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‘Dream Revenant’ Review – Time Moves Differently In Dreams

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Publisher Bulkypix isn’t making a lot of noise about it, but Dream Revenant ($1.99) is actually the sequel to 2011’s dream:scape ($0.99), albeit more mechanically than in terms of story. The set-up is quite similar, with you taking the role of a man on the verge of death, exploring his own dreams to sort through memories of his past to uncover certain truths. As with the first game, you’ll do this by wandering around a decent-sized 3D landscape, stumbling on revelations, picking up items, and using them to navigate extremely simple obstacles. To the developer’s credit, they’ve picked up on a lot of the major criticisms of the first game, but three years is a very long time in the world of gaming, and particularly so in the context of the relatively young iOS market. The result is like something you might see in the games, a response to a ghostly voice of the past.

This time, you play as Carson Hughs, a cartoonist on the verge of death. As in the first game, Carson is wandering back through his memories, and in particular, the memories of the love of his life from childhood, Willa. Carson’s also got some father issues to work through, and by the end of the game, we get a pretty good picture of what happened with both of them. It’s a good story, and depending on how genre-savvy you are, you’ll either be surprised by the outcome or see it coming a mile away. Regardless of how well the resolution of the tale succeeds in surprising you, it’s told very well and is enjoyable to put together piece-by-piece. While the first game used a diary as the main way of directing the player and filling out the plot, Dream Revenant uses pages of Carson’s “Li’l Willa" comic strip. Adding a bit of a visual element to this crucial aspect makes the game feel a little bit more creative and complete.

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Since neither of the games is terribly long, I decided to run through dream:scape again and refresh my feelings of that game. It feels a bit like a weird tech demo for the Unreal Engine even today, and I was soon reminded of my two biggest problems with the experience. The great thing is, Dream Revenant makes good on both of them. First of all, the original game had an almost hilarious level of backtracking to pad out the slim content, generally sending you from one side of the map to the other, back and forth. The sequel avoids that temptation, and in fact, you rarely have to go to the same area twice. Carson seems to have a faster walking speed than Wilson did, which also helps keep the pace up. The other big problem I had was with the horrible QTEs, which were really fussy and required just about perfect input. Dream Revenant still uses QTEs, but they’re completely reworked and considerably more tolerable.

In addition to these two big complaints being addressed, I feel like the storytelling just works better here. It’s a more interesting story with a few more things going on in it, and the comic strip device serves an excellent purpose in giving you some doubt as to whether or not Carson is a reliable narrator. I also appreciate the game’s lack of a big, silly villain like the first game had. It’s not needed for what the game is trying to do. The climax is a dramatic one, and even offers you a choice in the ending, but it’s a much more natural one than what the first game attempted. I think this is easily a more accomplished game than the first, though in walking a similar road, its impact is somewhat diminished.

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Like the first game was in its time, Dream Revenant is a very pretty game. It taxed my poor little iPhone 5S heavily, draining battery power quickly, generating enough heat to help you survive a Winnipeg blizzard, and still suffering from framerate problems. I’d appreciate a smoother experience over all the extra detail, but there’s no denying that some of the scenes are just gorgeous when you stumble across them. Just don’t knock too hard on those pretty constructs, because this game suffers from severe bugginess. You’ll get stuck in the environment and have to reset, fall through the floor into a world of nothingness, and sometimes, the game will just plain crash. Virtually every play session I had ended with the game freezing or my character getting stuck somewhere. Luckily, the game auto-saves your progress frequently and just dumps you back to the starting location when you reload. It’s a pretty embarrassing look for the game, though.

Beyond that, it’s just a very simple little piece of interactive fiction. You’re taking a little walk, mashing some virtual buttons here and there, collecting the next item you need to unveil the next piece of story, and then taking a walk to a different place. There’s no real fail condition, and puzzles are less of a puzzle and more of a key-and-door hunt. If you liked the first game, you’ll like this one even more, but particularly held in the light of some of the more interesting attempts at interactive storytelling we’ve seen in the last few years, it feels a little bit too quaint. Dream Revenant is one step forward while the rest of the world took two or three, and combined with the numerous bugs, it’s hard to recommend the game on any basis except its Twilight Zone-like story. If you really enjoy stories with that kind of vibe, you might get your money’s worth here, but you’re going to have to be patient with the game’s many deficiencies.

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