Developed by Access Games. Published by Microsoft. Released September 19, 2014. Available on Xbox One. Copy provided by publisher.
David Young is a former narcotics officer turned private detective, mourning the murder of his wife – Little Peggy – and on the case of a mysterious new drug sweeping Boston, Real Blood. He lives with a woman who thinks she’s a cat, and works alongside Forrest Kaysen, a gluttonous detective with superhuman eating skills. Also, Young can travel back in time using magic objects called Mementos, and there’s also a fashionista who talks to a mannequin. Oh, and a guy with a knife and fork … and surgical mask.
Swery65, the mad genius behind Deadly Premonition, is back, and this time he’s got a Kinect-powered take on the kind of game usually peddled by Quantic Dream.
Though D4 (alternatively known as Dark Dreams Don’t Die) can be used with a standard controller, the game is quite clearly designed with Kinect in mind, and this is one of those few games in which I can say motion controls are the preferred method of input. The right or left hand can be used to guide a cursor on screen, while creating a fist with that hand confirms commands, be it moving David to a set location, interacting with an object, or selecting dialog choices.
Spiritually, this is a point-and-click adventure with some motion-controlled quick-time-events thrown in for good measure. Simple swipes of the arm will open doors or flip through paperwork, and some items can be pushed with a quick thrust of the palm. The gesture input is, on the whole, pretty damn responsive and does a fine job of doing what needs to be done. Every now and then, I had the cursor spasm and lose control, but not enough to ruin the overall experience.
D4 puts me in mind of Quantic Dream’s recent output, with similarities to Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls just begging to be made. As with the works of self-styled auteur David Cage, a large majority of the game is spent interacting with mundane objects, going through linear tasks, and chatting with supporting characters to solve a mystery. The major difference between D4 and those games, however, is that Swery65 is out of his mind, and as such, the narrative is a car crash of abstract comedy, bizarre NPCs, and sublimely ludicrous scenarios.
Comprising a prologue and two episodes (with more to come in the future), Season One of D4 takes place mostly on an airplane in which a drug courier is being transported to Boston. The courier allegedly disappeared on the flight, so David must travel into the past and find out what happened, meeting various suspects aboard the plane – from the neurotic woman who’s convinced everybody’s going to die, to the sneering business class attendant who seems possessed of unnatural strength. To solve the case, players will have to explore the environment, and can undertake optional missions that consist of hunting down objects or completing trivia quizzes.
With some deliciously over-the-top voice acting and utterly demented dialog, D4 is every bit as bizarre and laugh-inducing as Swery’s prior cult classic, Deadly Premonition. There is an issue with some poor grammar in the subtitles, but otherwise this is quite the polished production when compared to previous Access Games releases, with a stylish cartoon-like visual style and a brilliant soundtrack that blends the cool with the camp. Very few videogames can strike me as genuinely funny, but where Deadly Premonition succeeded in making me laugh, so too does D4, though it does so with enough dark twists and plot intrigue to keep me eager as hell to find out what happens next.
Alongside the general adventure game fare of environmental interactions, there are QTE sections to spice things up. Using timed swipes with both hands, as well as “stunt” commands that require the player to mimic punching, throwing, or even posing smugly after completing a tough action segment, these scenes are fast-paced, visually hilarious, and a ridiculous amount of fun. QTEs in general can either be thrilling highlights or banal filler, but the way in which one’s motions in D4 correspond directly with the on-screen action, as well as the sheer silliness of the action itself, makes them work very well here. Not once did one of these sequences end without me grinning broadly, and I just wish there were more of them.
A few more action scenes would definitely have helped, as despite being largely amusing, there are certainly moments in D4 where the pace feels a bit too dreary and dragged out. The limited interactions with the world, not to mention how some of the optional quests rely heavily on repetition, can make the overall experience more irritating than it otherwise could be. Not to mention, swiping from across the screen every time you want to turn around is by far the most common cause of the Kinect getting confused, and when you’re trudging back and forth, it’s a real pain in the arse.
Still, for the most part this is one Kinect game that doesn’t feel overly shallow and forced, with most of the motion-controls introduced in a natural and practical manner, and gameplay that straddles the line between inventive and safe, tuned suitably for the motion input. It’s a little less fun with the controller, admittedly, as the simplified controls just come off as banal without the gestures, but such issues do little to alter the overall entertainment value of the story.
A few extra things need keeping in mind while playing. David can use “Vision” to highlight interactive objects in the environment and find story-relative items. Everything he does also uses Stamina, and if he runs out of that, it’s game over. Vision and Stamina meters are replenished with drink and food found throughout the world, an interesting bit of resource management that nonetheless becomes an annoyance to keep track of, especially given how quickly stamina drains with even the smallest of actions. Food also does a bad job of returning significant amounts of Stamina, too, turning an otherwise neat idea into a bit of unwanted babysitting.
Food can be purchased from stores (aka the woman who thinks she’s a cat, or a literal cat later on), along with new outfits for select characters, fresh background music for the detective’s apartment, and various “gifts.” Credits are used to buy stuff, and they’re earned through the course of play – completing objectives, choosing more “in-character” dialog options, and pursuing side quests. Naturally, there’s an outfit based on Francis York Morgan, because why the heck not?
I was worried that, following Deadly Premonition‘s cult success, Swery65 would struggle with an all-new followup, perhaps trying too hard to be quirky, or otherwise failing to live up to the bizarre bar he set in the last outing. D4‘s opening episodes, however, have smoothly alleviated such fears – not only is it a competently made adventure game with solid motion controls and a crazy plot, it’s also a great comedy action story that marries the macabre and the eccentric in a way that just feels so very natural.
Swery65 doesn’t have to try. It’s clear now that this insanity is just what he does, and he does it so damn well.
Bottom Line: D4 is ridiculous. It’s weird, and silly, and makes very little sense. It’s also hilarious, and packed with some of the most engaging motion-controlled sequences I’ve ever played. Coming from someone who generally doesn’t like the Kinect, that’s a damn big achievement!
Recommendation: A potential must for Deadly Premonition fans, and worth checking out for anybody who wants a strange, strange adventure game.[rating=4]