments. I usually get so much heat for being too critical of certain games, I have forgot that at times people actually like what I write.

    I totally agree with you, “Dreamfall” sorely lacks denouement. Thankfully, Ragnar Tørnquist seems to be finishing up his MMO project, and in interviews, has already confirmed that, somewhere in the future, there will be a direct sequel to Dreamfall. We just have to suffer the wait.

    Cheers!

    • Moghrion
    • May 9th, 2010

    Well, my friends, just few moments ago i saw last sequence of Dreamfall…
    in last few weeks i have been playing TLJ and Dreamfall one after another that is and i must say that both games are…whit soul, as some people here (read me and few other lost cases hehe) would say…
    By that i mean those games are not meant to be played as most games are but to be “lived” in some special way… When i sit to play one of those games i cant not to notice energy they have to disconnect me from all around me, drag me inside and keep me there while giving unquestionable pleasure in return…. However i fear i can not be objective when this subject comes for i find great pleasure in dreaming and sleeping, but as a gamer i must say that this is one decent and fair review whit , at the beginning, nice genre definition …
    As an “Adventure 2.0″ Dreamfall is one of my top 5 games and on that list is hard to get on…but do not let me speak as i like this game or how i liked TLJ even more…
    All i can is to say one big > Thank you< to those who made this 2 gems and to you good people who knew how to enjoy in them…
    but most of all I would like to thanks to the one who wrote this review and whit that gave me will to see what TLJ and Dreamfall are..it was a bit hard to find same page i saw few weeks ago but that is the least i could do….

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