Have You Ever Wanted to kill somebody? I mean, actually, really, kill somebody? God knows, I have. For example, every time I see Alan Titchmarsh on the television I start fantasising about how good it would feel to beat his head to a pulp with a ball peen hammer. You're probably the same yourself - unless, of course, you ure Alan Titchmarsh, in which case you're probably feeling a little shaken up right now. Good. Go back to the gardening. Alan. Push up some daisies or something.
Anyway, if you've ever entertained any homicidal thoughts, then it's a good bet that Dreamweb will appeal rather strongly to you. It's a point-and-click adventure game affair that casts you as a young bloke named Ryan - barman by day, gibbering madman by night. Ryan's been suffering from some rather unpleasant recurring nightmares; not of the "finding yourself at work with no trousers on" variety, but altogether more surreal and disturbing ones, in which a man in a red gown tells you that you are no longer Ryan, you are now "The Executioner", and you have been chosen to slaughter the Seven Evil Ones who are trying to harness the power of the "Dreamweb" in order to destroy mankind. Try looking that one up in your so-called "Dream Dictionary", you New-Age goons.
That's the basic plot, then - you've got to make like a serial killer and bump off seven people, one by one, to restore order to the weird, ethereal Dreamweb, which allegedly influences our destiny. It's all a bit "Clive Barker", really.
Look down on yourself
The first thing you notice about the game is the way that it's all viewed from overhead, in a Super Kick-Off kind of way. It's an unusual idea, and it works surprisingly well. Somehow it gives you the impression that all of the locations occupy a realistic space rather than being mere backdrops, making things all the more exciting when you're sneaking around trying to work out ways of knocking your would-be victims off. You don't have total freedom of movement: you can only walk towards objects which can be inspected, so there isn't too much aimless wandering involved.
It's all controlled via your trusty ol' mouse, and since some of the items at hand are extremely small i.e. a couple of pixels in size, you're provided with a small "zoomed-in" view in the bottom left window, for the purposes of close-up inspection. You can fiddle about with almost everything in sight - from your girlfriend's Feminax to the individual cigarettes in your pack of 20. This is all a bit pointless really: it's pretty obvious from the off which items are going to prove useful to you (such as the great big axe), and which aren't (the lone processed pea you find nestling on your carpet).
The "Gnrrr" bit
As you'd expect, you've got jumbo-sized pockets to keep everything in, and you'll spend plenty of time juggling items around - and it's around here that you start noticing how fiddly the control system can be. Here's an example from the very first location in the game.
Let's say that you want to change the cd in the cd player in your girlfriend's flat. You've got a cd in your hand and you're standing next to the hi-fi. You open the inventory and click on the cd. Then you click on the "USE" button. Up comes the message: "You'll have to find something to use it with first". Grrrrr. So you get out of the inventory screen and click on the Hi-Fi. Again, you hit the "USE" button. Now it tells you that you'll have to put a cd in it first. Double Grrrr. You try again, this time hitting the "OPEN" button. The CD tray opens. Up comes your inventory screen. You put in your cd. Hooray. Back to the Hi-Fi, click on "USE", and... oh. A message tells you that you'll have to find the remote control unit first. Which is on the other side of the room. And you'll have to pick it up and find a pocket to keep it in first. Triple Grrrr. Bearing in mind that things like this happen throughout the entire game, you soon begin to wonder whether it's the nightmares that are making Ryan want to kill people, or the fact that his whole environment is a monumental pain in the arse.
Still, you soon get accustomed to this "Jobsworth" style of object manipulation, and start getting into the game proper. Then things get very seedy, very quickly. This is a Good Thing.
Sleazy does it
Dreamweb is an "adult" game. It's not cute and fluffy in the slightest. There's lots of nasty violence, some drug references, an outrageously gratuitous sex scene (your first victim is getting his oats when you burst into his room), and a bit of mild swearing - so if you find the word "Shit" offensive, then close your eyes during the conversational sequences (if, on the other hand, you find shit itself offensive, then don't bother to read the scene-setting "Diary of a Madman" novella that comes with the game - it's chock-a-block with upsettingly corny lines).
Don't get me wrong. Sex, violence, drugs, and foul language - I welcome them all with open arms. Especially in adventure games. Anything, anything but Goblins and Ores and Trolls. Clearly. Empire Interactive (the people behind this game) feel the same way. Three cheers for them. There will undoubtedly be a few uptight wusses who will be shocked by the explicit nature of the gore (axes in chests, arms flying off, chunks of gooey flesh dripping from walls etc.), but I'm sure the rest of you will lap it up. Figuratively speaking.
More significantly, it's good fun. Since each of the victims gets killed in a gory and "amusing" way (the goriness of which increases as you progress), you genuinely look forward to each encounter. Tracking down your victims and then nailing them is a pleasure. It's also pretty simple to get killed in a gory way yourself: unusually for a game of this type, there are a couple of sections where timing is essential if you want to avoid a hail of bullets in your back. Make sure you save your game whenever things start looking dangerous.
The graphics, if you ignore the rather crap portrait on the left of the screen, are neatly designed, and the animation (particularly the nasty bits, which seem to have been drawn with an unhealthy relish) is excellent. The sound effects are great, right down to the squelchy noise made by a chunk of bad guy hitting the floor. The music is superb - the best I've heard in a pc game for ages (although I do wish they'd sneaked in a quick burst of Helter Skelter during the murder scenes). Yes, it's all extremely atmospheric and creepy, brutal and involving. It's also a piece of piss to complete.
I finished Dreamwcb in two days. Not two days of solid play, but two days of casual attachment. Normally, I'm useless at point-and-click adventures (I never finished Monkey Island 2, for example), but I found Dreamweb a total walkover. The puzzles are far too simple: the few places you'll get stuck can usually be solved by either a) scouring the accompanying "novella" for clues, or b) about two minutes of mild thought. This all adds up to a confusing situation: Dreamweb's low level of difficulty would make it ideal for younger players... if, that is, it wasn't bursting at the seams with graphic sex and violence. Hnnnm. It's a crying shame. It reminded me of an After Eight Mint - dark, delicious, and satisfyingly bad for you, but disposed of in seconds. I wanted more. Much more.
Hopefully, Empire will use the techniques, and the sheer attitude, that the company's employed here to more challenging effect in its next release.
Oh yes - one last (very important) point before I go. As far as I am aware, this is the first commercially available adventure game in which you actually get to see one of the character's willies, albeit only for a moment. Is this a first? Answers on a postcard please.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Perhaps understandably for a science fiction role-playing game, Dreamweb is set in the far distant future. A dark and really rather scary far-distant future, in which one all-powerful force controls the lives of everyone. Its not the normal kind s of all-powerful force, though. For once, a prediction of the future does not include a world dominated by multinational conglomerates like Happy Shopper and What She Wants. What we have here is an all-powerful pseudo mystical force: the Dreamweb. The Dreamweb, if the publicity handouts are to be believed, is a kind of virtual reality (spot the buzzword) of the subconscious, or, to be more specific, the unconscious. People are connected when they sleep, and their dreams are influenced and controlled by it. Imagine, if you will, a kind of Wide Area Network for the land of nod.
Cue lengthy plot explanation
The Dreamweb itself is controlled by seven disembodied powers who influence the thoughts and actions of their physical hosts on earth. Some are good, but some are evil. Not surprisingly, the two sides dont get on: theres none of this all lads together in the pub after the game stuff. A psychic battle for overall supremacy, and thus control of the Dreamweb, has continued for centuries. The overall Vibe of the Dreamweb is affected by whoever has the upper hand - too many bad guys and its nightmare city and tortured sleep all round, with people waking up in muck sweats having just been Lesley Crowthers navigator in the rac Rally. If the good forces get control, however, its pleasant dreams time, and everyone has the kind of gooey, slushy sleeping experiences that make Little House on the Prairie look like a slash movie.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how much you like wearing white and skipping through fields of corn) the baddies have gradually gained control of the Web. How? How? youre probably crying in outright dismay. You might well ask. Whenever any of the host people on earth die, their controlling power dies with them. The vacant controlling spot is then up for grabs, and the bad forces seem to have been a bit quicker off the mark than the good ones, to the extent that the Webs controllers are now exclusively inclined towards the naughty. Thus it is that everyone on earth is now suffering terrible nightmares, feelings are tending toward the downright tetchy and lack of sleep has given everyone eyes like Michael Aspel after a 72-hour rave. Eeek, lumme, blimey OReilly, etc.
Fortunately, there exists the Dreamweb equivalent of a United Nations impartial observation party known as the Keepers. Worried by developments, they decide to appoint a representative on earth who will act for them, hopefully restoring the balance of power by the somewhat 80s method of killing the seven evil hosts before they can entropy. As each of the hosts is killed, their evil soul is consumed and the hero is sent into the Dreamweb. Tire heros name is Ryan. Ryan has been told in his dreams to seek out and kill the seven people concerned. Thats going to look good in court. In case you havent already guessed, you control Ryan.
Science fiction - or adventure?
So, its pretty obvious that Dreamweb combines science fiction with the kind ofdark force stuff thats essential for any true role playing game if it is to appeal to the average bearded gamesplayer. Unlike most adventure games, however, it has an adult theme. Its the first game since those Larry games to feature'a toilet in it, for a start. Its funny how toilet humour is supposed to be childish, but toilets in computer games is deemed to be adult, isnt it? Anyway, theres the toilet. And you can see people doing it. Theres even quite a bit of swearing, and more than a smattering of bloody, violent death. So far, youre probably thinking it doesnt sound a lot different from an average episode of George and Mildred. In fact, its quite different. For a start, you can shoot people in this.
How it works
Dreamweb has an unusual viewpoint and a new and specially developed control system. Unlike most adventure games, your view of the world is from directly above the action. Its the kind of top-down view which normally indicates that youre about to take part in a fast and furious shoot em-up, rather than an adventure game, and diehards may well shy away, but fear not, it works.
Each location is divided into a number of single screen rooms, which occupy the area in the middle of the screen. At the top right is the icon for an extremely useful zoom mode, handy for examining garbage, half eaten mouldy cheeseburgers and other interesting effluvia in greater detail. This facility can be toggled on and off. When its on, the enlarged view is shown at the left of the screen, and as you move the cursor around the screen, both views scroll together.
Youre automatically provided with short descriptions of objects and areas as you move the cursor across them. Rather like LucasArts games, clicking on any object activates the default command and makes your character walk towards it. Clicking again examines the object. Your view of the object will then change according to its type. Usually youre given a larger view of the object and a written description of it. If its portable and you want to pick it up, clicking on it again will enable you to place it in your inventory.
Usable items activate a bar across the top of the screen, with a selection of icons depicting yourself carrying out the various actions you can perform on the item. If the item is something like a button to press, or a security keypad on which you have to enter codes, these appear in enlarged form on-screen, too. The game revolves around the solving of puzzles and traps by the use of this intricate object manipulation, with certain objects being capable of holding many other smaller objects.
The games taken over two years to make. Creative Reality, the developers, consists of only two people: Neil Dodwell does the programming, and Dave Dew produces the graphics. Among their credits are two old Spectrum titles based on characters from 2000AD: Slaine and Nemesis the Warlock. They also produced Myth for System 3 and have carried out various 8-bit console conversions, including The Last Action Hero, which paid enough to partly finance this.
Rather like a Hollywood film, all they had to start from was the name. The first development was an editor, or game system, from which all locations for the game were developed and filled with objects. Several parts of the game were specially programmed - the game contains a complete Network on-line information system, along with various computers, terminals and security machines.
As you progress through the game, solving puzzles and wiping out the evil hosts, youll find yourself zapping back and forth between the real world and the Dreamweb itself. There are 30 locations to explore, comprised of more than 200 rooms. There are literally hundreds of items to be picked up and used, and over 4000 hand-drawn frames of animation. The fact that the development has been carried out on 286, 386 and 486 machines should ensure the game runs smoothly at 70 frames per second on nearly all pcs. According to the makers, its target audience consists of the kind of people who are into the likes of Bladeruntier and Akim - presumably they dont mean the social misfits who lecture you at inordinate length in the pub about the what the folded up origami bits in Bladerunner really mean, because those people tend not to have lives, jobs or money to spend on computer games. Dreamweb is the first of what the creators say will be several adventure games utilising the editor theyve developed. Anyway, well be producing a full review of this one when weve seen the finished game.
Voices: A Psychoanalyst Writes
People come to me all the time with their dreams. Everyone knows that theres nothing in the world more boring than being forced to listen to someone elses dreams at great length, especially at the breakfast table. Thats when most domestic knifings take place. This is why I get paid so much. As to the central character in this game, I can only say that the old a message in my dreams told me to kill those seven people argument isnt usually the best defence in a court case, unless the jury is composed of the kind of imbeciles who ring Russell Grants astrological hot-lines at 96p a minute. As a leading psychoanalyst, Id recommend the Jesus made me do it line instead. Hed be out in three and a half years, have the book written by four, and coining it from the film rights in five.