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Dream / 26th of August 2015

Dream is a game about being an obnoxious middleclass tosser whose uncle left him an estate where he has weird dreams that make me feel a bit sick because they're all a tad wobbly. Designed semi-specifically for the Oculus Rift, I can't actually imagine playing this in one, because HyperSloth's game is the first release that has ever made me feel physically sick. But enough about that! You're cast into the role of Howard, a post-university age, and rather uninteresting man whose reflection makes him look like a nine year old in a doom mod. After wandering about your house - and figuring out what are possibly mild spoilers - so I won't specify them - from certain articles and strangely creepy monologues such as "Uncle Ed, it still smells like you in here", you decide to go to bed and then the real game begins.

Oh and I got stuck on a drawer at one point which caused me to get trapped on the kitchen counter, like a small kitten trying to get at some chicken you left on a plate. While I was thoroughly stuck I managed to get down by sliding along past the sink and down a pizza box that was in the bin, so thanks Wizard Pizza for your perfectly positioned pizza box! Dear god, what a weird game this is, I guess you could accuse it of being in the "Walking about while talking to yourself" genre that Dear Esther has seemingly popularised, but there is actually a fair bit of actual gaming here, and a lot more than most of those interactive stories can claim to offer.



It's all a bit bloody strange and at times it's been a bit disturbing, confusing and has pulled off some elements of first person horror bloody well. I have to wonder if this narrow field of view and the mild dizziness that came from the dissonance between where I was looking and where the camera decided to look were intentionally done to disturb the player, because a sickly off balance feeling and a pounding headache definitely make running from a roaring monster made of smoke that much more tense and difficult. I found myself leaning closer to read text on screen, not because it was too small (the game handles 4k fairly well) but because it simply made it easier to focus. If this was a planned gameplay feature, and I certainly hope that it is, it’s actually an interesting addition to Dream, one that could actually advance the medium far more than any 3D nonsense ever could, so plaudits should (hopefully) go to HyperSloth for that.


Without trying to spoil too much, Dream features wandering about pretty, but somewhat empty areas, solving puzzles while Howard - whose bare feet and boxer shorts you are in - makes occasional quips and reads things he sees in a somewhat smug manner. Howard (if you hadn’t already guessed) is a pretty unlikeable guy, and the quintessential "I finished uni but never did anything with that degree, of course I didn't get the job, I was too smart for them!" sort of chap (they exist). He grows on you a bit though, you'll learn Howard's motivations and feelings as you go through the puzzles, it's heartening to get into his head, to learn his hopes and fears and why he's a bit of a smug bell end, and it's heartening to hear him become bolder, and realise where some of his issues lie.
Now, as much as I’d like to end on that high note, I simply can’t, as the game’s puzzles take sudden spikes in difficulty/frustration as you go, seeing something that starts out fairly trivial become inordinately challenging, and then by Act 3 the puzzles can be an exercise in frustration/time wasting. It’s also worth pointing out that they also feel more than a tad buggy and poorly made by this point, and I’m sure that you’ll also agree that running around fourteen rooms looking for hidden arrows is nobody’s idea of fun. I appreciate that you don’t enter games like this necessarily just for fun, but you generally tend to hope to not be too annoyed either. Which, sadly, isn’t the case.



A bug causing me to have to restart a tower of Hanoi style puzzle at one point almost made me give up on the game, it was insanely frustrating and poorly made and involved running up and down some stairs over and over. These things are often open to interpretation, but it feels like the guys at HyperSloth wanted people to think about some of the people they've met, and some of the facets of themselves and how they feel, and why they feel that way. It's a nice study into the Howards of the world, with some good puzzle elements (and some bad puzzle elements) and some design choices which immerse you very well.

And so, it is this inconsistency that perhaps characterises Dream best of all, perhaps marking it as a waste of genuine potential thanks to the general lack of polish that blights it. It’s also not overly long, maybe 6-8 hours if you stop to look at the majority of things, but then it's also only £13 and incredibly interesting in a lot of ways. As an aside, I got an annoying bug where I couldn't click at one point and exiting the game and reloading caused me to skip a sizable chunk of one of the sections. I then repeatedly got a bug in Act 3 where picking up and inspecting items made me unable to ever put the item back down, causing me to have to redo a part of this area over and over again, until I just started refusing to look at things for fear of bringing the bug back.

 
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