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Preview: Dream

With the development of Dream nearing completion, the small group of developers at Hypersloth Games are heading back to university to help perfect their craft as they prototype new ideas. That might sound like a strange move given that this close-knit team has already demonstrated itself as an efficient developer, providing regular updates to the Steam Early Access build of Dream over the past year. Give it a moment’s thought, however, and it provides a reassuring sense of direction for the studio. Instead of rushing into a second project, this move will give the team time to breathe and make sure it builds upon its first release.

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It likely isn’t a coincidence, then, that Dream’s protagonist finds himself in complete the opposite position to his creators. Howard Phillips has only recently graduated and yet finds himself with no real direction in life. Where Phillips should be steadily employed and making the most of his newfound qualifications, we join him sitting by himself in a relatively unkept living room, empty drink bottles and boxes of Chinese food littering the table in front of him.

It’s a relatively drab introduction to Dream, which spends its opening moments letting players refamiliarise themselves with videogame storytelling techniques popularised by the likes of Gone Home and Dear Esther. It’s perhaps best to leave the further details of the plot for players to discover themselves, as this forms much of the title’s appeal, but suffice to say that anyone that enjoyed the aforementioned videogame’s brand of narrative will be right at home here.

Where Dream really starts to stand out is, as you might expect, in the dream segments. The first of three acts for the title pits Phillips in a desert. It’s not immediately clear where to go; the area is large enough to encourage non-linear exploration but just small enough to ensure they won’t get lost as they search the winding canyons. Hypersloth Games points out that the usual comparison to this area is Thatgamecompany’s celebrated 2012 classic, Journey. Indeed, the opening moments do provide a similar sense of tranquillity, but the gap between the two quickly widens as Dream reveals some of its more unique aspects.

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It’s up to players to infer the meanings of Phillips’ dreams based on his current situation in life, although they’ll be guided by notes scattered around the world that explain to players what certain aspects of a dream might relate to. They also won’t be limited to simple exploration; after discovering a computer placed seemingly at random in the area, a maze-based puzzle starts. Four rooms surround the player and the lights that illuminate each one must be turned off by simply walking underneath them. Adding an element of fear to the proceedings is a black cloud that will send players back to the start of the maze should they touch it.

Crucially, players need to thinking about what their actions here mean instead of just simply solving it. It’s the player’s ability to infer the sights and sounds of Phillips’ dreams that the title is going to both live and die by. Fly through each section without paying much thought to what you’re doing and why and you might well find Dream to be a relatively bland experience. Take the time to relate to Phillips as a character however, and you could discover a title that has deeper narrative aspirations that many of its contemporaries.

That makes Dream an exciting prospect. This is a title that has the potential to prove different for each an every player, not in terms of content but in terms of implications. No doubt some will relate to Phillips’ situation quite dramatically, while others will find themselves on the opposite side of the fence. This sample goes a long way to convincing you that playing the full title, whenever it finally launches, may be well worth your time.