Gaming’s preeminent weirdo, Swery65, made the leap from cult video game director to full-blown phenomenon with the 2010 release of Deadly Premonition – a horror game that scared almost nobody, but managed to form an almost beautiful train-wreck of oddball ideas and storylines that still generates acclaim and controversy to this day. The newest game from Swery (a.k.a. Hidetaka Suehiro), and his first as sole writer and director since Deadly Premonition, is D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, a title that lives up to his notorious level of weird. D4 is episode-based, and as such only two full episodes have been released, so it’s tough to judge the game considering it doesn’t have an ending yet. It’s even tougher to say whether an ending is coming at all – D4 didn’t sell all that well upon release in late 2014, but a recent give-away as an Xbox “Games with Gold” and a port to PC may have renewed enough interest to get the rest of this game made. Even with a lack of clear-cut ending, it’s hard to imagine any of Swery65’s fans being disappointed with D4, although the general public looking for a more traditional gameplay experience may find it a tedious chore.
D4 in its most straightforward moments attempts to emulate the world of film noir, with a hard-boiled Boston detective David Young quitting the force to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder on his own. He has visions of his wife that convince him to “look for D.” This gets David started on a trail to hunt down any suspect whose name could start with “D,” and all of the characters hilariously talk about “the D” as though they have no idea that it could be a double entendre, which could be excused as a funny translation mistake except this is Swery65 we’re talking about. David is helped out along the way by a special power that lets him travel through time by clutching objects of particular sentimental value. David calls these “mementos” and it’s hard not to see similarities to the film of the same name throughout D4 – missing memories, a dead wife, a partner who may be a crooked cop, a hunt for a murderer based solely on a vague idea of their name. David’s adventures are far too wacky to stay grounded in reality for long though – in the first of two episodes available he gets sent back in time to a plane that’s about to crash, and he spends his time looking for clues and chatting up the different oddities on-board from The O.C.D. woman who doesn’t think there’s enough windows on the plane to the flamboyant fashionista who takes advice from his dressed-up mannequin. The climactic quicktime fight that ends the episode is played entirely for laughs as David ends up smacking an in-custody criminal up and down the plane while simultaneously dancing with passengers, escorting them to their seats, and putting away luggage. It’s six minutes long and completely insane; it just might redeem the whole concept of quicktime events. This is all occurring on a plane that’s crashing, and no other passenger seems to notice or care.
It’s that weird non-logic that defines Swery’s polarizing style. David has a ridiculously overblown Boston accent, except for when he doesn’t really have any accent at all. David reminisces about a Red Sox/Yankees game he went to after inspecting an old ticket stub, yet the stub was clearly for a game between the Red Sox and Rays. He has a roommate who dresses up and acts like a housecat (down to catching mice and carrying them around in her mouth) yet the idea that she could be some kind of hallucination of an actual housecat is never brought up. In normal games, these seem like careless mistakes, dangling threads that ruin the experience; in Swery’s world they’re the features.
The biggest improvement made in D4 over Deadly Premonition is its brisk pace – the two episodes and prologue will only take about 3 hours to get through, as new characters and plot points are introduced rapidly. There’s not much gameplay to be had here, as most of D4 involves quicktime events, navigating dialog trees, and poking around for clues. The second episode doesn’t fare quite as well as the first, involving a flashback to a very similar location and no new characters, but it ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger – no matter how enjoyable gamers find D4, most will be drawn in enough to want to find out what happens next.
While likely less polarizing than the shitstorm of a game that preceded it, D4 will still likely have its share of big fans and even bigger haters. Where some might see some kind of brilliant anti-game telling an engrossing story in a wonderful world full of strangeness, others will point to its lack of any sort of cohesion and a few blatant fetch quests as a sign that D4 just doesn’t have much going for it. The story here deserves to be finished; it would just be nice if Swery could inject his games with some gameplay that’s actually fun and challenging.
2.5 Chicks out of 5