There are too few true auteurs in mainstream gaming. Although the independent scene has allowed new creative forces to come to the fore, not many designers are let loose on the big platforms and allowed to bring their vision to life regardless of its commercial appeal. Swery 65 is, however, is someone who doesn’t seem to compromise his artistic vision for anyone – not even when the hand of Microsoft is controlling the purse-strings.
Whereas his most famous work Deadly Premonition was an unusual mixture of survival horror, life management, and Twin Peaks homage, D4 plays somewhat like a Telltale Adventure Game on acid – albeit presented through a David Lynch-hued lens. Taking control of ex-Policeman David Young, we must help him through his investigations into the murder of his wife, Little Peggy. David has only two clues: that the dangerous drug “Real Blood” was involved, and the last dying words of his spouse, “look for D”.
Thankfully, on that same fateful night when Peggy was murdered, David was also attacked. I say thankfully because the attack didn’t only leave him with partial amnesia, it also gave him the power to dive into the past when touching certain mementoes. David has been using this skill to go through his past cases, trying to find the mysterious D. You inevitably meet a cast of unique and sometimes disturbing characters, including a house-mate who acts like a cat, and a fashion designer enamoured with a mannequin.
Swery also has a real knack for taking the most mundane subjects and putting an odd twist on them, elevating them to become an important part of your experience. Your detective work involves a lot of walking between pre-set areas, looking for clues and interrogating suspects. You may be looking through your kitchen cupboards for snacks, or having revelations whilst in the bathroom, seated on your porcelain throne. These all trigger unexpected consequences or dialogue, and even making breakfast turns into something out of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.
While you can choose to control all of this with a control pad, D4 seems designed primarily for Kinect. Players use a hand cursor to move from point to point or select items, you can speak dialogue choices and swipe from the edge of the screen to turn around. Whilst this is all fairly mundane, most actions in the game will require at least some degree of motion control too. Turning book pages simply requires a sideways swiping motion, but more complex actions such as fighting or swinging a Baseball bat will ask you to perform some quick time events. None of these feel too intrusive, as the motions asked of you generally match the action. Need to block a thrown plate? You throw your arm out in the direction it is coming from.
Even though these controls suffer every now and again from poor detection (especially swiping to turn around), on the whole they actually enhance immersion and fun, with QTEs and mini-games feeling more inventive and less of a chore. D4 is probably the best use of the Kinect hardware in quite some time. Using a control pad feels dull in comparison, but it is inevitable that some gamers won’t want the tired arms and frustrations that come with Kinect controls. The lack of direct walking controls when using a pad actually makes it far more stilted than motion control, and doesn’t immerse you in the full D4 experience anywhere near as much.
Deadly Premonition always felt like a game that time forgot – with horribly clunky controls and terrible graphics. D4 doesn’t suffer from these issues, but it is similar in many other ways. The voice acting is pretty terrible, especially for the protagonist whose accent is all over the place. Pacing is also an issue, with some conversations being far too long and monotonous, and other, more interesting sequences often flying past in the blink of an eye. Of course not everyone will appreciate the unusual story twists either, but there is certainly a greater narrative thrust and need to find out what happens next than was ever present in Deadly Premonition.
The biggest irritant in D4 is that every single in-game action uses stamina, and if David runs out of stamina, it is game over. Players need to locate food to refill stamina, and drinks to refill vision (a power that highlights clues and important items). Whilst this may make sense in a Swery kind of way – the fact that standing still and talking uses stamina is a odd even for him. There are a so many interesting extras dotted around everywhere, that your first instinct is to explore and revel in the unique world. But this is tempered by your need for food and ever-decreasing stamina bar, which sadly always feels like it is pulling you forward unwillingly, when you want to be reading your future from fortune cookies, or flicking through a sports magazine.
The strange world Swery has brought to life is definitely worth exploring, though. There is a real richness of content and back-story that has been invented, and despite the feeling that you don’t really make much progress in solving the case in question, I really wanted to press on and find out what was going on. Even though the atrocious voice acting and questionable conversation topics may make you laugh when you should be crying, there are few points when D4 isn’t entertaining or emotionally engaging in one form or another – which is a far cry from the cookie-cutter titles that so often fill the shelves and make it something worth celebrating.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.