D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Review
D4 is batshit crazy. There’s really no other way to describe the latest game from Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro. It’s everything we expected from the creative force behind cult classic Deadly Premonition – and that’s a compliment and criticism in equal measure. While D4 is absolutely one of the weirdest and unique games you’ll play on your Xbox One this year, you’ll have to ask yourself: how much am I willing to put up with? For every second that’s wildly irreverent, zany and insane, you’ll find just as many clumsy design choices.
This is a bizarre murder mystery, one that isn’t necessarily suited for those that fell in love with Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us. It casts David Young, a private investigator driven by the mysterious murder of his wife and her final words “Look for D.” It’s a tragedy that granted Young the ability to leap through time using mementos as a bridge to the past. Can he find her killer, alter time and save her?
It’s a strong set-up; and those that took umbrage with Deadly Premonition’s terrible pacing will certainly appreciate – in spite of its problems – the tighter narrative structure here. It’s tough to follow in places, almost exhausting with its big concepts and bombastic characters. That’s okay, we sort of expected it. What we didn’t expect was D4 to linger for so long with every moment. The surreal quickly becomes tiring, the subversive becomes dull. The overall polish and design is a gigantic leap above Deadly Premonition, but it’s clear that Access Games is in desperate need of a producer confident enough to trim the fat where it’s necessary.
Young’s travels into the pasts and encounters in the present day function in a similar fashion to a Telltale adventure. You’ll walk between predetermined points, burning Stamina with every step. You’ll search the environment for objects to interact with: sometimes you’ll find a clue, sometimes you’ll get an intense history lesson on hockey, and sometimes you’ll just sit on the toilet and listen to Young muse on the wonderful qualities of coffee found in Boston, Massachusetts.
While you can blast through each episode in an hour, it’s way too easy to spend four to five in each unearthing every hidden case, clue and object. D4 is rife with content – almost to a fault – and for those that want to, there’s plenty to get stuck into.
Still, how long you want to spend immersed in Swery’s world will depend largely on whether you can deal with Kinect, or whether you’re okay with clunky physical controls. D4 is designed to be played with Kinect, and it’s pretty standard fare: use your hands as cursors to interact with objects, lean left or right to look around, place your fingers on your temple Professor X-style to activate a unique vision mode to unearth hidden clues. It’s all entirely serviceable, but tiring. These actions are a novelty that can be completed easily with a controller. You’ll given the opportunity to switch any time you want to; we found ourselves constantly returning to the relaxing embrace of the gamepad. Basically, for the most part, it was cumbersome more often than it was fun.
However, D4’s coolest feature – the combat sequences – are wicked fun with Kinect. They required lightning-fast reactions and QTE-mastery with the analogue sticks, which often distracted from the chaos happening on screen, the motion controls on the other hand are fluid, fast and freaking insane. As long as you can anticipate the impending start of a combat sequence and switch from analogue to Kinect control, you’re in for a great time. We used the leg of a mannequin as a baseball bat to drill objects into a drug dealer, while the plane we were on plummeted through the sky as the mannequin’s avant garde lover/life partner cried colourful tears. But one of D4’s largest problems is that the combat choreography doesn’t come often enough. They are without a doubt the best moments found in D4’s story, but as we are left wading through purposefully slow dialogue to build tension or investigating the nuances of tequila slammers, we found ourselves longing for more frantic fights.
D4 is great fun, it really is, but its insistence on lingering on conversations and the weirdness for too long really are a detriment to the overall experience. You’ll need to push through some of the crazy, some of the insane barriers erected, to truly find the good times – but when you do, you’ll be desperate for more. We can only hope more episodes for D4 come quickly because – like any good episodic game should – season one has left us with so many unanswered questions.