By: Quinn Potter
As David Young, a former Boston detective, you time travel to collect clues to prevent your wife’s murder. It’s hard to have much of an expectation with a game like this because there simply aren’t many narrative-driven Kinect games involving time-jumping detectives. If Sherlock Holmes met Dr. Who would D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die be the result?
If you use the controller, even first-time gamers can pick up the controls quickly as they go through the step-by-step tutorial. Using the Kinect takes longer to learn and has its usual glitches: hard to get the precise swipe motion, grasp objects, walk through the set, etc.
Once you’ve synched up with your Kinect, it does get easier to manipulate your character. As an added convenience, if you get stuck on a section using the Kinect, go back to using the controller and you’ll probably get right through it. In fact, if you’re tired of standing around while the characters chatter, feel free to take a seat with the controller as you rest up for more active parts of the investigation.
Entering the world of D4 is like becoming a character in a graphic novel. The use of this distinctive artistic style help distance some of the violence, loss, and more disturbing parts of the story so you can stay immersed in the noir environment without getting caught in some kind of intense emotional rollercoaster.
If you linger on each part of the set, you’ll be rewarded with a lot of quirky background details that add to the fun. This isn’t going to be a game that rewards you with points so much as a richly detailed story-playing experience. Take time to drink the coffee and enjoy a few fortune cookies while you’re at it.
Audio is strong. Voice actors give a nice layer of believability to each character. As David Young, you talk to yourself a lot (think aloud) as you put the pieces together. Young’s supposed Boston accent sometimes wanders into the Bronx, which can be a bit annoying if you let it get to you. In general, though, the dialogue is just one part of the story, so it’s easy on the ears.
There’s a very smooth interplay of music, dialogue, and visual clues to help guide you through the narrative. The cityscape outside Young’s window thrives with the hum of an urban metropolis, the window shades on the plane have an annoyingly good rattle, and the transitional music sets an appropriate tone for each part of the episode.
Peggy, your wife, was murdered over a year ago. Since then, you’ve been obsessed with traveling back in time to find the clues that would help you prevent this tragedy.
Start with something simple, like exploring your apartment. Pick out a record, drink some coffee, look out the window. Learn how to open and close doors, grab objects, walk around rooms, keep your stamina up, and use your special vision power that lets you see beyond the physical world. The more evidence you find, the more points you get.
In the first episode, you’ll time jump to an airplane and meet a lot of interesting characters: a drug-inhaling flight attendant, OCD passenger, tall doctor, bald US Marshal, aggressive guy with the glass eye, fashion designer in love with his mannequin, etc. Everyone’s got a story. The more characters you talk to, the more clues you have to figure out your own story, too.
In this game, story is everything. The narrative is strong and compelling. It’s as if you’re character from a movie (The Fisher King, Memento), who’s lost something so precious that it’s going to be almost impossible to ever really be whole again. The loss drives you forward, but there’s also hope. As you collect evidence, you really think you’re moving in the direction of changing the outcome, so you can prevent your wife’s murder.
Will you? Won’t you? It doesn’t really matter. The gameplay is in the journey. There are so many sets to explore, quirky characters to interrogate (or fight), details to piece together that you barely have time to focus on the side narratives (such as cases to solve for your actual job as a detective). Rest assured, this is not a “choose your own adventure.” Each situation has a clear outcome and you will get there — slowly, quickly, with or without a lot of guidance — you will definitely get to the one final end point of each episode before moving on to the next.
This is a game in the sense that you will collect points, be timed, unlock badges and special privileges. Find the cat and you can shop at a special store that unlocks more goodies as you go. Finish an episode and you’ll get an object to use for the next part of your journey. Aside from all the game-like trappings, however, there’s the deeper feeling of accomplishment because you’re actually engaging your mind to piece things together. That’s a pretty cool reward for a morning spent playing a video game.
Take Sherlock, give him the time-jumping skills of Dr. Who, mix in some supernatural “see beyond” powers and violence, sprinkle a good assortment of quirky David Lynch / Twin Peaks-type oddball characters and you’ve got a thoroughly enjoyable, richly immersive game. If this is part of a new genre of video / virtual reality gaming, it’s going to be fun to see where the next episodes take us.