App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
Graphics / Sound Rating:
User Interface Rating:
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An old man named Wilson has been in some kind of accident that's left him brain-dead. His consciousness now exists purely in the dream:scape; a kind of purgatory between life and death in which he'll have to recover important memories before he can move on. Memories that he may not want and are better left forgotten.
It's bound to be mistaken for some kind of first-person adventure game, but while dream:scape does share a few similarities with the genre it's really more of an interactive narrative. Think of it as a kind of short story told via simple exploration and "find the object" puzzle solving. It's less about playing and more about learning Wilson's story. Without good writing and voice acting such a concept would be doomed to failure, but dream:scape has both and pulls it off with the kind of subtle grace only the most respectable big-name developers are expected to possess.
Right from the beginning, the music and brief dialogue pulled me in. There's just something about the somber score and initial mystery that immediately struck a chord with me. After being brought up to speed by a talking scarecrow, I was eager to start exploring the small but open environment and figure out exactly why poor Wilson was all alone in his twilight years. This lead to a lot of glances at Wilson's journal for hints about where to go next, wandering to specific locations to both trigger a brief memory cutscene and receive a clue about how to progress, unlocking a journal entry for said location with more story detail then moving on to the next area and repeating the process. It's a rhythm that's bound to annoy and bore players expecting something with a bit more action, but those looking for a good story will be too absorbed by the haunting world and even more haunting memories to notice.
I do, however, have two-and-a-half gripes about the experience. Firstly, dream:scape can't handle multitasking very well. The functionality is in there, but unless a user only exits it for a minute or two before jumping back in it inevitably crashes. Restarting will restore progress to the last checkpoint, but the un-skippable introductory "Poor Mr. Wilson" dialogue will have to be watched again every time. Which kind of kills the impact. Secondly, the movement controls feel sluggish and unresponsive. Since dream:scape isn't exactly action-heavy it's not a huge deal, but it can be annoying when trying to climb the occasional ladder or walk across narrow wooden planks. Halfly, the game will start to stutter when too much of the open environment is in view. Again, it's not game-breaking, but it's somewhat irritating to have Wilson's already leisurely pace reduced to a mere crawl when walking down the hill from the church.
I worry that the two dollar price (it's sad that that's considered "costly") coupled with limited replayability will see dream:scape hit with far too many negative reviews in the App Store. Too often too many are too quick to judge (or purchase without reading descriptions) and quality titles will suffer for it. I sincerely hope this doesn't happen to speedbump studios. This was a great first effort from a developer that shows real talent and promise. At the very least, they deserve a chance to show us what else they can do.