The Complexity Of The Gamified Mind
HIGH The metaphorical tale of depression.
LOW The comically awkward presentation.
WTF No, seriously. The physics remind me of Happy Wheels.
In my experience, few game developers value the narrative of their work above the entertainment value it might otherwise provide, and I’m generally appreciative of experimental design meant to do more than entertain. Into A Dream is, therefore, of interest to me. This 2D side-scrolling puzzle-adventure with an emphasis on dialogue attempts to convince the player of how complex an anxious person’s mind can be. The result deserves full marks for ambition, but unfortunately the presentation is more comedic than convincing.
The player stars as John Stevens, a dorky fellow with a British accent who’s suddenly dropped into a forest before learning of the Williams family staying in a nearby vacation home — Luke, an engineer leading a renewable energy corporation, Rita, his wife and writer of fiction, Anne, their daughter, and Rufus, their dog. John becomes acquainted with the family. Although he (like the player) has no idea why he’s present, it’s quickly revealed that he is there for them via scenes that take place across both space and time.
John learns of happier days in both past and future, such as Luke’s company successes and Anne’s future wedding, but also of terrifying ones — Luke appears to be increasingly depressed, hardly talks to his family, and gives up his CEO position. John intends to find the root cause of Luke’s depression to help him through it, and this becomes the central conflict for the player.
The changing scenes and various conversations with Luke’s family and friends contribute to a feeling of experiencing social anxiety – the player is constantly engaged with people close to Luke giving different readings of his behavior, and it’s obvious that he struggles to communicate.
Into A Dream is not only interesting in its dialogue exchanges, however. The plot takes several interesting turns, and by the end of it, I felt conflicted — my reading was that the game almost tries to legitimize Luke’s depression, which is a daring stance to take. Regardless of my interpretation, the plot is undoubtedly Into A Dream’s most sophisticated element. It is also the game’s only sophisticated element — everything else comes in various degrees of ‘comically terrible’.
Visually, Into A Dream does its job and little more thanks to decent environments and characters presented as black silhouettes, emphasizing that the experience is about the mind, rather than the eyes. The audio fares worse, however. Aside from a forgettable soundtrack, the voice performances are annoying and don’t resemble normal human expression. John’s readings in particular came across as completely out of touch with reality.
Worse than the audio is the gameplay. There’s little of it in this story-driven game, which is fine, but what is here feels redundant, forced and corruptive.
Tasks include minimal platforming and fetching items a few inches away, which is an activity not complex enough to be called a puzzle. The platforming sections feel unjustified, as they are mostly located in areas where they don’t make sense — for example, I had to use a lift to get to a beach party, for no logical purpose other than to make the player interact with something.
The way John handles is also bad. The player only controls his silhouette, which is too stiff to reliably jump or grab objects, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of failing at climbing a small obstacle or missing a jump due to these absurdly terrible controls. For a game generally successful in conveying depression, I spent the majority of my time laughing at it due to the gameplay.
What we can learn from Into A Dream is that ideas alone are not enough to carry a game to greatness. I can truly feel the passion put into the narrative and I do acknowledge that the story, in isolation, hits its mark. Sadly, everything about how the game is built fails to meet the same standard and severely undercuts the power of the script.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Filipe F. Thomaz. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 7 hours were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: Into A Dream has no ESRB rating. The game implies cruel violence at some points and tackles issues of depression and social anxiety without filter. Consumers unable to properly deal with such mature/serious content should exercise caution.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I did not experience any necessary audio cues. The dialogue is fully subtitled, although subtitles are not resizable. Additionally, the player cannot control the speed of dialogue — the passing of text corresponds to the voice actor finishing the line. This title is therefore only partly accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable.
David has had a passion for writing since childhood, but rather than writing stories, he started reading them and figured that the only way a Harry Potter universe would truly come to life would be in a videogame. His favorite genre in literature, dystopian fiction, seemed to have especially unlimited potential in this new medium. Despite appreciating and regularly engaging with many different art forms, David's dedicated himself mostly to the playable one.
Born and raised a Dutchman, David can tell you everything about 'stroopwafels' and what it's like to live in the liberal capital of the world. That is, if he isn't holed up in his room and enjoying the American entertainment industry.