Review: D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die (PC)

Yes, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is every bit as obscure as all previous other Swery65 titles; and yes, it’s also probably as weird as you’ve already heard. Launching on the Xbox One last year, this PC port gives us the same experience, except this time motion controls are nowhere to be found. While the Kinect integration was surprisingly decent in that original version, the implementation of the keyboard and mouse do enough to make up for it that those gesture controls won’t be missed one bit. Not all ports perform up to the standards set by the initial game, though. How does D4 do in that department?

In Dark Dreams Don’t Die, players assume the role of one David Young–an investigator from Boston with the ability to “dive” into the past. Why does he have this ability? Because it’s a Swery game. Moving on, time travel is a large component of D4‘s narrative, with David jumping back and forth between the past and present to piece together the clues relating to the murder of his wife, Peggy. In his search for Peggy’s killer, our hero encounters all sorts of bizarre characters, such as bombastic fashion designers with giant green pomdaours and obscenely tall doctors who sharpens two scapals while talking in riddles, just to name a few. To say that the cast is diverse would quite possibly be the biggest understatement of the year, as these off-the-wall personas are not only one of a kind, but, despite their arcaneness, are extremely well-developed and even poignant in the message beneath their seemingly psychotic exteriors.

These personalities are needed, however, as the set-pieces in D4 are not nearly as varied. Furthermore, the environments here are relatively small, with the exception of one or two, so there isn’t that sense of exploration one would expect or want with a point-and-click adventure-like experience. Then again, the backdrops aren’t going to be what catches players’ attentions anyway–that prize will go to the crazy scenarios in which David finds himself.

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Using a fake leg as a melee device while fending off an assailant, mistaking a woman he lives with for a cat, and guzzling down copious amounts of booze are just three things the player will encounter throughout the adventure–and trust us when we say that there are more where that came from.

What’s great about D4‘s ridiculousness is how seriously the game takes itself. Everything we’ve detailed thus far sounds out-and-out insane, and yet, Dark Dreams Don’t Die never once blinks an eye at it. It takes its lunacy as if it is gospel, and is a better game because of it. Sure, it could be interesting for the writers to have broken the fourth wall with some of the title’s lunacy, but to have it assume that what players are seeing is in fact not as absurd as it is makes it endearing. A self-referential narrative has a time and a place–it just so happens to be that D4 is neither that time, nor that place. Instead, it drops its wild, wacky world in players’ laps and expects them to take it at face-value as well. One has to respect a game that, not only does that, but gets away with it, too.

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Because D4 has a very Heavy Rain-esque feeling to it, it lends itself well to a mouse and keyboard. When we first heard the game would be coming to PC, we were a bit worried simply because the Kinect controls were actually extremely well-implemented. Moreover, for once, they were actually crafted in a way that allowed the hardware to decode the movements so as to allow for a satisfying degree of responsiveness. Thankfully, this jump to a motion control-less experience has been a smooth one, as doing the gestures with a swipe of the mouse actually feels even better.

This is a life-saver, too, as D4 relies heavily on QTEs. We are afraid to write that just because we can visualize readers’ kneejerk reaction to the very idea; and yet, these QTEs are smart and dare we even say necessary. Now don’t get us wrong, even though all action sequences take place through this method, this is not Asura’s Wrath-levels of quick-time events. Again, these are thoughtfully placed and make the game MORE immersive, and believe it or not, MORE fun. All of this has been made even better because of the fluidity and intuitiveness of a mouse.

What hasn’t been upgraded for this release is the available resolution. It would have been wonderful to see Dark Dreams‘ characters pop with even more vibrancy thanks to a resolution that went beyond 1080. Unfortunately, it was not given that treatment. This is too bad because as indicated, D4 is a looker of a game. Its visual style is as distinct as its wacky characters, and already animate and pop off the screen extremely well; to see this with a graphical fidelity only achievable on PC would have been fantastic. It just feels like a missed opportunity here.

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Closing Comments
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Whereas the PC adaptation of Deadly Premonition was a god-awful buggy mess, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die has been ported with care and love. And while we would have loved to see the beautiful cel-shaded visuals in a resolution higher than 1080p, what is there runs without a framerate drop or any other graphical hiccups. Though the game ultimately performs best with a controller, the keyboard and mouse incorporation is better than what was offered through Kinect controls. This is a must-own for those without an Xbox One. Even with its proclivities and general narrative insanity, it’s one of the most unique experiences on the market right now. Amid an industry that has struggled with innovation for years now, it’s important that games like D4 are supported and made.