Wot I Think: The Dream Machine Chapter 4

By John Walker on August 9th, 2013 at 11:00 am.

Hand-crafted point-and-click The Dream Machine is taking Swedish indie devs a lot longer to make than they’d planned. So it’s a shame that this extended development is really the series’ only weakness. As Chapter 4 finally appears, almost two years after Chapter 3, the story of Victor and Alicia is pretty hard to have remembered this far on. But it’s worth remembering, because this continues to be an absolutely superb experience. Here’s wot I think:

I shan’t explain the story so far here, since I think a few are waiting for all six chapters to be released before playing, and others will be coming to the story fresh because they just weren’t born two years ago. But the vague outline of the overall plot sees newlyweds and newlypregnants Victor and Alicia moving into a new apartment, where peculiar things are happening with their dreams. With Alicia in peril, Victor has to unravel a mystery of peculiar machines, a sinister landlord, and the moebius-logic of the dreamworld.

Chapter 4 picks up immediately where 3 left off, and bearing the time between the two in mind, it’s very peculiar that the game’s opening puzzle should involve noticing a difference in a room in this chapter, changed from the last. In fact, there’s almost no effort to précis the previous events. Which I think, at this point, is a mistake. Most people aren’t going to want to play through the previous chapters again to carry on, but would likely appreciate a quick “previously on” to awaken all the memories.

Fortunately, revisiting the familiar locations should jog most of it back to the fore, and quickly you’re about working your way into another head’s dreams. And once again, the puzzles to get there are superbly crafted.

In fact, this fourth chapter features the best puzzle yet, in an extended sequence that involves rearranging the rooms of a dream house in a fantastically smart way. And as has been the case throughout the story, not only is there an interestingly challenging conceit to fathom, but it’s delivered with an emotional resonance too. This time out it’s perhaps more subtle than ever before, the background of the dreaming character’s life alluded to in a series of vignettes that only vaguely suggest at a far more complex tale. (With one exception – there’s a bedroom scene that rather over-explains the point in its text, which is a bit of a shame.)

And of course the smart puzzles, the affecting story, and the deeply imaginative approaches are all given the enormous leg-up of the series’ art style. The hand-crafted cardboard-and-clay backgrounds and characters are utterly gorgeous once again, this time in a higher definition with lots more detail. There’s a tree in one scene which you’ll just stare at in wonder at how long it must have taken to meticulously construct (and you can start to see how the chapters can take so long to appear – this is as much animation as it is game design, and that’s a notoriously lengthy process).

I think the chapter winds up a little too quickly, especially after such an extensive wait. Depending upon how fast you solve the puzzles, there’s an hour to two hours tops here. And knowing that chapter 5 is “a slew of months” away doesn’t help with the extraordinarily disjointed arrival of a game that – ridiculously at this point – takes place over a single day. But what you get is exquisitely created, with a huge dose of brain and heart behind it.

If you’ve not picked up the series before now, I think this is a great time to buy it. You get the whole lot for £13, no matter how many chapters it eventually becomes (the originally planned five is now six, so who knows). All four in a row will give you a sizeable chunk of game, well worth sinking your teeth into. If you’ve been following along from the start, then you’ll obviously play this anyway, and likely find yourself as frustrated as I am by the brevity after the wait. But when the frustration is born of just how good it all is, it’s probably the best kind.

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18 Comments »

  1. distantlurker says:

    Something’s gone terribly wrong! Mommy I’m scared!

    *hold me*

  2. JohnP says:

    I loved the demo and bought the game right away but, as you say in the intro, I’m waiting to play it all in one go. Glad to know it’s still high quality though!

  3. basilisk says:

    Played the first one, loved it and bought the series immediately. But honestly, I see no point in playing it until it’s all finished; it’s not like adventure games have very high replay value and consuming the game in tiny bursts between aeons of waiting seems silly.

  4. golem09 says:

    Oh god, I hope they make the next game with a 3d camera. Handcrafted claymation in real 3D must look amazing.

    • Oozo says:

      I have seen “Coraline” in 3D back when it played in cinemas, and to this day, it’s my favourite use of 3D in movies. So I do agree with you: This game might have been nice with the additional dimension.

  5. tnzk says:

    More people need to play this series.

  6. DrScuttles says:

    Agreed, that tree scene is stunningly beautiful. The only flaws here are the time between chapters and the length of this one. Though at least chapter 5 should be out in a few months and all 6 chapters together should prove a decent length (fnar fnar). Regardless, the quality of writing and design more than compensates.

  7. daphne says:

    Semi-spoilers: Did anyone figure out how to “show ghost Edie the problem?” Or was that simply a little something to point the player in the right direction? I don’t see how that interaction was necessary, unless the game state requires it.

    • DrScuttles says:

      HAR BE SPOLERS
      I may be misreading what you’re getting at, but ghost Edie telling Victor to show her the problem was just the hint for the puzzle? You still show Edie the problem, it’s just that her dream image can’t help.

      • daphne says:

        DEM SPOILERS ABOUND
        Yeah, that’s just the thing, that whole part seemed a little off. Basically it went like: Get back to hallway from garden, get the hint, get picture from frame, get back to garden, show picture to old Edie. I felt like I had taken a shortcut… that there was more the Ghost Edie could have done, but that I had glossed over it.

        Might be leftover feelings from Kentucky Route Zero, though, where completely inessential detours end up revealing highly interesting globs of content.

        • DrScuttles says:

          Yeah, I see what you mean. While I like the solution of showing the photo to Edie, the flow could have been slightly better there.
          I really need to buy Kentucky Route Zero as soon as I’m more solvent. It seems to generate nothing but praise.

        • John Walker says:

          I think it’s more literal than that. You literally show Edie the problem when you present her with the image of her mother – it’s just the other Edie. Her mother is the problem that clearly has haunted Edie’s life, and you allow her to, again literally, sever the cord. That’s how I saw it, anyway.

          • mechabuddha says:

            I’m pretty sure that’s it. My problem was that I spent an hour trying to give the picture to Ghost Edie in various rooms with various combinations of characters. Then I felt like an idiot when I realized “me” meant the real her, not ghost her.

  8. Thirith says:

    To be honest, I’m okay with long(ish) waits with one series, but I think I’d lose patience if I was playing several of them. The game that currently occupies that slot for me is Kentucky Route Zero, which I love but already the 3-5 months’ wait between episodes feels like a very long time. Half-Life 2? I still like the games, but I’m not really engaged in the story at all at this point. (Perhaps I’ll replay them on the Oculus Rift once that is out, in the hope that there is some sort of continuation before long…)

  9. li says:

    I bought the full game when the first chapters were released, and I’m trying to get it in Steam now, but I can’t figure how to do it. When clicking the Steam link after login in the website, I get a 404.
    Is it working for you?

  10. His Divine Shadow says:

    I thought the puzzles were quite rubbish actually. Rearranging the rooms itself was not bad, but placing the photographs was just trial and error. And the final ‘showing the problem’ part was annoying because you ended up not doing that at all, in a sense that you didn’t show the problem to Eddie by making her acknowledge it; instead you just had her follow instructions. Any attempt to actually show the problem results in the player character shouting “But I *am* showing you the problem, what else do you want?!”, which was supposed to reflect the player’s feelings I guess.

    My biggest beef, however, is with the sleeping drink recipe. I think the puzzle’s downright broken. The recipe (named ‘fertilizer’ for some reason) clearly states that it needs 3x dried and 2x fresh leaves of the plants, but that’s completely ignored in the solution. Then, instead of providing any meaningful way of matching the colours to the plants (one of which is drawn on the bloody first page of the notebook), the game expects you to just forget about the names and take the colours from another recipe with otherwise different ingredients. The logic was always a bit faulty in the series, but this chapter just crossed the line, imo.

    • grrrz says:

      (some small spoiler to follow)
      The sleeping drink puzzle isn’t broken, you just missed the right clue (it’s not given away “as is” in the book, there’s something to remove first before you can fully see the right recipe). I’m not sure how you finished the game by the way since the plant’s colors are random in the the recipe, so no walkthrough can give it up.
      As for the other puzzle, it’s a dream’s logic, and it’s a good thing that some puzzle require lateral thinking or symbolic thinking (remember the umbrella?).
      I thought the puzzle in the series were neatly crafted and fell right in place in the dream world or real world.
      The only moment when I was really stuck was at the very beginning, simply because I was so SURE I already solved the phonograph puzzle to access the basement. wouldn’t have happened if I had played from the beginning.
      (the question is what happens if I tried to access this room at the end of chapter 2, since I have the clue already)

      • His Divine Shadow says:

        ok, now i see what you mean. don’t think it makes it any better though, since there’s no logical reason why i should try and tear that page. that was the guy’s private notebook, and the recipe is hardly something that he’d desperately need to hide (it’s not even illegal afaic tell; only laphophora williamsi, aka peyote, is). the way it worked for me was to take the pills and the cactus from the fertilizer recipe, and then dried powered flowers with the colours mentioned in the sleeping pizza menu.

        as for the last puzzle, my problem was not that you had to give the photos to another Eddie per se, it’s just that that she kept pestering me about ‘showing her the problem’, but it ended up with me saying her other self ‘here would you kindly cut those photos; ok cool cheers’, while all my attempts to tell her ‘look there’s a giant tentacle feeding on you, looks like a problem, right?’ hit a brick wall.

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