Into A Dream Review (PC) – Restless Sleep

Into A Dream is a game about exploring a man’s dreams and attempting to pin down the cause of his depression. It’s your job to not only discover why his heart is broken but to encourage him to seek treatment.

It’s a fascinating concept—your character, John, is a blank-slate inserted into the dreams of one Luke Williams, plundering his memories to get to the bottom of his ailment, slowly uncovering the details of his life and figuring out how to help him. It’s a great idea, and sometimes the game’s promise shines through, giving you glimpses of the game it could have been.

Unfortunately, Into A Dream is a game whose ambitions far outstrip its achievements. The game was written and developed by solo artist Filipe Thomaz, who also composed the soundtrack and stands in as the voice actor for several characters. It’s admirable that a single person was able to make a functional, complete game–but it’s also very clear how working alone limited the project’s potential.

Into A Dream Review

Into A Dream seems, at first, like yet another arty 2D platformer—it owes a heavy debt to Limbo, both in its silhouetted art style and its controls, which are limited to running, interacting, and jumping—but it’s perhaps closer to an adventure game, in the end, one in which paying attention to conversations and picking up item X to use on object Y makes up the bulk of the gameplay.

As you move through each of Luke’s dreams (which are rarely as weird as real dreams), you need to figure out the right way to progress. This is usually a case of finding the one and only item you can pick up, or simply talking to everyone, with even the most complicated puzzles involving little real thought.  The puzzles are simple to the point of being arbitrary—so much so that I occasionally wasn’t sure how I had solved them when the game let me progress.

There are plenty of signs that Into A Dream is an amateur work, and that’s not an inherently bad thing. The art and character models are simplistic, occasionally feeling like placeholders, and the animation on John is extremely stiff. This is all forgivable, though, and perhaps the best thing about the game is its pluckiness—it’s endearing to see how Thomaz has put the game together, and to know that it represents the realisation of a personal vision, especially since so much of the plot deals with themes of trauma, illness, and depression.

But no matter how much empathy and admiration the game might conjure up for its creator, it needs a good story to make it all worthwhile. There’s a lot riding on the quality of writing for Luke’s saga, and the player’s investment in why he left his position as the head of a clean energy company that was on the verge of a huge breakthrough and pushed his family away.

I won’t mince words here—the game’s script is bad, and desperately needs an experienced editor to hammer out its issues. It’s not just that Luke’s plight isn’t that interesting—once the game wrapped, I reflected on everything I’d learned about him and decided that there was potential to make these same story beats more engaging. The game has issues with pacing, as information is parcelled out too slowly, and never that interesting when it arrives.

But by far its biggest problem is the fact that the dialogue never quite sounds like recognisable human speech, with characters sometimes misusing words, or using oddly formal language, or delivering flavourless exposition. There’s no literary quality to Into A Dream, no shocks or interesting twists or unique, distinctive characters, and that’s a huge problem when the game is so story focused. You’re occasionally given dialogue choices in conversation, but they seem to be of little to no consequence.

This is not helped by the fact that the cast speaking the lines are clearly not professional voice actors. Luke should be the game’s heart, but he speaks every line with boredom rather than pathos. Other characters seem to have been given little direction over the context behind their lines, leading to readings that are at odds with the meaning a scene might be trying to convey. No one is really giving a performance, and it’s always extremely clear that every actor recorded their lines separately. A game about delving into a man’s dreams and discovering his secrets should not be this dreary.

In its final act, the game takes a bizarre, left-field turn, suddenly infesting the game with religious imagery, intense shifts in visual style, and a more action-packed finale. It’s welcome after the rest of the game’s meandering pace and is the closest the game ever gets to feeling like a real dream, but it’s also so at odds with everything that came beforehand that it’s hard not to experience whiplash. It elevates an experience that had become boring into something strange, at least, and it’s another reminder that the game is a good idea at its core, even if the execution is off.

It’s a shame the whole game didn’t swing this hard.

As a former university teacher, and thus someone experienced in judging a work not only for its content but by the effort put in, scoring a game that is so clearly the work of a single individual tends to split my mind in two ways; I want to commend the developer for making something complete and cohesive and heartfelt, to congratulate them for the obvious monumental effort that must have gone into realising their vision.

At times, the art style clicks into place, and the game finds a moment of grace or beauty in a vista laid across the screen. The soundtrack, too, is quite accomplished, often finding the emotional beats the game is hitting more successfully than the script does. There are things to like here.

 But I also must acknowledge that there’s no real reason to play the game beyond personal investment a player might have in the man who made it. As a critic, I can’t pretend that the game’s flaws don’t outweigh its qualities. It’s all but impossible to really dislike a game like this, one that has such obvious good intentions and a sincere, hopeful outlook. But there’s also, unfortunately, little reason to recommend that you play it.


Into A Dream was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the developer.

Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Pros
Some lovely moments where the art style coalesces
A strong soundtrack
Too sincere to strongly dislike
Cons
Stilted dialog and amateur voice-acting is a bad combination
Little cohesion between story and puzzles
The pacing stretches out some sections and rushes over others
4.5

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James O'Connor
James O’Connor has been writing about games for too long now, but is going to keep going anyway. His favourite one is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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