STAFF REVIEW of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Xbox)

Friday, April 14, 2006.
by Davilis

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Box art Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is one of the most eagerly anticipated sequels in the history of action/adventure gaming to date! FunCom was the developer for the multi-award winning PC game The Longest Journey (2000), and this time, has collaborated with publisher Aspyr Media to bring us this long-awaited gem for console gaming. Since 1993, FunCom has released some 23 titles in the primary focus of action/adventure and massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) such as Age of Conan-Hyborian Adventures and the Anarchy series with its various online expansions.

Dreamfall: TLJ is an action/adventure game that effectively spins a delightfully addictive tale of parallel worlds Stark and Arcadia, and the other-worldly realm of Winter, which seems to bridge both realities. Dreamfall: TLJ is a truly breathtaking mix of adventure gaming, intuitive character design and interaction, incredibly rich music and atmospheric effects, and a riveting plot line that is sure to strike a chord with just about any gamer!!!

It has to be an absolutely daunting task to take a game like The Longest Journey and prepare to make a decent sequel? To put this point into proper perspective, consider that many industry critics have referred to the original PC game as ?one of the best games of all time?! To say that FunCom had their work cut out for them would be the understatement of the century, but they have delivered in grand style. I can?t really remember a game that I?ve ever just stopped playing to admire for it?s sheer beauty? I may only speak from personal experience, but I would have to admit that Dreamfall: TLJ ?re-awoke? the same kind of exhilaration I felt initially playing Final Fantasy VII insofar as the epic feel of it? I hope some of you out there can grasp what I?m attempting to convey here. We?ve all heard the term ?feel good? in association with movies typically?well, let me tell you that this is a ?feel good? game.

An incredibly crafted fusion of amazing graphics, intricate character interaction and mesmerizing music has made Dreamfall: TLJ a truly rare experience. Through the course of gameplay, you will control three player characters: Zoe Castillo, April Ryan (the protagonist from The Longest Journey), and Kian. Dozens of exotic locales on three different realms of existence will assail your senses, and draw you into a flatly masterful story. Set largely in Stark, a world seemingly like our own, the year is 2216 and 20yr old Zoe Castillo is living back at home in Casablanca with her father. Some sort of near-Cataclysmic event called The Collapse had occurred about ten years earlier, and the people of Stark were only just beginning to re-establish the contact that had been severed with other parts of the planet. Technologically advanced devices abound in Stark, as people make frequent reference to The Wire (I took it to be the Internet, as we know it), The Syndicate, and The Hand That Bites; in addition to The Eye in the Sky. In the preview build I had the distinct pleasure of playing, I have drawn some speculation on the aforementioned groups. The Syndicate appears to be something of a political entity, governing the people of Stark, while The Hand seems to be some form of resistance perhaps? The Eye seems to be the invasive tool of The Syndicate to monitor all communications on Stark for whatever purpose?
Robots are commonplace in Stark, functioning in capacities such as un-manned taxis, city beautification (ie. trash removal, watering plants etc), and personal information and activity devices, such as Wonkers, Zoe?s Watilla. Made by the Wati Corp, Watillas are little animatronic and robotic ?pets? (Gorillas actually?made by Wati Corp, hence ?Watilla?) that people use to electronically store daily scheduling activities, play games, provide companionship, and relay all manner of news from local to planetary importance.

The very basic fighting controls were just right, in my estimation, so as not to detract from the more important aspects of gameplay. There are light, fast attacks, and longer, heavier attacks with the ability to block. One can develop simple combination attacks based on this as well. On screen dialogue is always verbalized too?a very nice touch, and almost indispensable these days. In fact, the dialogue between whatever persona you?re playing at the time, and the multitude of people you must speak with to unravel this mystery is so realistic, that you could close your eyes and imagine being just around a corner listening in on someone?s completely plausible conversation. That realism is at the core of what makes Dreamfall: TLJ soooooo hard to take a break from!

Dreamfall: TLJ also makes use of a really ingenious context-sensitive inventory and selection menu. By pressing up on the D-Pad one can quickly and easily access their inventory, examine items in there, combine items with other relevant items to create the item needed under whatever the circumstance. Another quick note on character dialogue, I should mention that the extent or brevity of a conversation is truly up to you. That is to say, you may continue a line of questioning as long as there are ?new? points popping up to ask about?OR you can ask a question or two and dash. This should really appeal to gamers who like a lot of plot/character development, while also offering an ?out? for the ?get-to-the-point? set. During gameplay, objects of interest or those requiring manipulation are ?highlighted? in a blue rectangular Focus Field. In this manner, its really rather diffcult to accidently run past a required object or curio. Again, a very straight-forward interface that compliments the adventure to a tee.

The full motion video sequences are just amazing; add in some original music created specifically for the game, and you have a spellbinding mystery that just doesn?t quit making you smile. Although I?ve never had the pleasure of playing The Longest Journey, I suspect the graphics engine was retained from the first colossal hit? I mean, ?Hey?if it kicked !&%$@#* the first time?.?, then why mess with a good thing, right? The many panoramic landscape scenes do an excellent job of establishing perspective in this massive free-roaming world, or more accurately, worlds. Character facial expressions, body language, and even random eye blinking have all been addressed with exceptional detail. The graphics in Dreamfall: TLJ are virtually flawless in my estimation. The varied locales and personalities you will encounter in the course of this unraveling mystery look and act absolutely real. The characters can appear wistful, or upset; angry or agitated! Movement is particularly well done, as easily evidenced in watching Jama (Zoe?s martial arts instructor) slowly and fluidly complete the ?ebb and flow? forms of Tai Chi, whilst Zoe looks on admiringly. Also, the fighting sequences mirror that same realistic fluidity, with the short, quick jabs looking the way a jab should look?and heavier attacks illustrating the slow, deliberate build-up for that knock-out attempt!

Object texture also deserves some mention, as does the use of light and shadow effects. The opening cinematics really do take your breath away, and just about anybody watching should quickly glean that this game is a MUST HAVE for any genre gamer. In game objects like fire, be it torches or open bonfires, behave randomly, flickering and dancing as bona fide flame would; metallic surfaces are highly polished and reflective, as they should be! So well done are the atmospheric elements of the game, that when you find yourself in the barren Winter realm, you can practically feel the cold!

FunCom has long been renowned for their commitment to a unique sound and gaming experience. Dreamfall: TLJ does not disappoint either. In another groundbreaking collaboration, FunCom and Warner Music worked together to release a two CD soundtrack for Dreamfall: TLJ. It was this shared vision that brought Norwegian Warner artist ?Magnet? (Even ?Magnet? Johansen) to the table with four exclusive tracks for the game. Magnet?s talents include a recent spot as iTunes Musician of the Week, and several TV pieces for the likes of The O.C. and Six Feet Under. I can safely say that this significant effort to go above and beyond the typical recycled existing songs, with perhaps a vague relation to game content, has proven truly exceptional in delivering a fresh and unique audible impact on the game, making it all the more memorable.

Inflection and dialect clearly illustrate the level of skill incorporated by the games many voice talents. Atmospheric and ambient sounds were also very well executed; from the incessant rainfall noise in Venice (Newport), to the hustle and bustle sounds of the Casablancan marketplace, or village square whispers in Arcadia. The haunting melodies and background music for Dreamfall: TLJ are sure to keep gamers replaying just for the ear candy!!!

Look for Dreamfall: The Longest Journey in stores within the next week or so. I know I?ll be picking up my own copy with all speed, and you should too! This one is sure to garner just as many awards as its predecessor, and should become a staple in any gamers library. If any of you out there have a friend or acquaintance who just can?t understand why WE play video games?sit their !&%$@#* down in front of Dreamfall, and let the conversion begin!!!!

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.6 / 10
Visuals: 9.6 / 10
Sound: 9.6 / 10


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