Swery created something of a flawed masterpiece with Deadly Premonition. Despite being difficult to control, Deadly Premonition excelled in its weird and goofy storytelling with plenty of homage to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Swery’s newest project, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, attempts to reach those same bonkers highs of Deadly Premonition while under the guise of a Kinect game. He pretty much succeeded.
D4 tells the story of David Young, a retired, undercover police officer with an inconsistently thick Bostonian accent, as he struggles to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder. The only clue at his disposal were the last words she spoke, “Look for D.” He enlists the help of his friend and fellow narcotics officer, Forrest Kaysen (possible relation to Forrest Kaysen from Deadly Premonition?), who gives David clues and information that might lead to his wife’s murderer.
The basic plot pulls at threads from Christopher Nolan’s Memento, with David’s selective memory, his suspicion of anyone whose name starts with “D,” and partner who may or may not be trustworthy. But D4’s weirdness doesn’t stop there. Somehow, David is able to take special objects from the past, called mementos, and travel back to that place and time. Yes, time travel — Swery made a game about time travel.
Each episode starts with a cold open before launching into a title credit sequence with music that would feel right at home in an 80’s cop procedural. From then on, the story becomes convoluted, crazy, and exactly what you’d expect from the creator of Deadly Premonition. D4 fills its coffers with weird and quirky characters that sometimes stray too far into overt and stereotypical caricatures. But D4 also manages to create an eerie presence out of a mysterious giant in a surgeon outfit scraping a fork with a scalpel while speaking in a low, slow, monotone voice. His stilted frame and strange voice would feel right at home in a David Lynch production.
The characterization of David and his wife, Little Peggy, manages to capture some genuine emotion which tethers the quirky nature of D4 to some semblance of reality. At various points, a vision of Little Peggy will appear and talk to David about their past together, or he will remember a distinct — and usually sweet — moment of their relationship. She becomes the anchor for the dramatic underpinnings of what is otherwise a flat-out bonkers time travel story.
D4 presents itself as a modern adventure game in the style of Telltale’s The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. You maneuver David to different points in the environment and selecting characters to talk with or objects to examine. With D4 being a Kinect game, free movement isn’t possible, you select distinct points to travel to and rotate around looking for points of interest. It works, but it’s not exactly the most engaging of gameplay mechanics. The Kinect controls really shine during the strikingly limited number of action sequences. Dodging out of the way of flying knives or pretending to wield a mannequin leg as a baseball bat really livens up the action. It’s a shame there aren’t more of these to play around with.
In the event that you have an Xbox One without a Kinect, have covered up its evil eyes from watching, or have decided to banish the camera to a closet somewhere, D4 offers the ability to play with a controller. This exemplifies the control problems (with no free-movement and atrocious menus designed for Kinect), but it works well enough overall. Action sequences definitely aren’t as fun when presented as controller-based, quick-time events.
Various systems are put in to help gamify D4’s basic mechanics. For each action you take, points are reduced from a bar that can be refilled by eating food. But, by taking an action, you will be rewarded with credits which can be spent on costume upgrades or various foods and drinks to replenish your meters. D4 knows it is a video game and touts that fact at every turn. You’re never going to be fully invested in the story or the gameplay, but at least you’ve got some numbers to help spur you along to the finish.
The music in D4 tends to switch on a dime, playing a somber theme for Little Peggy before immediately switching to some sort of weird smooth jazz rock straight out of an old, late-night Cinemax movie. It usually adds to the overall goofy charm. But most of the tracks are actually pretty catchy — the title credits music is still playing over and over in my head. It’s no Deadly Premonition theme, but I enjoy D4’s kooky music.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die ends right as things get going, but that is the nature of episodic content. It feels weird to get a spattering of three episodes, rather than just one episode or an entire season. However, the quirky characters and goofy story make it worth the ride. Swery has, once again, created something truly dumb, weird, and funny. D4 is entirely different than most video games today. Let’s hope we see more of David’s continuing search for the mysterious “D” soon.