First posted on 11 December 2006. Last updated on 09 August 2009.
|Ryan speaks to his boss at Sparky's bar.|
|The inventory is massive, though many objects are unnecessary.|
|Another fallen foe is at your mercy.|
|Ryan meets the guardians of the Dreamweb.|
|The interface uses an unusual top down view.|
In DreamWeb, you play a disturbed young man named Ryan living in a grungy, near future world who has to hunt down 7 evil powers that are threatening to take control of the Dreamweb. The Dreamweb is a metaphysical reality that somehow influences our own on a psychological level. The Dreamweb is guarded by 7 guardians. These guardians have groomed you, through your dreams, to be their instrument on Earth to slay the evil powers. They have shown you a vision of the apocalypse that follows if you fail to do their bidding. The evil powers are possessed by 7 seemingly ordinary humans on Earth, so that you must assassinate these strangers in order to restore the balance.
The world of DreamWeb is presented in a dark palette, with a Vangelis inspired soundtrack and sampled sound effects. It evokes an atmosphere in the style of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, even though DreamWeb is not so far into the future and the world is not so dystopic. The game is set in a time after a severe bout of global warming, resulting in constant rain in all the local areas seen in the game. Such gloominess and dinginess reflect the poverty seen in the protagonist's inner-city neighborhood, though there are still happy streets and shiny suburbs offstage.
DreamWeb plays out with a top down view that is unusual for an adventure game. In theory, at least, the top down interface is functional enough. In practice, however, it is ruined by restricting the scene to the middle quarter of the screen that is in only 640x400x256 SVGA resolution. The result is a heavily pixelated view (despite the claim that the game includes 4000 frames of animation) which, when combined with the dark palette, makes for a lot of unwanted pixel hunting.
You really must hunt for those pixels, because the world is full of objects. Most objects are unnecessary, but you can still pick them up and carry them about if you like. The game is able to accommodate them because it uses only text to describe most objects (some objects are described with a spoken description). I approve of the use of text for "in thought" comments (similar to what is done in past classic games from Legend Entertainment), even if the game world is full of junk objects, but only if they can be clearly seen. Here, you must scour every pixel because that indistinct and smudgy blur may be an important object.
The screen outside of scene area is wasted space. There is a huge image of your character to the left side of the screen, which you use to access inventory, and there is a small button to access save, load, and quit. The remaining half of the screen real estate is just a background pattern. This is too bad, since the game may look much more attractive and playable if it can use the full screen. It is likely that the design is limited by the storage space of the medium in the Floppy Disk version of the game in the original release (in addition to a lack of image compression technology). A CD-ROM version of the game is later released that includes full speech dialogs played by professional actors (it is even labeled as the 'TALKIE' version first coined by LucasFilm Games), though there are no subtitles in the cut scenes.
The inventory interface is cumbersome, requiring many clicks to use an item or just look at it. Sometimes, you have to click on an environmental object and then select an inventory item to use on it. Other times, you open your inventory to "use" an item, which then gets automatically used on the appropriate environmental object—sometimes even the item I originally intend to use. There are only 7 save slots.
The challenge design fares better. All the challenges and actions are natural parts of the game world. There are a few time limited challenges, but they do not involve nimble fingers. If you know what to do, there is plenty of time to access the inventory to select the correct item. If you fail, however, there is no auto-restore, so it is best to save often. The challenges tend to be easy. There are a few surprises. They are not really difficult, just surprisingly obvious. Aside from the pixel hunting, the biggest challenge is sorting out all the red herrings. There is a bit of bother in that sometimes the useless items is expected to work as well as the blessed items, but the correct item is always an appropriate choice.
This game has a dead end, but there are big flashing neon signs telling you that "this way leads to a dead end" (at least metaphorically speaking). As such, you really have to be obtuse to wander off that cliff. In fact, your character tells you that he feels he is forgetting something if you try to leave the apartment without the correct item. You can then simply go back and get more, until you get the right item and the message goes away.
The cyberpunk story is underdeveloped and disappointing. It is not clear what powers the evil humans have, since they can be killed just like regular people. Although these people are highly placed in society, you never really learn anything about your targets except for their names, occupations, and locations. There is an evocative setting, but there is not much of a plot to go along with it. Hunting down these people is just a string of mundane environmental challenges; you do not get or need any deeper knowledge of your targets, of the Dreamweb, or of the guardians. The game includes the 'Diary of a mad? man' that cursorily explains Ryan's story, but it serves more as a copy protection scheme than a game guide.
The game portrays violence, particularly violence against women, without reservation. It is filled with scenes of gore and sex, both very explicit (as explicit as those fat pixels allow). Inside bits are spewed and dismembered body parts are scattered across the screen.
DreamWeb feels like it should be a much better game than it is. There is a lot of effort put into small details to give the game a great ambience. Unfortunately, not as much effort or creativity is put into the main script to make the game a worthwhile adventure. Together with the poor interface, I simply cannot recommend this game. It is not terrible, but there are too many better games to play instead.