Hidetaka Suehiro, more commonly known by his nickname SWERY, has built a reputation of creating genre-bending, occasionally bizarre games. His last venture on consoles, Deadly Premonition, was a controversial cult hit and created a passionate fan base for SWERY here in the States. Microsoft hired Access Games (with SWERY directing) to develop a new episodic game exclusively for the Xbox One and what we’ve received is D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die.
David Young is a private detective in Boston, MA with a taste for 100% Agave Tequila. Previously a detective with the BPD, he left the force after his wife was mysteriously murdered. Though he was with his wife when she was killed, the events of that night have been wiped from his memory. But, he was left with a scar on his forehead and the ability to travel through time. By finding mementos, he can “dive” into certain instances from that memento’s life. Using this ability, he has begun solving crimes while unraveling the mystery of his wife’s death. In Episodes 1 & 2, Young and his partner, Forrest “Teddy” Kaysen, tackle the case of a man in custody of a U.S. Marshall somehow vanishing in the middle of a flight.
D4 is primarily a point-and-click game, intended to be played with the Kinect or a controller. Since I would rather throw my Kinect out the window than use it, I opted to use my controller. The point and click gameplay suits the story well, allowing players to search the environments high and low for clues and hidden messages. What adds an extra layer of complexity to this is the introduction of three meters you must moniter. You have Stamina, Vision, and Life. Every interaction with the world, such as lifting a toilet seat or picking up a clue, costs stamina. If your stamina runs out, you faint and it’s game over. You vision is a special ability, where you view the world in more muted colors and the clues become highlighted in gold. While this is a nice addition, I can’t think of a single time where I was stuck.
This gameplay is broken up with three or four action sequences based entirely on quick-time events. If you fail a move, you will lose one life point. While they are repetitive and easily beaten, the action sequences are a welcome break from looking for clues and talking to witnesses. Keeping true to SWERY’s unique style, D4 contains several other small ways to play in the form of side missions. These mini-games can be as simple as waving your hand to catch falling clovers or as strange as a lengthy and excruciatingly detailed airplane trivia sequence. In between missions you can access a store by talking to your…cat? (I’m not sure about her character, because she is a cat in flashbacks, but normally appears as a grown woman wearing a bathing suit who acts like a cat. Japan, am I right?) The shop contains food and drinks to regain your stamina, vision, and life, as well as tons of outfits you can purchase to customize the look of each character.
The animation style is in the fashion of graphic novels, much like the episodic games The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. It does make the new hardware of the Xbox One useless, but the aesthetics are pretty and lend themselves to the offbeat fashion of D4. Where D4 goes a step beyond other similar games is the weight of the characters on screen. Objects don’t look like paper cut-outs being moved around, instead looking and acting like real world items. These little touches of simulated physics for each item you interact with actually goes a long way towards making this world draw you in. Much like Deadly Premonition, the music is an eclectic mishmash of funky jazz, electronic, and several other genres. I’m particularly fond of the theme song that plays as each episode rolls its opening credits as if it were a TV sitcom.
For the love of God, Achievement Hounds, don’t get this game if you’re just wanting an easy 1,000 Gamerscore. This game has 78 achievements and almost all of them are only 5-10 points a piece. After replaying the game twice, I ended up with 44 achievements for only 420/1,000. D4‘s achievement list is almost entirely comprised of collecting some percentage of items or completing all side missions for each supporting character. Get this game to have fun, but don’t expect to pad your pile of Gamerscore with it.
This game is undeniably and unapologetically strange. There are moments where I have to pause the game, just to try and take in whatever is happening on the screen, but it wouldn’t be as enjoyable of a game without its bizarre flair. SWERY’s style may not be for every gamer out there, but I can tell you that I loved every moment of it. The only downside to the game was its relatively short length. It is comprised of a 30-minute prologue, and two episodes which took me about an hour each. I’m not sure why the three hour’s of play time bothered me with D4, when I was never upset when The Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us were only about ninety minutes to two hours. I feel that D4 accomplishes less progress for its story in the three hours you have with it, than The Walking Dead did in ninety minutes. I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next installment of episodes to play, but hopefully we’ll get some more resolution with the games events.
As a standalone game, D4 is thoroughly enjoyable and hilariously odd. Where it falls short is on content; the achievement list will keep you grinding away at the same two episodes for some time, but it can be done briefly in an afternoon. When you take into consideration that D4 will be episodic and there is more to come, it helps soften the blow of getting 3-4 hours of play time out of it. For $15, I certainly got my money’s worth. It is easily the most enjoyable “arcade” game to be released on the Xbox One and I’m anxiously waiting for the next installment. I’ll be interested to see if the next episodes are included with the cost of what I’ve already paid, or if they’ll be wanting another $15 for two more episodes.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is definitely Worth It!
By Blake Edwards