The only real experience I’ve ever enjoyed with Kinect has come in the form of Dance Central. I’ve tried a few other things at various events, but they’ve never really worked well enough or used Kinect in a sensible way given its capabilities. D4 (or Dark Dreams Don’t Die if you prefer) however, has shown to me a whole new genre where Kinect, or at least the upgraded one used by the Xbox One, is a great tool: adventure games.
Games like The Wolf Among Us make it clear just how inadequate your standard controller is as a substitute for a mouse. A motion control scheme, however, makes a lot sense, and while I’m not entirely convinced that the original Kinect has the ability to detect the fidelity of motion you need to turn your hand into an effective cursor, it’s certainly there with the Xbox One’s camera.
It’s worth saying at this point that it only looks like the Xbox One’s Kinect is working well with D4, as I didn’t actually get to try it for myself. Instead I watched as a developer from Access Games showed off the various adventure game staples contained within the vertical slice of the game that was on show.
There was a combat section where I was given the opportunity to take control, but, unfortunately, the Kinect simply couldn’t recognise me in the low light environment at the preview event. It didn’t seem to have any trouble recognising the developer demoing it though, with her skeleton being picked up pretty much instantly. She said this was because the Kinect was more familiar with her, meaning it was better at picking her up based solely off of the IR.
Putting these technical issues aside though, D4 looks like a relatively standard adventure title mixed with the kind of weirdness that you’d expect from a title with Swery directing. It’s clear from the off that Access and Swery have been taking a lot of lessons from Telltale’s success, from the game’s episodic release schedule to its cel-shaded art style.
Of course that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Telltale are very good at what they do. Perhaps you could say that D4 is aping their games a little too closely, but if you’re going to borrow style tips from someone then you could certainly do a lot worse than Telltale.
That’s not to say that D4 doesn’t strike out on its own in many ways though. The plot’s certainly far odder than anything Telltale have put together in recent years, with protagonist David Young taking up the role of a private investigator who’s unable to recall portions of his life after his wife is shot in the head and killed, although the same event does give him the ability to travel through time.
He can’t just jump backwards and forwards at will like some kind of gum shoe version of Doctor Who though, instead he has to rely on mementos which allow him to jump back to a specific point. You can only remain in these time jumps while David’s stamina lasts, meaning you need to work relatively quickly to uncover the clues in each section, although you can consume any food or drink found while back in time to give your stamina a boost.
What makes this time travel mechanic all the more interesting is that you can pick up new mementos once you’ve already travelled back in time, pushing yourself to another time and place. Once you’ve taken your trip within a trip you can change things, go back to the first trip and see what new options have opened up. It’s actually a pretty interesting idea, and nesting the trips is a nice spin on the whole time travel mechanic.
However, the most striking thing about the slice of the game that was on show, far surpassing the use of Kinect or the time travel mechanic, was the frankly ridiculous characters the game features. The short demo on show was set entirely aboard a plane, but amongst the passengers were a hard-boiled U.S. Marshall, a jacked up drug dealer and a fashion designer with three-foot tall luminous green hair who carries a life sized golden mannequin with him, which serves as his muse.
These characters are what really made the game stick in my mind, which isn’t all that surprising when one of them has gigantic green hair, even if it is virtual. The way everyone’s characterised, as well as the dialogue and conversation choices you’re given, are just fantastic and create an attachment in a surprisingly brief period of time.
Despite not knowing what I was really getting myself into with D4, I came away from the game feeling more engaged and interested than I expected to be. When Kinect’s working it seems like a natural fit, and given that the context the game was being shown in was hardly representative of a normal front room I was willing to be forgiving of the problems the camera had in detecting me. It’s also worth noting that if using Kinect really isn’t your thing then you can play through the entire game with a controller.
Moving beyond the control scheme though, there’s just a lot to like about the game, even at this relatively early stage in development (this isn’t a launch title, and there’s no release date announced yet).
They seem to have nailed the cel-shaded art style nicely, they’ve got a good branching dialogue system in place, and the dialogue and characterisations are fantastically done. The time travel concept is also interesting, and if well utilised could add a new dimension to traditional adventure game mechanics.
Ultimately D4 is more than worth keeping an eye on, if only to work out where they’re going with the story line. Given its episodic nature it also looks like you’ll be able to dip into it without splashing much cash, which is always a bonus.