The ability to drum up interest in a brand new IP based off of a director’s name is an incredibly rare sight in the video game industry, so when it actually happens, the notion carries much more weight. Additionally, it’s a testament that says the auteur behind these experiences has a highly personable and unique style; something that isn’t easy to express in a video game when you consider that the majority are constricted to following a guideline of design choices and control schemes that work.
Swery found a way to shatter that mould, and in some ways rewrote the book on what a video game could be with Deadly Premonition. Yes, it is one of the most polarizing games ever made (some sites gave it a score as low as 2/10, while others awarded it a perfect rating), but that is also the single greatest compliment you can give it. There was nothing like it at the time, and there still is nothing like it. At least, until Swery’s latest idiosyncratic masterpiece, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, came along.
D4 embodies all of the zaniness that made Deadly Premonition the cult classic it is today, but also refines the execution of storytelling. For starters, D4 has no third-person shooter gameplay shoehorned in solely to meet an abstract quota of interactivity. This time around players will strictly be engaging in investigative work while occasionally completing QTEs whenever conflict arises. Essentially, Swery’s first brilliant move was to trash the elements that bogged Deadly Premonition down, and replace them with…nothing. This means that there is far less shooting of generic enemies, and more investigation into the mystery at hand.
And speaking of that, D4‘s narrative is just as bizarre as every project Swery has ever been involved with.
Players assume the role of a Bostonian private detective named David Young, who is searching for answers behind the murder of his wife, Little Peggy. The twist that Swery has plastered all over the story is that David was present the night of the murder, and was actually shot in the head, but was stricken with amnesia. All he remembers are Peggy’s final words: “Look for D.” On the flip side, he gained a gift that allows him to use mementos – items of significance and sentimental value to any case – to travel back in time. With this new ability, his ultimate goal is to learn the identity of the killer and change the past so that he and Peggy can be together again.
What separates this murder mystery from others, though, are the weird characters that typically inhabit Swery’s games. The first two episodes – which are all that are currently available – primarily take place on an airplane that is destined to get struck by lightning and is filled with passengers that are completely mental. One guy is a fashion obsessed lunatic that walks around with a mannequin dressed up to mimic him, there’s a flight attendant that can’t stop inhaling a hot new drug on the market, and ironically, there is a lady freaking out and convinced that the plane is going to be struck by lightning. Those aren’t all of the characters, but it’s just a taste of the ridiculous personalities you will be investigating.
One aspect of storytelling that really propels Swery into the upper echelon is his ability to juxtapose this absurdity with an emotional narrative that can kick you right in the gut. When you’re not diving into the past, you are free to explore David’s apartment, which surprisingly has a ton of content. Most notable are a series of letters from Peggy spread out over the course of what seems like a decade, all of which give new details on not necessarily the case, but the general relationship the two shared. Players who actively seek the letters out will be greatly rewarded with a deeper understanding of the narrative and a stronger emotional connection.
There are also numerous magazines hidden throughout the game that cover a variety of topics including hockey, baseball, movies, relevant social topics such as Bitcoin, and more. These readings aren’t really vital to the story, but are a creative way for Swery to imprint more of his personality into the game. This is something that did wonders for Deadly Premonition, by adding an even deeper layer of distinctiveness to the experience. Everything regarding the story and presentation in D4 has Swery’s fingerprints all over it, and that is arguably the game’s greatest strength.
This is still a game, though, and believe it or not, there is actually gameplay in D4. Instead of manually controlling your character across environments, however, Swery has gone the route of point-and-click, or rather, make gestures with Kinect. You, of course, don’t have to use Kinect, but the game was clearly designed with that in mind. I preferably just used the standard Xbox One controller and am happy to report that the game can be played just fine that way.
Basically, there is a handprint on-screen at all times that you can move around with the left thumbstick. This is your primary method of interacting with objects and characters, whether it be picking up objects or pushing them, opening up a door, or whatever else you can think of. You can move David, but it is very limited in that you can only go forward by pushing the right thumbstick up. Pushing the right thumbstick in other directions will turn David and give you an entirely new camera angle. You can also use the bumpers to look left and right little bit.
In other words, the gameplay primarily boils down to observing your environment and searching for clues. Interacting with your surroundings does cause your stamina to decrease, though, which is somewhat annoying. It’s understandable that there has to be some sort of method to punish the player, but it can be very frustrating if you are the obsessive type like myself and want to find absolutely everything in every area of every room. Thankfully, replenishing your stamina is fairly easy, and is just a matter of eating some food. Furthermore, if you don’t have any food there is always a shop nearby to purchase stuff at. It’s just the feeling that this entire mechanic is unnecessary that ends up making it bothersome.
Aside from stamina, you also have life and vision gauges that represent exactly what you would expect them to represent. Even though there is no traditional combat in the game, you can still take damage during the QTEs, which have you pushing the thumbsticks in various directions before pressing or tapping different buttons. The QTEs are easy to pull off for the most part, but you are scored on your reactionary skills, which is a neat feature that could keep players coming back to replay episodes.
Vision can be refilled by drinking coffee and other beverages, and is essentially the button you press when you want the game to highlight all of the clues for you. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a copout to use and didn’t really rely on it, but the feature being there is a welcome addition.
There is also a ton of supplementary content in D4, although I can’t really tell if it’s wasting my time or not. For example, at one point during episode two there is a character that has a series of optional missions where you must look for items that have the answer to trivia clues. The missions add nothing to the story but do give you some money and clothing items.
It is possible that the developers expect the money to be used to buy things from shops, in order to keep your stamina up, but there are a plethora of credit medals out in the open of every area to pick up. Furthermore, you can accumulate a ridiculous amount of money just from pushing every object in sight repeatedly, even if they are human beings. In other words, money is never a problem in the game, so having some rewarded isn’t really that big of a deal. Neither are clothing items unless you are really interested in personalizing various characters.
One positive thing I can say about the side missions is that they do bring out the weirdness of each character just that much more, which ultimately has to make it worth your time. Also, by completing all of the side content you can probably stretch what is a four hour game into roughly seven hours. Keep in mind, all that is released right now is the prologue and the first two episodes, so perhaps one of the most important takeaways from this is that D4 should have a staggering amount of content in the long run. That is both a blessing and a curse, too, because I want a lot more, but I also don’t want to have to keep waiting long stretches of time in-between each set of episodes.
Overall, Swery has another special game on his hands here with D4, and I highly recommend that you check it out.
Forget David Cage's Heavy Rain and Rockstar's L.A. Noire. If you want to experience murder mysteries like no other, look for Swery and his latest lovably weird masterpiece, D4.