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Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is a third-person adventure game, developed by Funcom and released by different people around the world in 2006. It follows young college drop-out Zoë Castillo through a future earth on her quest to find her friend and stop the world from being taken over by evil. It also follows April Ryan on her quest to save the people of Marcuria, a town in Arcadia, a parallel world, from the evil Azadi, and Kian Alvane, an Azadi, on his quest to subjugate the people of said Marcuria.

The game is the sequel to The Longest Journey by Funcom (which starred April Ryan, who scored a role here, too), and will be followed by Dreamfall: Chapters, a series of episodic games to be released some day. It recieved generally good reviews and many awards.

It’s hard but not impossible to put a train angle on this. What’s more interesting, though, is that the proliferation of steam engines in Arcadia, a typical fantasy world without much technology, is a major plot point.

Trains

Zoë, a challenge for text encodings if there ever was one, will lament her sad fate, talk with some people, and then suddenly will be dragged in something much larger, which she never expected. At the end of the beginning, she will go and try to find Reza, who used to be her boyfriend and is now just a boy friend. Clues indicate that she has to get away from Casablanca, where the game starts, to the fictional megacity of Newport, USA. In a cutscene we see that she uses a train for this purpose.

As you should have guessed, that train runs in a tunnel.

This train is called a Vactrax, and is definitly science fiction. It seems to hover or cling to the tunnel walls in some weird way, and doesn’t use normal rails. The name implies that the tunnel is evacuated, so air resistance shouldn’t hinder it at all.

It’s a very interesting idea. I read somewhere some time that someone suggested to build such tunnels all under Switzerland. One beneath the Atlantic is certainly a different issue. But I think you’ll agree with me that this doesn’t justify writing a review here. Thankfully, there are…

Steam Engines

Sure, they are no trains, but for me, they are close enough. And if I don’t write a review of Dreamfall focusing on the steam engines, who will? Now please excuse me for writing some lengthy exposition, but the game’s story is rather complex.

The world of Dreamfall is split in two. There’s Stark, which is like our world, only postapocalyptic in some parts and modern science fiction in others. The second part is Arcadia, which is like any normal fantasy world. One can cross between the two worlds by being a dreamer, being a shifter, bribing tibetan monks and possibly other ways which haven’t been discovered or revealed yet. Zoë will land in Arcadia through no fault of her own. April and Kian, the game’s other protagonists, spend all their time there.

As usual for any good fantasy world, there is a huge war waging here. The Azadi (represented by Kian) have come to liberate and then oppress the normal people in Marcuria, somewhere to the south, so the people of Marcuria have staged a secret rebellion against them (represented by April) while others stand around and watch (represented by Zoë). As any conqueror would, the Azadi brought their high technology to Marcuria, represented mainly by steam engines.

Image here, please.

The engines are rather peculiar machines. It’s hard to make out exactly what they are doing. What is clear is that they are all rather shiny, suggesting that they are well-maintained or freshly installed. But come on, look at these things.

![Pipes go away in all directions. Valves seem to be attached without caring much about what they do or don’t do. Nothing is well aligned, everything is bent a little.][]

They could blow up any minute. That is, if they managed to stay running. Oddly enough, you don’t see water tanks or coal bunkers in the vicinity of these machines. April Ryan suggests that these machines use magic, unbeknownst to the Azadi (who despise all magic). That would certainly explain a lot.

What is also odd is that they are generally positioned outdoors. This makes it conveniently possible to examine them without entering the houses, something you can’t do anyway, but it also gives the impression that these machines are anything but reliable.

Other Transportation

There are crates, at one particular location. And Zoë will notice that and mock them, saying things like “What would a post-industrial wasteland be without crates?” Do the crates deserved to be criticised when the in-game characters already do that? I don’t know, and I’ll leave the decision up to you.

Cars, even the delerict ones, have a typically futuristic style. There isn’t really much to be said about them, except possibly for the fun fact that cabs in Casablanca are automatic, free, and, according to Zoë, “super comfy”.

Apart from the train, there are two other futuristic travel devices shown briefly in cutscenes: A scramjet and what looks like an ekranoplan. Certainly fascinating, but in the use shown in the game purely science fiction. Not that that’s wrong. In a way, these three cutscenes show the most important forms of mass transportation (aircraft, sea vehicles and, well, trains) in their most extreme forms.

In the fantasy part, the game also uses airships, which are powered by sails. I’m not really convinced that this is a good idea. It might not be a good idea at all. The idea behind any kind of dirigible is that it has engines, so it can move in other directions than where the wind is carrying it. With sails, however, you are decidedly dependent on the wind. You can try to sail against it, but I would assume that you’d need sails far larger than the (enormous) size of the airship itself to get this to work as it should.

It’s also interesting to note that this airship seems to be of a rigid design, like the famous Zeppelins. I’m not entirely convinced that you could get all the lift you need from a hull that small, but then, I’m not an airship constructor. Last but not least, it’s asymmetric, which means it would either turn and hang in an odd angle as son as it was released (that’s bad), requires a counter-weight at the other end (bad, too, as getting weight in the air costs money), requires lots of stabilizing forces (bad as well, especially as it would hardly work with the wind-powered variation), or require the use of accidental magic. Which is actually a valid way to solve problems in the world of Arcadia.

The Game

Story

The story is one of the best video game stories ever, and that is despite the fact that the game doesn’t have any actual end. You won’t understand the answers to questions that are supposed to be answered at the end, but you will still want to know the answers.

The characters are all well designed and believable. You will understand what they think and why they do so very clearly, and you will probably feel sympathy even for minor characters without significant screen time.

If there is nothing else about the game, the story makes it worth buying.

Technology

The game uses what the US military calls COTS technology, so you could say it uses military-grade technology. Sadly, all COTS means is Commercial Off-The-Shelf, which does not sound so good anymore. On the technological side, it’s very clearly “just another game”. It works, shows what it wants to show and does so well, but it is not in any way impressive.

What really annoyed me was that the box of the german version told me the game would work with Windows 2000, which was wrong. It needs XP, or some work (getting a DLL from OpenOffice and using that, to be precise) to make it run on 2000, and that seriously pissed me off. Had it said XP on the box (as I guess it did everywhere but in germany), I’d just not have bought it or assumed trouble right from the start.

Gameplay

Again, playing is “just another game”. This one has it’s focus on story, and while there are riddles to solve, some enemies to fight and so on, in the end, you will sit back and watch the cutscenes most of the time.

Controls are the same kind you’ll see and possibly hate in Tomb Raider Legend, but one can survive. Riddles are usually easy, as are enemies. I heard rumors somewhere that as Zoë, you can avoid all fights, but you certainly don’t have to. The fighting system is mediocre, nowhere near interesting enough to be engaging, but nowhere near bad enough to be annoying.

Result

Never mind the train, that’s just plain science fiction. I’m a little uncertain about the steam engines, though. They certainly don’t look reliable or even useful for their purposes, but then, it appears that they might work, so I’m not going to judge it. So in the end, this gets the precious “good” rating.


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