Thursday, 1 August 2013

DreamWeb (MS-DOS)

DreamWeb title screen logo PC DOS
Alright, today's game is gritty 90s adventure game DreamWeb. I can't believe it's taken me so long to get around to this one; the CD's been on my 'to play' pile for so long that the game was actually released as freeware in the meantime.

This was originally an Amiga game I believe, released on floppy disks in 1992, then it got a PC release, and then finally in '94 it got a PC CD release (with voice acting). I'll mostly be playing the PC disc version though as I'm determined to get some use out of the thing.

"Unseen, a dwelling of pure thought shaping our futures... the Dreamweb. Watched over by servants... billions of years old... for centuries the Dreamweb has been stable... but now evil is about to take control..."
Hmm, do I have a 'game starts with cultists slowly walking up to perform a ritual' label to put on this post? No? I guess I'll hold onto that one then... until the appointed time is at hand.

Anyway the game begins with cultists slowly... well, you get the idea. The original versions had old fashioned subtitles here for dialogue, but this one utilises the incredible storage capacity of the CD-ROM disc to add actual speech and, well I'll just say they don't seem to be professional actors and leave it at that.

It's a bit of a shame though as I reckon someone like... David Warner for instance, could have worked miracles with lines like "SILENCE! The chosen ones are becoming aware."

The cultists as it happens are actually the ancient defenders of the Dreamweb (which is a good thing and they're good for doing that) and have just sent a magic probe out to contact their agent in our realm, which has entered his house via the microwave it seems.

Amiga AGA
After it's done wrecking his appliances, the ball of light teleports their deliverer right out of bed in his sleep to the grim post-apocalyptic wasteland of the future; a vision of things to come if he should fail in his task they are about to assign to him.

Our hero reacts pretty well to being dragged naked out of his bed in the middle of the night and given hard evidence that the world is doomed, and tells the cultist that he already has a good idea what they want from him and he's willing and eager to get on with it.

It seems that the seven chosen ones who control the seven points of the Dreamweb have become corrupt and need to be executed to end their influence and avert this dark future. The monks can't do it themselves of course, they've got to take their cloaks to the dry cleaners tonight, but they give our guy the first name on the list, advise him to go find a weapon first, and wish him luck.

Dreamweb Eden's bedroom
Then Ryan wakes up back in what turns out to be his girlfriend's house and I finally get to take control.

Alright, the game may have a top down view, but it's actually a mouse driven point and click adventure. I have zero direct control of our hero (who's called Ryan by the way), I can only click to objects to encourage him to walk over to them.

Adventure games like this have often been accused of being a pixel hunt, forcing the player to find tiny items hidden against the background, but this takes things to the next level. It takes things to the ultimate level in fact, to the point where it has to have its own zoom window just to give the player a chance of being able to see things like Ryan's wallet on this desk.

I grabbed the wallet and got this fairly detailed description of it, along with the option to open it, use it, and the secret option of dragging it over to giant Ryan on the left to stick it in his coat.

Incidentally the voices have all gone now, it's just text at this point.

Damn, that has to be the first and only time I've ever seen the hero's clothes show up in his inventory in an adventure game. Even his ring shows up and there's no way to get rid of any of it once he's wearing it, it just sits there taking up space. So I think I'll hold off on putting the sunglasses on just yet, as I'm not willing to make that kind of commitment right now.

Hey I've found a pound coin in his girlfriend's drawer, I didn't know this was set in the UK. Well I don't want to nick her spare change, but on the other hand this is an adventure game and hoarding every single item no matter how trivial is mandatory.

Amiga 500
Wow, the magic orb really did wreck his girlfriend's microwave, that thing looks scorched. Also the graphics look slightly more ass right now in general as I've switched to the 32 colour Amiga version for a second out of curiosity. The gameplay seems absolutely identical, though it has different (equally atmospheric) music, with the PC version having a bit more of a Deus Ex sound to it perhaps. In fact the game has a bit of a Deus Ex look to it as well now that I think about it, all very grim and grey and near future. I could say that they both share a bit of Blade Runner influence, but I never actually saw the film, so I won't.

Right, I'm going to take a closer look at that microwave. It'd probably be a smart move to verify that the dream was real before doing anything that could be misconstrued as being a bit 'serial killery'

Whoa, there's a key inside left by the cultists. Seems important too. I'm pretty lucky I decided to check it really, especially as I had no good reason to.

I also decided to check what happens if you try to leave Eden's apartment without the key and it brings up a message saying that you get the feeling you've forgotten something. Seems a bit cruel to me, as it implies you'd should be looking for something that Ryan would actually know about. You'd be left searching everywhere but the microwave.

Speaking of finding items, I grabbed everything else in the room not nailed down, then went to work on the cabinets. Here I came across a problem: there's a lot of stuff in this place, and I'm starting to doubt whether there'll actually be a puzzle coming up I'll need two cartons of milk and a bottle of orange juice to solve.

The bathroom next door was even worse, with toothpaste, a tooth brush, a toilet roll, etc. This is the basically the Skyrim of cyberpunk point and click adventure games, in that I can collect and carry every single item you could plausibly expect to find in an apartment like this.

Alright then, I'm going to have to start actually putting some thought into what I'm picking up here, as there's no way I could even carry all the stuff I've found in one location, never mind the whole game.

Well a wrench seems pretty handy, so I'll grab that. Also that looks like a screwdriver balanced on the front of that car, I'll be surprised if I can't find a use for that.

Leaving the apartment brought me to this screen, where I can flip through through all the places that Ryan is aware of so far. Right now that's limited to his place, his girlfriend's apartment (which I just looted) and a bar.

I suppose I'll check out his flat first, not that it probably matters.

Amiga AGA
Aw crap, I've come across a bit of a problem here: the game doesn't let me use my computer's numeric keypad to key in the code! Everyone knows that the only purpose of that keypad on the right side of Amiga and PC keyboards is to tap in keypad codes in video games, and they're just completely ignoring it here! I'm not angry I'm just... disappointed.

Oh plus I've got no idea what his door code is; that's a bit of a problem too I guess. You know where I bet this is written though? In the copy of his diary that comes with the game. Its called 'Diary of a (Mad?) Man' and is intended to be read before playing the game to give a different perspective on our noble hero. I didn't read it.
"Monday April 9
The clock keeps going round.
It wont teet tell me the time.
Santa Claus gave a gun to me.
Let loose the puppies of of war.
I died last night."
Well I've flicked through the diary and everything seems to be fine here; all his marbles seem present and accounted for and I'm sure none of this mystical Dreamweb crap is going to turn out to be the delusions of a soon-to-be serial killer. I mean I found a magic key in the microwave earlier that proves everything. Totally sane.

I also found a note in his wallet earlier with his door code written on now that I think about it...

Alright I am in his apartment at last and look at this, I have honestly found the smallest visible item in point and click video game history. This pea is exactly one single pixel big on screen. I should leave it be, but I have the irresistible urge to clean this shithole up. I don't know how I'm going to do it yet, the bin only holds around four pieces of trash, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

It seems like a lot of the items scattered around the room are actually unlabelled computer cartridges, so I'm going to plug them and see what's on them. I really wish I could write some new labels on them too while I'm here; it's so cruel that the game sticks a pen right in front of the PC and then doesn't let me use it.

Dreamweb computer screen
I love it when futuristic video game computers have interfaces more archaic than the system it's running on. I mean I know they can't simulate anything too advanced, but the Amiga computer this game was designed for already used a mouse driven GUI for things like this a whole seven years before the game came out.

By the way, this is definitely a 'check the manual' situation, as there's no way a player could figure out what to do here without a list of the commands or a few very lucky guesses. Even typing in 'help' just brings up a message basically saying 'nice try, now go check the manual.' Some subtle copy-protection methinks, but whatever, let's check these cartridges.

> LIST CARTRIDGE


TIME PASSES.


Ok, it turns out that all those unlabelled cartridges are actually blank. Not a huge surprise, but I had to check. I wonder if I'll have any more luck with this one with 'IMPORTANT' written on though.

Amiga 500
This must be the right cartridge to check, it needs the 'logon' command written in the manual AND the 'blackdragon' password written in the diary. It's okay for me to give all this info out by the way, the game's freeware now, you can just download the manual yourself if you want.

Oh right this is what the computer screen looks like when you run the game on an Amiga 500, in case anyone else other than me was curious. Orange text!

Amiga AGA
Aha, a clue! Well, the door code to an old friend's apartment anyway. I should probably turn the computer off now and go pay him a visit. I mean if his place is half as bad as Ryan's it'll be in urgent need of my cleaning skills.

dreamweb louis's lobby
Holy crap, I just got energy whipped by a thug on the way inside his apartment building! 

dreamweb outside louis's
He knocked Ryan out, stole his trainers and then drove off in a tiny getaway car! My first thoughts: "Awesome, I've got two extra inventory slots free now!"

It's a good job he didn't bother to search me at least. I'm sure my future cash card is locked to my fingerprints or whatever, but he could have nicked my mystical Dreamweb key, and then the world would really be in the shit.

Though now that I think about it, Ryan could have put that key in there himself before going to bed and then dreamt the whole energy orb thing. I mean the only other evidence it even happened is the scorched microwave and you know what happens when you stick metal in the microwave and leave it on... just saying.

Dreamweb louis's flat
I walked into Louis's flat using the door code and found him sitting half-asleep on the toilet. I normally wouldn't be brave enough to go in there, but I can't help but notice that there's a pair of trainers in there looking a whole lot like my old ones. It's like fate, man.

The voices are back! I mean the game speech, not voices in my head... uh, obviously. It seems that only the dialogue text gets read out aloud and to be honest they're not the best performances I've heard in a video game. Ryan's actor isn't terrible though, but he does sound way younger than I was expecting. I was expecting something like Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, when he's more of an angsty early 20-something.

Louis points Ryan towards a shady weapon dealer working out of the back room of a pool hall, which is handy because he's not likely to be buying one legit in Britain. First though he's going to need some money.

Dreamweb Sparky's Bar
This bar is Ryan's place of employ so it seems like a good place to hunt down some cash. Maybe I can do a bartending minigame for an hour or so like in that Fable game.

Fortunately the game wasn't designed by Peter Molyneux, so getting the cash was as simple as just talking to his boss and asking for his pay. I can't help but notice that none of my problems so far have been solved by MacGyvering a solution together using an inspired combination of bizarre items. I used the cartridge on the computer and the cashcard in the cashcard machine. And now I'm going to go use Louis's membership card on the pool hall to get a weapon.

I did try talking to some of the drunks in the pub before leaving, but after getting nothing out of the first two I got bored and left.


LATER, IN THE POOL HALL.


Dreamweb silverman's office
I went to see Louis's acquaintance about the gun in the pool hall like he said, but of course this is an adventure game so there was a catch. Actually I'm lying, Ryan was able to buy the gun and leave with zero hassle.

Well that's the first part of my mission sorted out: Ryan is now armed. The second part is a little trickier though, as all I know about the target is that he's called "Crane". I don't know whether that's his last or first name, I can't look it up on Ryan's computer, there's no phonebook around, and I can't choose dialogue options or ask people about things. I am truly stuck.

"Hey Eden, sorry for sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night, blowing up your microwave and stealing your toothbrush and confidential PC cartridge and all that, it's just that the dreams told me to buy a gun and... never mind that for now, do you happen know about a guy called Crane at all?"

Sadly I can't actually ask that, so waking her up was kind of pointless.

"Hey guys, anyone here know about a guy called Crane? First name or last name, either's good. It doesn't matter if you give me the wrong name because I'll use my psychic link to the Dreamweb to determine if they're really the man I was sent to kill."

Sadly I can't ask that either.

I can't believe that this is the part of the mission I'm having trouble with. I'm considering this puzzle to be evidence for the Dreamweb being real, as surely Ryan can't be crazy enough to give himself a specific named target... that he hasn't heard of. Unless his subconscious chose the name at random and now he's looking for anyone called Crane who fits his 'corrupt and powerful bastard' criteria.


SEVERAL LAPS AROUND THE GAME LATER.

Dreamweb Sparky's Bar
Guess who tells you about Crane and where to find him? It was that one person in Sparky's Bar sitting on the far right who I hadn't talked to yet! Though to be honest I though I had, so I was doubly confused when he straight away explained exactly who David Crane was and even where he was staying tonight.

Sadly it turns out that he's just some rock star and not the developer of Toys, Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit and Ghostbusters making a surprise cameo.

Dreamweb Regency Hotel Lobby
So now I'll need to get myself a room at the Regecy Hotel to allow me to sneak up into Crane's penthouse. Fortunately Ryan is crazy... committed to his mission, enough to spend most of his cash on a hotel room he's not even going to use. Dude, save a bit of that cash for the other six targets, alright? The world ain't saved until the last one is down remember?

I went exploring around Ryan's hotel room and the floor outside and all I found was the usual collection of items you'd expect, which isn't much use to me as he refused to pick up the towel and I'd already sneaked off with Louis's toilet roll while he was asleep. I did find a fire axe in the hallway though, which seems like a handy maintenance tool to have in my possession.

With nothing left to try, I examined the lift controls only for Ryan to hint that something thin and sharp could be used to pry it open. Not sure why I'd want to, but hey at least I've finally found a use for this axe I've been dragging around me with for the last 10 seconds! Nope. The screwdriver didn't work either, I couldn't get it to fork off and wrenching proved ineffective. I'm going to have to go all the way back home and get a knife aren't I?


LATER.


I used the knife to break the controls, so now I'm trapped here on this floor; such a fantastic plan. I guess this is the point of no return then. Fortunately the text description mentions a door in the ceiling of the lift, entirely hidden from my top down view, but accessible using THIS VERY HANDLE, (which is also pretty hard to see from my top down view.)

Time to climb up, sneak into David Crane's penthouse suite, and do some future altering magic with my gun. Hopefully while the poor bastard is asleep.

Oh wait, there's one last vitally important thing I need to do first. If all goes to plan the assassination of Crane shall be where I turn the game off, so it's finally time... to activate the sunglasses.

Oh shit, well this is awkward. Two massive bodyguards mere seconds away from tearing my head off and here's me standing like an idiot still holding the fire axe I used to open the lift doors.

And massive bodyguard one is pulling out a gun while I'm filling up my pants. Uh... use axe?

Oh that was nasty. Fortunately I swung out of the way of his gunshot in the nick of time, but I have a feeling the a second one will be coming my way in half a second or so, and I'm having a bit of bother retrieving my axe.

Well Ryan's got a gun aimed at directly his head right now while his own gun is in his coat somewhere, so I'd say he already lost this particular quick draw 10 seconds ago. But hey he is nuts, so it's worth a shot.

Use gun.

Stone fucking cold. Well I'm sure that my target is now wide awake and currently making his way out of a window after all that gunplay next door, so I'd better get a move on.

By the way, it is very possible to sabotage the lift and get stuck on this floor without buying the gun, in which case you would be entirely screwed. You'd definitely want to have multiple save games in this.

Oops. I found my target (in the middle of a pixelled animated sex scene), got him trapped in my sights, and then made the classic mistake of standing around and TALKING to him when my back was against an open door.

Well to be fair I did sabotage the lift and the door to the shaft was sealed behind me so I wasn't entirely insane to presume I had a bit of time before people began to creep into the penthouse behind me armed with machine guns.

DreamWeb pistol image game over text
Well, damn... those two triggers are really close; the gun must be designed for people with tiny thin fingers. Now it's got me wondering what the other trigger even does. Ooooh, maybe it has a grenade launcher!

Oh right, I should mention that due to Ryan's epic failure the bad future eventually happened and everything is shit now forever. So, I guess the Dreamweb was real after all then? Yay? Either way I'm turning this off now.


DreamWeb was a controversial game at the time of release, with review scores running the whole range from a single star out of 10, to 90%, but what's my controversial opinion of it? Honestly, I liked it. The actual game design of it seems to be a little... flawed, with hundreds of red herring items and no way to know what you're likely to need later, combined with a limited inventory already 25% filled up by your pants and shoes. Plus some items are literally a pixel big, but thankfully that's hasn't actually been a massive problem for me so far due to the magnifying glass window. It would've been nice if they'd dropped the huge borders and scaled up the art instead, but I'm sure that technical limitations would've made that impractical.

Most of the puzzles so far have been sensible and logical, but they've also mostly involved me just doing what I'm told. The first actual puzzle sequence began with me having to go back home and search through piles of trash for a knife, then climb out of an invisible door in the ceiling, so I'm not sure that that bodes well for what's to come. Also you can get hopelessly stuck without realising it and there are timed sequences with lethal outcomes.

But I loved the atmosphere of it; the art, the music, the apparently unique descriptions for each and every item in the world, even when they're just another cup or toilet roll. The art design makes it feel like it could be taking place across the ocean simultaneously to JC Denton's antics in Deus Ex's grim dystopian world. Plus with the top down view, adult themes, horrific scenes of slaughter, batshit crazy protagonist, and the occasional trip back home to the flat, it could almost be a cyberpunk adventure game sequel to Hotline Miami, only taking place in the 2080s or 2180s or whatever instead of the regular 80s.

Basically it's got half of what makes good games good without having the gameplay to back it up, but the interface is so frictionless to use that I found myself coasting through the game anyway to see where the story was going. So I am forced by my own rules to give it a gold star.


DreamWeb is currently freeware and can be obtained from this link at a cost of zero monies:
ScummVM.org DreamWeb download page (it's about two thirds of the way down.)
Warning: the game contains tiny pixel violence, sex and nudity and dark nasty themes. And also the manual thankfully.

Anyway who cares what I think about DreamWeb, what did you think about the game? Or about what I thought about the game? Or about anything halfway relevant. Comments are welcome!

2 comments:

  1. I love this game. It's so gritty and cyberpunk, the atmosphere is awesome.

    I also like that it didn't hold off on being "real" in that it's depressing and explicit and the final conclusion to the story is so open-ended.

    I'm still not sure if I'd spent hours in the mind of an insane hallucinating murderer, or if Ryan was a truly tragic victim of circumstance. I still feel sorry for his poor girlfriend.

    DreamWeb and Bloodnet and Rise of the Dragon make a great trio of adventure games. I owned them all back in the day. I later played Beneath a Steel Sky, and read the novel series which Circuits Edge was based off.

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  2. Some of the music in Dream Web "Like Killing Hitler"
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDkl9eTue2w

    Reminds me of Big Trouble In Little China's soundtrack
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzkF1WyNDKM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uP3NgkPQ5Wo

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