Dreamfall Chapters: Book Two - Rebels, Review - Games Weekly

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Dreamfall Chapters: Book Two - Rebels, Review

Have you ever played a game that has a not insignificant list of problems, but you felt compelled to recommend it anyway? A game that, despite all its obvious failings and inconsistences, has qualities that makes you want to forgive the things it does wrong? The second instalment of Dreamfall Chapters is that kind of game.

One of the key problems here is one that we thought had been worked out in Chapters’ first instalment. Book One struggled with the fact that its audience was divided between long-time fans of the Dreamfall series and newcomers, but that became less of an issue as the game progressed and we got to spend more time with Zoë Castillo in the dystopic sci-fi future world of Stark.

In Book Two, however, Dreamfall undertakes the task of properly introducing us to its second protagonist, who had only a small role in Book One, Kian Alvane. In the process of doing that, the problems that Book One had introducing us to Zoë re-emerge. We meet characters that Kian has clearly encountered in the past, but that we as players may not have; we get references to past events that are evidently important, but that remain opaque to anyone who hasn’t experienced them for themselves. As a result, there are times when you can feel like you have an incomplete understanding of Kian and end up making choices without the necessary context to inform them.

Outside of those narrative troubles, Chapters also has one or two technical issues, including a bug that forced us to reboot the game on a couple of occasions. The game’s most pressing problem, though, is a lighting system that frequently has the effect of making character’s eyes glow and pulse like the shining beacon of a lighthouse distracting when you’re trying to listen to dialogue, to say the least.

Yet, despite all this, Dreamfall still gets its hooks in. That’s not least in part to the time you get to spend in the wonderfully well drawn world of Stark. The story of political conflict between the racist, reactionary European Dawn and liberal democratic Unity Party set up in Book One takes a very interesting turn, tackling themes of ideological homogenisation and corporate influence. Dreamfall’s ever more sophisticated attempts to reflect our political culture within the windows of its dark dystopian spires is far more nuanced, and by extension, far more engaging, than is generally the case in videogames.

Sure, Chapters might be technically temperamental and occasionally get itself tangled in the threads of the series’ narrative, but it is also intelligent, crafts its world skilfully and has an admirable commitment to themes and design principles that make it stand out. We’re left eager to see where it goes next.


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