“They’ve promised that dreams can come true – but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.”
I am of the strong belief that videogames and dreams serve a very similar function. Both take us to fantastical, impossible worlds, and both have the potential to delight and terrify us. We either conquer our fears or are overrun by impossible challenges in games and dreams alike, so it’s no surprise there’s a distinct drive to meld the two together. Dream, a puzzle-heavy exploration game by HyperSloth, attempts to bring the two mediums together, and while it piqued my curiosity and offered some pretty breathtaking sights, it just wasn’t full enough to keep me interested.
Dream places players into the excessively mundane shoes of Howard Phillips (not that Howard Phillips), the sole heir to his uncle’s house and publishing rights. While the time spent awake in the game forces players to switch off lights, stare at empty rooms, and gaze longingly into a fridge so desolate it could be mine in real life, Howard’s sleep cycles provides something much more intriguing.
Howard’s dreams take shape as a myriad selection of beautiful vistas and symbolic clutter. Without digging too deep into the therapist’s chair and busting out my inner Freud, it’s easy to see each new dreamworld as a compilation of Howard’s deepest desires, fears, and insecurities, but there’s a more malicious presence throughout that can only be described, without giving too much away, as the bastard lovechild of Abstergo and the Dharma Initiative. Steeling yourself against their darker, drearier influence while trying to enjoy the lovelier parts of Howard’s mind can actually prove a bit tough.
The name of the game in Dream is puzzles. Align these lasers here, push this sequence of buttons there, and be sure to slide those squares into their proper place. There’s nothing new or innovative, and most of the challenges can get fairly frustrating (more from repetition than anything else), but it’s a fairly decent way to pad out what would otherwise be an extremely short game. Sure you can walk instead of sprint, but Howard’s geriatric pace and anemic jump will quickly wear down your patience.
As I’ve mentioned before at least a few times (I know, I’ll shut up eventually), Dream‘s value lies mostly in its visual aesthetics. The closed environments all seem to have that stock asset look to them, but the expansive desert, pier, and garden worlds all look fantastic. Clipping and rendering issues push their way to the fore, of course, and the character himself looks like a prepubescent Nightwolf, but the ever-clashing scenery truly keeps the game afloat.
The storyline is interesting in its own right, but the voice acting certainly helps to hold the lazier player’s attention. The soundtrack is extremely well-fit for the environment as well, and it’s easy to almost drift off and join Howard. The inventory system is ten kinds of stupid, but honestly doesn’t come into play long enough to break the experience. Controls, both keyboard and controller alike, are borderline decent but have certain points where they conflict. At one section, players are required to type a username and password into a computer, so those opting for controllers have to lean forward and switch to the keyboard for three seconds. Minor trifles, but trifles nonetheless. It also helps that there isn’t all that much to do besides walk around, inspect objects, and hop up and down like you’re Master Chief.
Inevitably, the game’s list of pros and cons leans slightly into the latter category. The experience reminds me of something my mother used to tell me in high school: Being pretty isn’t enough. Sure the game looks gorgeous, and I really did enjoy venturing into the darker parts of Howard’s broken psyche, but the nutri-paste filler of dead-horse-beaten puzzles and drawn out walks, coupled with the cripplingly limited controls, just brought the whole experience to a grinding halt. I wish the game lived up to its potential, but perhaps that can only happen in my wildest dreams.