Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True

Posted by Davide Tomei.
First posted on 21 December 2008. Last updated on 30 January 2013.
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Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True
You wake up in a bathroom without any memory.
Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True
A dead body lies over a desk, and the plot thickens.
Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True
Many objects can be freely manipulated, even a wine tap.
Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True
The sewer is a dangerous place.
Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True
Death is not the end!

Déjà Vù: A Nightmare Comes True is an adventure game from the famed MacVenture series that includes Shadowgate, Uninvited, and the sequel to this game Déjà Vu II: Lost in Las Vegas. The game puts you in the shoes of a hardboiled private investigator named Ace Harding. Through a twisted path of murder and conspiracy, you have to put together all the pieces of your lost memory to find out who you are.

The game is set in the early 1940s in a bleak and violent Chicago, a perfect setting for a noire detective story. You wake up inside a filthy bathroom. As soon as you regain consciousness, you realize that you remember nothing about yourself: your name, your job, or anything else. From here on, you start to collect pieces of your past, only to find out that not all of them are pleasant. In fact, the police are on now your trail because you are the main suspect for a murder. In the room next door, you discover a sort of torture room with a strapped chair, a syringe, and some strange vials. Has this something to do with your amnesia? It is up to you to regain your memory and get your life back.

Déjà Vù: A Nightmare Comes True is a classic mixed text and graphics based point-and-click adventure. The game is played from a first person perspective, that is, you see through the eyes of your main character. The graphics are quite rudimentary (CGA resolution for the DOS version) but are typical for a game of that era. The bitmapped graphics can make some pixel hunting challenging, especially when small objects are involved, though overall the graphics serve the game well. The sound is literally nonexistent. This is again a forgivable omission given the era of the game, but a catchy detective tune playing in the background may enhance the ambience of the game even more.

The game uses a peculiar interface for its time. The main window shows the field of view. The inventory window sits next to it and the action menu sits above it. The game implements an intuitive drag and drop system to manage the items you collect in your inventory. You can physically reposition all the items in the inventory by dragging them to anywhere on screen into view. The same drag and drop system is also used to interact with the environment. This unique multi-windows interface is a first of its kind and is used by its developer for all other games in the MacVenture series. However, when a search uncovers many items at the same time, such as with a wallet or a desk, many windows will open up simultaneously, making the interface a bit messy to use.

All the descriptions and dialogs in the game are delivered by text. This is not necessarily a weakness, largely because the story is so well written that, even though it is unveiled solely through words on screen, the player still gets highly engaged to the game. There are no classical abstract puzzles to solve in this game. All the puzzles that the player faces are practical challenges typical of a detective investigation, such as collecting evidences, pursuing leads, drawing conclusions, and so on. Since your character starts out with a loss of memory, you may find the gameplay a bit baffling at first and some of the story connections a bit non-linear. This, however, is a strength rather than a weakness, since these uneasy feelings help you to identify yourself with the game's main character. All the passages are perfectly logical. Sometimes, you may get stuck and must spend time putting all the pieces together in order to find out what to do next. Yet, this adds a level of depth and realism to the gameplay, even though some inpatient players may find it a bit frustrating. Another frustration may come from the fact that, like other MacVenture games, there is a time limit to this game. Here, you have to find a cure for your amnesia within a given time period or otherwise you will die. You can also die by being shot by a criminal or by being chewed up by an alligator (seriously). You are always given the possibility to restart again though. Depending on the evidence you have collected, the ending of the game may change.

In conclusion, Déjà Vù: A Nightmare Comes True has all the elements of a great game to suck you in: a good story, a dark and grime setting, and imaginative gameplay. Once you start playing the game, you will find it hard to stop. This is because, in the world of Déjà Vù, just when everything starts to be made clearer, something always rises up to complicate everything else. The pressure felt by the game's character is readily transmitted to the player, who gets to live through a genuine noire detective story.

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