Dreaming is a phenomenon that has always fascinated me because I’ve had several dreams that were so vivid and real that they’ve shaken me to my very core. But, unfortunately, most of my nighttime excursions to dreamland are just garbled nonsense that have little staying power once I’ve awoken. Sad to say, my time with the video game Dream had little staying power, either. There is a cool idea buried somewhere within this game, but its execution misses the mark almost entirely. Dream ends up being a little too much like one of my many nonsense dreams.
Dream is the first game from developer HyperSloth, and they’ve billed this experience as a first-person, atmospheric exploration game. It is all of those things, but where similar games like Gone Home or Among the Sleep succeed, Dream falls short.
In Dream, you play as Howard Phillips, which seems to be a tip of the cap to horror scribe H.P. Lovecraft. The game itself, unfortunately, contains very little in the way of Lovecraftian frights. Howard is just a humdrum Englishman whose dreams we happen to be privy to. While his playable dreams are a bit more fantastical than his waking life, they are still ultimately lacking.
A perfect example of this banality is in the game’s first real playable area. You lay your head to rest on a pillow, then awaken in a voxel-esque dream hub where you pick the area you’d like to explore. The first unlocked area is a rocky desert of sorts that eventually leads you on a wild goose chase through a series of catacombs.
This is where I was presented with the game’s first puzzle, which made an awful first impression. There are four mazes in which I had to shut off the lights before being able to proceed. The maze was patrolled by a smoke monster and if it touched me, I was sent back to the beginning. With nary a map or any way to orient myself, it led to an infuriating situation where I had one light left somewhere deep inside the maze that I couldn’t find. So I kept wandering the halls, lost and frustrated, while being relentlessly attacked by the smoke monster.
It took me about 45 minutes to finally conquer this maze, which was just one out of the four, mind you. It was right then that I realized I wasn’t going to enjoy the rest of my time with Dream.
As expected, the wearisome and unrewarding puzzles continued throughout the rest of the game. Not only is the game dull, it’s also quite obtuse. It’s hard to make sense of what collecting something or solving a puzzle actually does. Most times your reward for solving a nonsensical puzzle is the ability to solve another nonsensical puzzle. This is no fun at all, and it makes the entirety of Dream, well, a snooze-fest.
Dream is a different experience and I commend it for trying to break (somewhat) new ground but, ultimately, it doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. It promises a thoughtful, intelligent experience and serves up a mind-bending slog through sterile environments. If you’re a person who enjoys complex mazes (with no map feature) and unintuitive puzzles, you may appreciate Dream. Otherwise, let this one slip into the ephemera…just like the dream you had this morning before you switched off that godforsaken alarm.