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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die.

Transcript Edit

Delighting as it is that the drought is dying down, doing Destiny drained your debonair delegate. Dominant developers delay for a dog’s age, then deliver a desperately drab discharge and dare to describe it as the due destination for depictions of destruction. Dammit, I don’t desire to designate devotion to drudges as dull as ditchwater, so I’m declaring a downloadables day, derived directly from discovering D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die!

...which makes for a rather stark contrast to Destiny. While Destiny was hyped until its trousers burst, and has a media profile roughly equivalent to that of Benito Mussolini, D4’s release date was announced on the day prior. And even after that, I had to search for it on the Xbone store before it would grudgingly admit that it even existed. “Yeah, I think I saw it kicking around one of the sub-basements” it seems to say. “But why would you want to play that? Haven’t you noticed all these ads for incredibly boring games I’ve got plastered across my naked body?”

It’s entirely possible that the Xbone is embarrassed about it. It’s directed by a mysterious collection of proteins calling itself ‘Swery’, which previously made Deadly Premonition, the game that had a few technical imperfections in the same way that Ted Bundy had a few personality quirks that made him less than ideal marriage material, but was bizarre enough to attain cult appeal. So Microsoft seems to have shrugged its shoulders and let Swery make a new thing for the Xbone, whereupon he went “Oh boy, you won’t regret this Mr. Microsoft, Sir! I’m gonna do you proud, I’m gonna make use of that Kinect you like so much!” And I guess no one got around to sending him the memo that Microsoft’s been kind of distancing itself from the Kinect lately, on account of being a total waste of effort, plastic, money, space and time.

The Kinect dwells in that unholy place where the fitness and dancing games hold sway, and Rise of Nightmares showed us early on that it and core games get along like an Ulster Unionist cat and a Real RIA dog. But D4 has learned two important lessons from that example: A) let us fucking sit down rather than make us hold a pose halfway through doing the hokey cokey, and B) fuck the Kinect controls and just let us use a normal controller like what fucking human beings do.

Playing a Swery game is like looking through a glass-bottomed boat and seeing a seven-titted mermaid with the face of Phil Collins, strangely intriguing and the parts we recognize make it all the stranger, but we will remain forever separated by the glass, unable to do much more than glimpse each other’s worlds. 

So our hero is private detective David Young, whose life fell apart when his wife was murdered and he was shot in the head. Alright, I’m with you so far, it’s Memento with anime haircuts. The bullet in the head gives Young the mystical ability to travel through time and interact with events associated with specific objects. Ok, bit of a wobble, but American television has broadcast weirder concepts. With her dying breath, Mrs. Young mentioned the letter D, and so David quests to solve her murder apparently by investigating every single human being on earth whose name begins with D. Starting to lose me now, wouldn’t he realize he needed slightly more to go on the first time he was arrested for stalking Donny Osmond? Young shares his apartment with an insane scantily-clad woman who thinks she’s a cat. Aaand I’m lost, Swery. I am officially lost, down the back of the fridge with a warranty card and a missing rice cooker attachment.

Since controlling a character directly with Kinect is like talking a blind person through an obstacle course with a fruit bat stuffed in your mouth, the game instead does the Myst thing where you hop from position to position and rotate in place, like a long-jump champion on a lazy Susan. In broad terms, it’s an adventure game, you look for objects you can interact with to solve puzzles. I say "puzzles", it’s mostly "find the thing that moves the plot to the next flag and give it a poke", although gameplay that straightforward wouldn’t be anywhere near satisfactory to Swery and whatever ancient space men he believes talk to him inside his brain.

So there's also a rather obnoxious stamina mechanic. Every action you take, from opening cupboards to asking someone an asinine question, drains a little stamina which is restored by hoovering up every random food item you find lying around, in cupboards, bins, and other people’s mouths. Young seems to metabolize like a fucking nuclear submarine, but I never did find out what happens if you let stamina run out. Taking an educated guess from the rest of the game, I’ll hazard that it’s something not fun.

Eventually, the exploration and discovery is broken up with action scenes, which are action in the sense of “We are considering illegal action on behalf of the concept of fun”, as D4 remembers that another person whose named starts with D is David Cage. Yes, it’s our old friend Quick-time events, that spectre at the feast that drinks all the Tizer and occasionally cries “Think fast!” and throws a plate at my face, where the action becomes cartoonishly high-octane and simultaneously impossible to focus on because we have to concentrate on the next button prompt, so it’s like swatting mosquitoes in front of a Punch-and-Judy-show. And these sequences don’t drain stamina. So we find ourselves in a situation where catching four dinner plates, rugby-tackling a passerby and hurling yourself through a plate-glass window somehow exerts us less than opening an overhead baggage bin.

At time of writing, D4 consists only of the first two episodes of what has been somewhat optimistically titled “Season 1”. And I’m impressed, because Heroes took a whole season and change to start getting shit, D4 has managed it by episode two. Episode one has some nice little ideas and a little bit of exploration, some, let’s say, flamboyant characters and even some spots of intrigue on its quirky clown trousers. Episode two, meanwhile, consists mainly of moving down a linear path to the end. And since that probably didn’t feel like enough, you have to stop along the way firstly to play what amounts to a hidden-objects-minigame, and then again to play what amounts to a sliding-tile-puzzle, because it is a sliding-tile-puzzle, and then go home and make your cat woman dress up like a sexy Dalmatian.

It seems to have been designed by someone who gets bored halfway through scratching their nose. But with that in mind, it’s strange how often D4 feels like it's hitting the same points as Deadly Premonition: a damaged detective with a diversity of duds and a disorderly diet, whose murder investigation takes him to a larger plot involving a red narcotic that may have supernatural effects, and it all got this air of cult American TV shows being pushed through the filter of Japanese oddness and attention deficit disorder, so while that is disarmingly different to the dime-a-dozen dreariness of Destiny and derivatives, demented displays don’t decrease dodgy design. Duh!

Addenda Edit

  • Distinctly dishy derider of dross: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Do democratic delegates deem it dutiful to dress down during digital debates? Daily!
  • Do-wa-diddy-diddy dum-diddy-do

Screenshots Edit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

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