I think if one were to put together a list of the best adventure games of all time, Funcom’s The Longest Journey would, if not win, at least be a significant part of the discussion. And if one were to restrict the entries to only those released in a year starting with a “2,” then The Longest Journey would easily be in the top two (for me, the other top game would be Syberia).
Thus, I was excited when I saw that Funcom was coming out with a sequel to the adventure, titled Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. That excitement diminished somewhat when I learned that Dreamfall was going to be an action-adventure game, because from my experience action-adventures are almost always bad. Usually developers combine weak adventure puzzles with easy action sequences, and they don’t realize that two lesser halves don’t combine to make an entertaining whole.
Funcom, possibly aware of the failings of those other games, took a different tack. They decided to make their action-adventure game have almost no action or adventure elements whatsoever. I’d guess that of the 18 hours I spent playing the game, 15 of those hours consisted of me listening to characters talk to each other. As a result, Dreamfall, despite being a well-made game, is rather disconcerting to play.
In Dreamfall, you control three characters: a college drop-out named Zoe Castillo, a Shifter named April Ryan, and an assassin named Kian Alvane. April Ryan was the main character from The Longest Journey, but Zoe Castillo is the main character in this game. Almost everything is seen through her eyes. Meanwhile, Kian Alvane barely makes an appearance in the game, and it’s not clear why he was included at all.
As Dreamfall opens up, Zoe learns that her ex-boyfriend is in a bit of trouble, and when she tries to help him out, she finds herself embroiled in a global conspiracy. It’s not immediately clear what the conspiracy is, except that there are a lot of Big Brother overtones, and people say things like, “Eingana has responded positively to direct infusion of Morpheus.” Eventually, Zoe learns how to move between her world and the magical world of Arcadia where April Ryan and Kian live, and the characters’ storylines begin to converge.
Unfortunately, while Funcom took the time to develop the story, they didn’t give equal treatment to the interactive parts of the game. The adventure puzzles are few and far between, and most don’t take any thought to solve. There are barely any inventory objects to find, and the game gives broad hints for what you’re supposed to do. For example, one of the first puzzles in the game involves helping a scientist escape from a cage. The scientist actually points to the top of the cage, and all you have to do is climb to the top and press a button there. Voila! Puzzle solved, but ho hum.
The action sequences aren’t much better. Most of the game involves finding hotspots and then clicking on them, so, for example, when you need to use a waterwheel to reach a high platform, you just click on the hotspot on the waterwheel, and all of the action takes place in a cutscene. You don’t actually have to time your jumps or anything like that. About all you get to do in the action department is take part in a few fights. You left click to make a normal attack, right click to make a heavier attack, and press the spacebar to block. That’s a functional system, and it’s not much different than what you see in a lot of role-playing games, but the enemies in Dreamfall rarely try to fight back. Most just stand there and let you beat on them, and so the fighting sequences aren’t very exciting.
That leaves it up to the story for whether Dreamfall is any fun to play, and I’d say the story is hit and miss. Funcom took the time to develop the conspiracy and add depth to the characters, which is good, but you spend far too much time listening to people talk to each other, and they talk and talk and rarely say anything important. There are entire sequences that aren’t explained and that don’t make a lot of sense (like Brian Westhouse, or the twins, or the White Dragon), as if Funcom was more interested in setting up a sequel than in telling the current story, and so the game ends up being less than satisfying to play. Funcom really needed someone to come in and edit down the story to a reasonable length, and to cut out a lot of dead weight (like when you first visit Arcadia and end up running errands for the likes of Blind Bob and Crazy Clara). If you’re one of those people who thought the movie version of The Da Vinci Code was too long at 2.5 hours, imagine if it had lasted 18 hours, and you’d have Dreamfall.
Many parts of the game are well made -- the graphics are nice, and the voice acting is generally excellent (Zoe’s voice in particular is done well, which is good given how much dialogue she has) -- but overall Dreamfall isn’t a lot of fun to play. There aren’t enough interactive moments in the action-adventure, and the few that are there aren’t interesting enough or complicated enough to make the game worth playing. Mostly all you do is walk your character from one interminable conversation to the next. That’s not a recipe for success, and so I’d only recommend Dreamfall to the exceptionally bored or patient.