No one really knows how well a video game sequel is going to pan out, especially if the baton is passed to new developers. When The Chinese Room took creative control of Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs – the successor to Frictional Games’ horror masterpiece, Amnesia: The Dark Descent – the reputation of the franchise was put squarely in the young and independent team’s mitts. It often works well in many ways, as it gives new studios the chance to re-imagine an already popular world in their own vision.
Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey (currently selling as Dreamfall Chapters: Book One: Reborn) did a similar thing by handing control over to newcomers Red Thread Games. Except in this instance, Red Thread consists almost entirely of ex-employees from Funcom Productions, who worked on the game’s predecessors. Is that cheating a little? Well, maybe they just wanted to keep focusing on this ongoing journey and keep projects aside for Funcom. Who can say?
Anyway, Chapters is a continuation of events that unfurled in the previous title and the game is set in two disparate worlds: Stark and Arcadia.
Stark is almost a cyberpunk’s dream. It’s a technologically corrupt future with a fixation on neon signs and a political disparity that would fit right at home in 1980s sci-fi. Technology is either used against its people (flying adbots, advanced military personnel, machines that let you control your dreams but are highly addictive) or is broken (battered workshops, corrupt worker bots).
Arcadia is the antithesis of Stark. It’s a world that exists in parallel to the other, but visually looks centuries out of date and favours magic and sorcery over technology. Even the way the characters speak to one another sounds almost archaic.
While on the surface, Arcadia and Stark appear to be polar opposites, the two worlds are connected by a similar struggle: the fight against corrupt power, whether it’s dark magic or corporate technology.
The story begins with Zoe Castillo (the first of three characters you get to play as) waking up in a coma. Let me rephrase: she wakes up in a dream world to see her comatose self lying in a hospital bed.
Now, if you haven’t played the previous games, you’re going to have a lot of questions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it may have put me at a slight disadvantage having not played any other entries in the series, Dreamfall Chapters – Book One was actually able to pull me in by keeping me guessing. The opening sequence in the dream world was both beautiful and intriguing, and Zoe is an interesting and enigmatic character. I didn’t know anything about her, yet I wanted to find out more. By going in completely blind, I had a pure motive of wanting to discover the story – her story – and what these elusive Dreamachines were all about.
Having exposed a conspiracy theory in the previous game, Zoe is left to rot in a comatose state by the hands of the people she’d fought. She awakes several months later with little to no memory of the events, and I am right there with her.
In Arcadia, you play as Kian Alvane, an Azadi soldier who has been captured and is mere hours away from his execution. A prison riot breaks out and Kian is released, only to be chased by snot-nosed guards who have taken their etiquette skills directly from the book of I Say Old Chap! This sequence is over quickly and we’re back with Zoe where we get to explore the collapsing society that is Stark.
Visually, Chapters looks quite nice. It’s not something you’d hold up as a pillar of graphical prowess, but it’s definitely pretty to look at. And it was made in the Unity engine, a tool that’s often associated with bland-looking indie titles…so hats off to Red Thread in that respect.
Gameplay-wise, it handles like a typical third-person puzzle adventure, not too dissimilar from old-style games. With its changing between worlds and its mechanics, I’m actually reminded of the Gamecube’s Eternal Darkness, which employs similar gameplay tactics and style of narrative. For that reason, Chapters feels a little bit like something you would find on previous generation consoles.
What threw me initially was that it was seemingly trying to transcend genres. With a mystical opening set in a fantasy land, followed by a sequence in an old-looking keep and then jumping again to a futuristic-looking city, newcomers to the series will find themselves unable to decide what type of game Chapters actually is.
I was also surprised by the amount of swearing in the dialogue. While it’s not something many people will be opposed to, the rather liberal use of the word “f**k” throughout feels a little out of place.
Dreamfall Chapters is a generally interesting and pleasing game, but it doesn’t really feel special unless you have more knowledge of its mythos. If you’re a fan of the previous titles, the story will make a lot more sense as you’ll have all the background. That’s not to say people like me won’t enjoy it. There’s a mystery to be uncovered in this corrupt dual-world with an assortment of characters scattered around. It’s a shame NPCs don’t have a lot to say, though, as their inclusion would really breathe a lot more life into the settings.
If you want my honest advice: this is something you should play after experiencing the previous games. Dreamfall Chapters: Book One: Reborn is definitely playable and enjoyable, but there are huge chunks of the puzzle missing if you skip straight to this one, as I did.
This PC exclusive was provided to us for review purposes.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book One: Reborn is an intriguing addition to the franchise. But be warned, it's best played with some knowledge of the previous games in the series.