Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: September 19th, 2014
Available On: Xbox One
Access game’s eccentric director Hidetaka Suehiro, also known by the name SWERY, was completely unknown until 2010’s Deadly Premonition. A cult classic, Deadly Premonition was well known for its crazy characters and insane story, along with a great setting. Microsoft must have seen this as they grabbed the publisher spot on SWERY’s next game. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is a murder mystery that once again features an insane cast and entertaining story wrapped around some admittedly sub-par gameplay.
D4 puts you in the role of David Young, a Boston detective who has spent the last few years trying to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder. The only clue he has is the last words his wife said to him before she died: “Look for D.” Thankfully, David has a really cool ability that helps him out with his detective work. Using mementos that he finds on people, he is able to go back in time and both view and influence events from the past. When his partner, Forrest Kayson (returning from Deadly Premonition as a completely different character for… some reason), gives him a new lead and memento David finds himself on an airplane where a drug dealer mysteriously disappears mid-flight.
D4 is smart on how it delivers its story. The mysteries are slowly revealed over the course of the game’s two episodes (which make up the “first season” that you get when you buy the game) and by the end there’s enough revealed to make you want to come back for more, but not enough to spoil everything. At the center of the story comes the game’s entertainingly insane characters. Amanda is convinced she’s a cat, to the point where she only meows and carries around a live mouse in her mouth. Duncan is a fashion designer and he never goes anywhere without his “partner” Sukey, who is actually just a store mannequin. Deborah is paranoid and is convinced everything is some sort of conspiracy against her. It’s a fun cast that actually made me care about each character through whatever whacky personality trait that they had.
Sadly the gameplay doesn’t quite hold up to the story’s great implementation. D4 plays similar to Telltale’s recent adventure games. You’ll move along set points and spend most your time interacting with the environment and other characters. For some reason David has a stamina bar and every time you interact with the environment you’ll lose some stamina. While you can regain stamina by finding and eating food, this ultimately discourages exploration as you need to be mindful if your actions will cost more stamina than they are actually worth. If you’re not sure if you’re going anywhere useful, or just flat out suck, then at any point you can hold down the Y button and activate your special “vision” power, which shows all the nearby items you can interact with.
There are also fight and action scenes that play out similar to Telltale’s games. They’re mostly just a series of quick time events that require you to hit buttons or move the sticks in a specific way. I actually found them to be on the very easy side, giving you more than enough time to do what you need to do and not worrying if you hit the wrong button. Similar to the stamina bar, you have a health bar. Messing up a command costs you one health, and if you lose all your health it’s game over. In another super weird design decision, each action scene has a set amount of life you’re going to lose in it even if you preform the scene perfectly. A fight on a plane saw me lose three health points despite not messing up a single command. Wander into this fight with three or less health and you’re going to get a game over no matter how you perform during the fight.
Like some other Xbox One games, D4 allows you to play using the Kinect camera. Let’s make this super clear: the answer is no. You should not play with the Kinect camera. The controller both works better and is more accurate when reading your movements, plus it doesn’t make you nearly as tired as D4’s requirement of constantly having an outstretched arm. I even had to turn the camera away while playing D4 because the game constantly interpreted me shifting positions as “I want to use the Kinect now” and switched to Kinect controls.
Despite the weird game design decisions and the awful use of the Kinect, I found D4’s story and characters to be more than enough to carry me through the game’s short 4 – 6 hour running time. While I wonder why a “season” only consists of two episodes, I hope that the next season continues D4’s excellent story while fixing up some of the weirder game design decisions.