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Nostalgia Review: DreamWeb (PC)

/ Jul 24th, 2012 No Comments

DreamWeb

Released in 1994, DreamWeb is a DOS (it was also released for the Amiga) point and click adventure game developed by Creative Reality and published by Empire Interactive. The game received some attention when it was released due to its adult content. Its shock value did not help to sell the game and sales for it were low resulting in the game entering a state of obscurity. It’s gone on to become something of a cult favorite due to its ready availability in the abandonware community, its surreal storyline and being one of the few cyberpunk based point and click adventure games.

DreamWeb is set sometime in the future in a technologically advanced though borderline dystopian London. It focuses on a bartender called Ryan who been plagued constantly by dreams involving a device called the DreamWeb: a strange otherworldly device that supposedly keeps the fabric of humanity from tearing apart eventually he meets one of the DreamWeb’s keepers in his dreams. The keeper tells Ryan he has been chosen to eliminate seven individuals in his city. If allowed to live they will bring about destruction of the human race using powers to cause the DreamWeb to tear apart through the power they accumulate. By dying, the energy they leave behind will be absorbed into Ryan who will then bring them back to the DreamWeb. When all seven are returned, equilibrium will be restored.

After the introduction ends, the game begins. Immediately you’ll notice that this game isn’t played in a traditional third person perspective unlike most adventure games. For the entire game you will view everything from a top down perspective granting you a full view of the rooms and places you explore. Left clicking on exits and interactive elements on screen will cause Ryan to move automatically for you to interact with people and items or leaving the area.

The engine used to play is different from typical adventure games though uses the traditional method of using mainly a mouse. The inventory is accessed by left clicking the mouse on Ryan’s trench coat in the enlarged picture of him on the left side of the screen. There you can examine items and even organize them into different boxes. Outside of the inventory, after Ryan is in range to interact with them, it takes just one left click to talk to characters and examine items. You’ll have a list of options on the upper right hand of the screen in what you can do after that. Overall its easy to start playing this game.

Welcome to the Future. Sucks don’t it?

Despite its traditional adventure game elements, DreamWeb does some things rarely done in adventure games. For thing, if something isn’t nailed down, chances are you can pick it up. Most adventure games restrict this sort of freedom and often letting players know what they can or cannot pickup. How it works in this game is simple: by first clicking an item on screen causing an examination screen to open up. Left clicking on the object in this screen will sometimes open the inventory screen enabling you to move it into your inventory screen. To maintain the game’s challenge, you are already very limited number of empty spots in your inventory. When you’ve filled up your inventory you’ll have to drop some of your items to make space.

And you don’t have to worry about pixel hunting for items, something many adventure games force you to do. DreamWeb uses a window in the lower left hand of the screen that follows your cursor on the screen which magnifies areas it is over to help aid you in clicking on interactive elements. You can turn it off at any time if you enjoy hunting for things on your own or turn it on if you’re having trouble finding things.

DreamWeb’s gameplay is ambitious in its desire to be different but it’s very imperfect. The number of clicks and hassle for example you have to go through just to interact with the world of DreamWebcan become a tedious task. The latter is summarized in three steps: open inventory, left click on item of choice to examine it, click use button. You’ll have to doing this for the entire game and can eat up a lot of time especially when you have to act quickly.

The cyberpunk glossary defines this as being a subtle greeting.

The challenge the game gives is disappointing too. Many puzzles in the game are easy to beat and only on a few occasions are you required to really put your mind to work. The game just boils down to having the right items and knowing how to use them. More intricate puzzles such as working computers a hugely important feature in a cyberpunk games but criminally underused in this game, is just to get essential information which is not at all hard. Even one puzzle in the church you explore later in the game can be solved easily with some simple guesswork. DreamWeb just doesn’t try hard to be challenging and gamers may find it just too easy to conquer.

There’s also the dead ends: a problem that plagued many adventure games of the time and DreamWeb is among them. If you forget to pick up an important item and you continue without it into an area that disables you from going back to get it, DreamWeb will not give you alternative solutions to advance. If you don’t play right there is no forgiveness and you will pay for it. Many might see this as a challenge, to others it is unfair and creates frustration: something gamers should never have to endure in a game like this.

The graphics in the game are fairly average for a 1994 game and features some smooth animations. What makes the graphics above average though isn’t how they look but how they illustrate the cyberpunk world of DreamWeb. Rain consistently beats down, cleanliness is a rarity, decay is abundant and the cast of characters who inhabit it reflect the blatant class divisions of the city they inhabit. This is a very atmospheric game is slightly mesmerizing even though it isn’t meant to be a pretty universe.

That brings us the story. Combining fantasy and a lot of science fiction, DreamWeb is compelling because of how mind twisting it is while utilizing typical cyberpunk themes such as moral ambiguity and the degradation of humanity effectively. It even toys with players in asking them whether or not what they’re having Ryan do is the behavior of a madman or a sane man. Such a concept is devilishly unique and is done well for the most part.

Can anyone guess how this is going to end?

Also mentioned before is the controversy this game attracted for its content. No punches are pulled in DreamWeb; it strives to be as adult oriented as possible like graphic violence, strong language and a scene of explicit sexual nature. It doesn’t go overboard on such content but this game isn’t for prudish and conservative minded gamers. Yet it’s is all relevant to the tone of DreamWeb’s world. To show them may be off-putting to some but it reinforces the fundamental theme of this story that the future Ryan lives in is fractured and broken: a common feature of cyberpunk stories.

With so much going for it, you’d think the story would be good. Instead it is very flawed and fails to live up to its potential. It gives up at around the halfway point just when it’s getting interesting. It spirals down quickly winding up being very short, lacking character development and leaving many questions unanswere. Maybe the latter is intentional and meant to add to the mystery of whether or not Ryan is mad. Even if true, there’s no reason why the game should be so short and such its story lacking more substance.

It’s worth mentioning that DreamWeb originally came, in addition with a manual, a novella called Diary of a Madman. If you do play the game, It’s highly recommended you do find a copy of this book in physical or in digital format (there are many PDF copies available online). Reading it improves the game’s story immensely by providing exposition the game neglects like what life is like the world of DreamWeb, Ryan’s life before his nightmares and doing a great job of setting up the ambiguous idea of whether or not he is sane. It’s also important if you want to play the game fairly without aid as the very last page includes information you’ll need to use during the game. Yet, despite being a well-written read better enhancing the story it still is unable to completely save it.

If the story is not as good as it should be, something does make up for it: the soundtrack. The music in this game snuggles in nicely with the cyberpunk atmosphere by utilizing a techno inspired composition. The tracks can be tense eerie, tense, somber or haunting. Not a lot can be said except that it’s the real highlight of this game and it’s a delight to the ears and the composer is to be congratulated for his efforts.

There is one notable weakness in the sound part of the game if you’re playing from CD-ROM version: the voice acting. Unlike the music, this part of the game is wholly underwhelming. Actors like the one doing Ryan sound as lifeless as cardboard delivering their lines with little to no personality. A few times there are some genuine attempts that end up sounding decent but are disappointing for the most part. Perhaps such lack of quality due to this game not having many lines of dialogue potentially resulting in not being much motivation on the part of the actors to really sell their roles. Whatever the reason, their lack of enthusiasm affects this part of the game negatively making their assigned characters feel just as two dimensional as they look in the game.

Ryan is brought into the DreamWeb.

Despite numerous weaknesses like this, DreamWeb is not a terrible experience and is, for the most part, quite enjoyable. That doesn’t pardon how imperfect the final product is and that it deserves to be better. Were it given a longer story and had been better polished then it would be greater than it is now. Still, it is different and is a mind trip that may be jagged but entertaining. If you enjoy cyberpunk and adventure games, check out DreamWeb. Don’t expect anything spectacular except a short escape from reality.

Or is it a dream? It’s hard to tell after you play this game.

Overall Ratings – DreamWeb (PC)

Gameplay:

7/10

Graphics:

7/10

Sound:

8/10

Story:

7/10

OVERALL SCORE:

72%

Jonathan Anson

Jonathan Anson

Jonathan has been a lover of video games since his father brought home a Windows 95 computer. When he's not doing that he indulges in his other passion: writing. Jonathan holds an AA degree in Journalism from Saddleback College in Southern California.
Jonathan Anson
Jonathan Anson

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