A game about a PI that solves crimes in his dreams. But does it just send you to sleep?
The premise is amazing. A Private Investigator that walks into a room and takes in every detail, but he can only process that information when he's asleep. Imagine it. You walk through a crime scene, not really getting a chance to process it, and then later, in the comfort of sleepy time you get to scour the place for clues. It'd be like CSI: Dreamworld.
Unfortunately, Dream Chamber never quite lives up to that. Having being present at the scene of the crime, I made the obvious decision of going to bed to try and scout for clues in the ethereal recreation. Only there wasn't a single one. The only thing to find in my first trip into the dreamscape was to read the guest list. It stays this way for most of the game, with only one or two trips actually being what I hoped for. Dream Chamber also falls into the trap of having you leave the location, go to bed, immediately revisit to spot something that you then have to go to the real world to pick up. There's a lot of running back and forth just to take one step forward.
The dream world, where colours are muted and hotspots are actually obvious
The main character Charlie Chamber doesn't exactly help matters. He's not exactly the most likeable of protagonists. He's seems to be a spoilt rich kid who's 'burdened' by having to attend all of the social occasions his status offers him. Charlie has decided to become a PI, and you get the impression that this is yet another hobby he's picked up and will drop as soon as he's bored with it. Because he's certainly not suited to the career.
He's there when the crime goes down, then his Police detective uncle accuses someone that Charlie believes is innocent and he's got no real desire to get involved. This is quickly followed by his fiancée asking him to have a look at the case and we're given an insight that really he can't be bothered, but he probably should because the woman he's meant to be marrying is asking. Oh, and maybe he could do with the experience. This leads our hapless detective into a mystery full of conspiracies and double crosses. Perfect noir material to fit the 1930's setting. Except Dream Chamber completely ignores noir as a possibility. Black magic is even thrown into it for good measure but that never comes to anything either.
Through it all Charlie just never becomes a character you like. Guybrush was a loveable loser because he was a useless pirate, but also because he was ineffectually trying to prove he was the best swashbuckler the Caribbean has ever seen, and is following his dream. Charles on the other hand seems to be a PI on a whim and he's got the money to make it happen.
If it wasn't for his special ability to revisit places in his dreams he'd been downright useless. This is proven even more true when you go through a special doorway in the dreamworld and meet Charlie's subconscious who, as well as operating as a hint system, also points out every single flaw the character has. I immediately wanted to play as him. Though to be fair, I think the game sets the premise that this is what Charlie could become if he puts his mind to it.
There are two items on this screen you need to pick up. Good luck finding them
Oh, and the real Charlie daydreams while having any important conversations. Another great premise that unfortunately falls down in its execution. First of all he says he does this when bored, only these are always the most important conversations in the game. Instead of just having a chat, suddenly you're firing cannonballs at your opponent's castle aiming each question at the weak spots. The first problem is that there's only one set of dialogue for your opponent. No matter what you say, they always have the same reply, your only indication it's the right one is if the part of the castle you hit blows up. Those blocks also have health, but ignore that. If it's not total destruction there's no point.
Not only do you have to get the right questions, but you also have to shoot the right part of a castle in order to cause a collapse. You end up playing the same conversation several times just to line up all right answers and the right shots. It gets pretty annoying when you know you're right but the game just won't co-operate, or alternatively, that you're not sure if you just picked a wrong target or are getting the question wrong. It muddies up the dialogue combat, adding an unnecessary layer to what is one of the most important aspects of an adventure game.
I get the impression developers Darkwave are trying to do their own version of Monkey Island's insult sword fighting, but LucasArts created a cool scenario with you trying to match up multiple answers, with the added bonus it was funny. This isn't. It's a chore. There's also one conversation in the game you can get into without the necessary knowledge to win. Yet Charlie doesn't tell you that after losing, he just lets you keep trying, and because of the complexity of the system you don't realise until far too many attempts have passed. A simple line of dialogue about “not enough ammunition” would have helped.
Those three in the background are just background characters. It's actually one of the few clever jokes Dream Chamber manages
After battling through various conversations and falling asleep more times than a narcoleptic the mystery is solved and you're left with one last job, to capture the culprit. What follows is possibly one of the worst endgame sequences I've ever had the misfortune to play. Or at least the beginning of it. For you see you have to follow the thief around a warehouse district. This is done from an overhead perspective, with faces representing all parties, and you have one button “walk” which follows your target's path exactly. Don't get too close, don't get too far away and don't enter a guard's detection bubble. There's no logic about sight lines, and you have to sneak between two of these bubbles that are travelling the same direction as you by tapping the walk, but the target is level with the front one so get too close and it's over. Not only is it twitch gameplay, but it's bad twitch gameplay. The game does return to something resembling normality after that, but it leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth.
DREAM CHAMBER VERDICT
Dream Chamber is full of great ideas that just don’t pan out that well. The slightly stilted dialogue in some places doesn’t help. Neither does the lack of hotspots, meaning quite a few screens end up with you randomly clicking hoping that at some point Charlie will interact with something. With a bit more refinement Darkwave could have something pretty decent. As it is, I’d suggest looking elsewhere for your adventure game needs. If you’ve not played them Wadjet Eye’s Blackwell series tries something slightly similar and are much more enjoyable.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Not smashing your device during the docks sequence. Or maybe meeting Charlie’s more agreeable subconscious for the first time.