Developer: Access Games
Platform: PC (also available on Xbox One)
Release Date: June 5th, 2015
Reviewed On: PC
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is an unusual title from Swery65 that bears a resemblance to his earlier work, Deadly Premonition. It was originally a Xbox One exclusive, but it has now come to PC thanks to Playism. The game oozes with style, with gravity defying scenes, stunts, bizarre characters, and almost alien visuals. It’s more of what we’ve come to know and love from director SWERY.
“This is a story of a man, with a very strange fate.” David Young is a fellow with a very odd ability. He has a scar from a bullet wound in his head, as well as missing memories. His wife is dead, supposedly by his hand. He swears that he’s innocent and has quit the Boston police department in search of who he thinks murdered his wife, Little Peggy. All he knows is that his wife died and that she told him to “Look for D”. David doesn’t know who or what “D” is, whether it’s a person, an object or even a codename for some organization or operation.
David has been left with the ability to dive into the past—in a manner of speaking. Using a combination of photographic memory, evidence acquired, and information given to him via his partner Forrest Kaysen, David can enter a scenario and interact with it, almost as though he was there. He is only able to do this if he has an item tied to the event—a memento he calls it. David Young is given a memento that may lead him to the whereabouts of his wife’s killer, and that’s where the journey begins.
The story of D4 is quite macabre, well written and just downright insane at times. The story slowly strings the player along with tiny hints here and there as well as optional bits of info that can often be red herrings, or something crucial that the player can easily miss. Careful attention needs to be paid throughout the whole game as older events are referenced quite often and are required to solve the most critical questions as a whole.
The characters are quite odd and very varied, from Forrest Kaysen gobbling down six hot dogs at once to the incredibly flamboyant fashion designer Duncan. Young comes into contact with a lot of extremely colourful characters as he delves into his psyche to solve the murder. What he finds changes the way he perceives his world, discovering how everything may be interconnected. David’s character at times feels dumb, with his choice of words possibly reflecting Boston colloquialisms. To me, it felt fake, but I am no expert in American accents.
Gameplay in D4 consists of a combination of traditional point and click titles, matted with the occasional mini-game and quite a fair number of quick time events. The player controls David using the mouse. Certain areas can be clicked on to make him move to the desired area. Upon reaching the desired area, David can then search for interactable objects nearby. Before clicking on these objects, David can look at them (by hovering the mouse over them for a specific time) before clicking on and activating the item. Doing this helps build up a small amount of credits that can be used later on in the game. Credits can also be acquired by doing well in the mini-games and also by picking them up in hidden areas. There are little badges and clothing items that can be found throughout the game.
Like any game, David has a health bar and depending on choices made through the game, he will take damage. His health can be replenished only by healing items—these are quite plentiful, however. David also has a stamina bar and a vision bar. The vision bar will provide extra hints and make it easier to find hidden optional evidence and items, but it comes at a cost. David’s vision can only be replaced by drinking alcohol or various different fluids in D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. Just keep David’s fluids up and stay in synch!
The stamina bar is the most important of all three aspects of David’s well-being. If he runs out of stamina, the game is over, and he is unable to activate items, or search for evidence. He is unable to traverse through a map and use doors and other items that are interactable. Luckily it’s easy to keep his stamina up. He just needs to eat. It doesn’t matter what. The occasional bag of chips, cookies, hamburger, or a feast fit for a king prepared by his partner, Forrest. He will eat anything, regardless if it belongs to him or not.
As well as collecting credits via searching and advancing the story, various action scenes require quick time events to complete. The events are easy to pull off, but hard to master. Unlike the Kinect version of the game, the controls using the mouse are far easier—though the Xbox One controller is still the best. Each Quick-Time Event has a decent time limit and depending on the speed they’re carried out, a rating of “Perfect”, “Great’ or “Good” is achievable. I never once failed one entirely, and it’s quite difficult to screw it up entirely.
Lastly, items can be purchased at various times in the game. Amanda, David’s cat or his live-in squatter (it’s never explicitly explained) will sell David items for the credits that he finds. Amanda carries all sorts of health, vision and stamina replenishing items. That’s not all though. David can buy clothing from her—most of which will alter his stats in some way, increasing max health, stamina, or even vision. This can be quite handy though the clothing is expensive—especially since a lot of clothing can be acquired for doing well in the mini-games.
Visually D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is quite striking. The animations and expressions of all the characters seem to be deliberately off-putting and within uncanny valley territory. Animations and actions that the characters inflict on each other are greatly exaggerated, often to comedic effect. Characters often defy gravity as the jump around, crying, and laughing maniacally as the dimensions of the game seem to almost twist and churn. The visual style of D4 is full of cell-shaded animations, foregoing immense detail in exchange for comical, almost alien landscapes within David’s world. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether down is up or vice versa. One scene has an impossibly large giant of a man climbing into this tiny air vent—impossible in real life. There’s only one word for D4. Bizarre.
The colours are very vibrant, and the characters reflect this. Everything seems to pop out at the player, as though everyone is impossible to ignore. The colours often blend, blurring past the player’s eyes. Everything moves fast and honestly at times is difficult to keep track of. I found myself repeating certain scenes so that I could grasp everything thrown at me. Visually the one main criticism is that the screen is often way too busy, keeping the player dazed and confused—quite likely deliberately so.
The sound design is slightly hit and miss in D4. The soundtrack takes on a nostalgic and pleasant film noire sort of vibe, with the music playing quite romantically throughout each scene. The music for the most part, is quite quiet and subtle, only picking up at the beginning of each episode with the main theme and in action sequences. When an action scene occurs, the music becomes loud and heavy, creating a sort of a wall of sound that’s impenetrable and deliberately unpleasant to listen to. It does however keep the blood pumping and the player on their toes.
The voice acting is generally of high caliber, with David’s accent occasionally sounding fake, and a certain character who talked slow grating on me. Talking slow was clearly trying to create a creepy atmosphere, but after a while it just became annoying. The rest of the characters were simply a delight and fitted the character’s actions perfectly. Emotions are conveyed properly, and sound effects serve their purpose, from the squelch of some bloody corpse hitting the floor to Amanda deciding to jump on the television. It all sounds crisp and clear.
Overall D4 is an insane crazy romp through the psyche of a man possibly losing his mind. The visual style is appealing and accessible. The whole game just screams like the devs had fun with it, and it never takes itself too seriously. The plot is slightly confusing and, unfortunately, ends on a cliffhanger, unfortunately. I hope that the PC release of D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die does well. It would be great to get a second season for the game. Highly recommended for people who enjoy the unusual side of detective puzzle titles.
Interesting varied characters.
Unique and engaging plot.
Quick time events aren't too annoying.
Screen is too busy, especially during action sequences.
The item system is fairly pointless, as it's hard to run out of health or stamina.
A certain character who talks really slow grates on you.