Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

The Longest Broken Sword, rendered in magical 3D.

4The Longest Journey has a puzzle in which you have to rub a piece of hard candy on a trash can to get a fedora, which you can use in conjunction with a toy monkey and a pile of garbage to create the illusion of a back-alley holdup that distracts a guard. And that’s the single biggest difference between The Longest Journey and its sequel Dreamfall; the latter steadfastly avoids that sort of nonsense. If you need to get through a locked door in Dreamfall, you end up using a key. You never do it by searching through scene after scene for the right pixel to click on.

It’s a bit of a leap of faith on the part of the developer, Funcom, because logical obstacles with sensible solutions make the game a whole lot easier. Some will get annoyed by it, calling it too easy – which it certainly is in some parts as it spoonfeeds you its solutions. But Funcom is clearly hoping that “challenge†isn’t what makes adventure games worth playing in the first place, and perhaps that difficult puzzles just get in the way of the part of the game people actually enjoy. They may have a point. The puzzles here aren’t so much a barrier between you and the next bit of story as they are just another part of the story. They are there to make the narrative more interesting, not to make it more difficult. In that sense, Dreamfall is more interactive adventure movie than computer game.

But what an adventure it is! Like The Longest Journey, it’s both a mix of fantasy and science fiction. The story is enthralling and the dialogue well written, the locations are diverse and exotic and artfully designed, and you experience it all in turn through the eyes of three complex and genuinely likeable characters who, by circumstances beyond their control, are often placed at odds with one another. That could easily have been a stumbling block, and the character transitions are a little jarring in the beginning. But, as the game progresses, it weaves their stories together more and more deftly until it almost feels like a narrative dance. At one point you walk into a conversation as one character and leave it as another, and the transition is so seamless that you barely notice it happened.

19Conversation is the game’s forte, and that’s good, because dialogue is frequent and lengthy. The game often lets you steer conversations with either/or choices rather than merely giving you a laundry list of topics to click on. Sometimes these choices offer alternative paths around obstacles, sometimes they turn up extra information, and sometimes they affect little beyond how the dialogue unfolds. At one major turning-point in the story, you are confronted with what appears to be a singular, character-defining choice, only to learn that your character will end up doing the same thing no matter which option you choose.

The game doesn’t rely too much on any one shtick (aside from dialogue), and it’s not afraid to get its action in your peanut butter with sequences that have you fleeing assassins on rooftops, sneaking past guard robots in a research facility, and brawling with rebels in the back alleys of Marcuria. These sequences are functional, if not inspired, and, though they aren’t particularly hard, some of them have alternative solutions for the action-impaired. All that variety sometimes makes the game feel like a jack of all trades, master of none, but at least it never falls into a rut.

That’s saying a lot for a game that clocks in at upward of 25 hours of dense, constantly moving gameplay. Dreamfall is the adventure-game equivalent of a page-turner, one that doesn’t make it a hassle to turn the pages.

System Requirements: Pentium II 350 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 470 MB HDD, Win95/98

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