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Sleep—those little slices of death; oh, how I loathe them.
Trust us, oh dedicated Game Revolutionaries out there: In form and function, Aspyr's forthcoming frenetic first-person shooter Dream Killer is looking to be every bit as relaxing, kid-friendly, and subtle as its name might suggest. Developer Mindware Studios has, come to think of it, done at least one other game with a name that may sound oddly familiar in this context: Painkiller Overdose. (So much latent hostility, these gamer-types! Somebody fire up the Jack Thompson batshit-signal!)
[image1]We got some time with Dream Killer last week; to describe it as 'The Cell dirty-dances with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, while a neglected Psychonauts wallflowers by the punch-bowl, and Serious Sam does his damnedest to cut in every fifteen seconds or so' might seem a tad flip... but it's also basically correct.
Is there a hot, somewhat left-of-center, psychologically-misfit protagonist chick, intruding into her patients' dreams? Check. Using the mental armory and local oneiro-space to kick some Nightmare ass? Check. Normal-to-wrong dreamscapes, populated by decidedly-wrong, dangerous whatsits? Checkarooni. Said whatsits howling and beelining straight for you in murderous, copious numbers, with little or no sense of individual self-preservation? Check to your mother.
In Dream Killer, players take the role of Alice Drake (no relation, PS3 gamers), a psychiatrist who for some reason can personally dive into her patients' mindscapes to battle the dream-manifestations of various mental disorders. Once inside a given patient's mindscape, Alice can move about the dream-space in a first-person perspective and, as the name more than implies, go about killing some Dreams... or more accurately, Nightmares.
[image2]Since each of Dream Killer's 12 worlds are assumed to represent the inner turmoil of 12 differently-disturbed patients, the game is under no obligation to have any constrictive environmental consistency. Players can clean out a level presenting a modern urban business district one moment, only to suddenly find themselves in a dream-distorted zoo filled with multi-legged Things the next moment. And it all still makes 'sense', in a squishy, REM-sleep sort of way.
From what we've seen, Alice—good little head-shrink that she is—gives the gist of each patient's issues immediately upon making her mind-dive, laying out said patient's particular damage. In the aforementioned zoo level, the patient is arachnophobic, so you can expect the enemies therein to “have some legs”, as the review-vernacular goes. One otherwise normal-looking modern-city setting is populated with distorted visions of tie-wearing businessmen channeling Freddy Krueger—perhaps a manifestation of a broader maniaphobia, or maybe a general fear and loathing of 9-to-5 employment (both understandable, in any case). One ice-locked shipboard dreamscape (the particular patient's phobia is a fear of cold) has some pretty nasty-looking seaman, each served with a generous side-order of extra tentacles (cue Alice's detached, clinical commentary: “That's fucking gross.”). Still another level takes place in a puppet theater—yeah, children, toys, puppets and dolls... not like anything creepy's gonna happen there.
Alice starts out each of the game's levels bare-handed—which, as any halfway-skilled lucid dreamer can tell you, isn't the same thing as 'unarmed'. In fact, she's already packing intrinsic dream-world heat in the form of telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and a sort of short-ranged, line-of-sight teleportation which can instantly zap her forward in her next direction of travel, provided there aren't any walls or other obstacles in the way—very useful for quickly escaping sudden swarms of enemies and other bad, close tactical situations.
[image3]Such New-Agey mental combat stuff—to fight off Bad Dream Creatures and help your patients confront their issues—is all well and good... but even a dream-based session of ass-kicking needs guns, and Alice makes use of these too. There are pick-ups that give experience and increased killing ability—not to Alice, but to Alice's weapons—and these are handily supplied by fallen enemies in each dream-world.
(Bonus: These death-dealing implements are actually presented as dream-catchers, of all things; kinda gives the grand old mellow-harshing, philosophical Finger to the emotion-validating, identity-empowering, organic-produce-buying, New Agey-sorts who actually buy, sell, or make things like, for instance, dream-catchers.)
Of course, in a perfect dream-world, we'd be given infinite ammo, but—oh hey, what the hell; you've got infinite ammo, too.
Among the straight-up weapons we've seen is a chain-gun that Duke Nukem wouldn't sneer at, with an alt-fire option to launch grenades. Another is a short-ranged but lethal 'energy-shotgun' type of weapon. You'll need all the hardware you can get too, because if the game's premise is a polite tip of the hat to The Cell, then the actual arena-based gameplay can be thought of a rude, full-on beheading in honor of Serious Sam: Straight-up, low-frills, constant action, howling fast-movers coming at you constantly from all directions, until you've cleared out the requisite number of level-unique lackeys and it's time to face the Boss Monster—the Dream Killer.
[image4]If you're happy with the years that Serious Sam took off your nervous system, you'll at least be in familiar territory with Dream Killer. The multiplayer, described by the Aspyr rep as “Quake-esque”, will also use the 12 maps of Alice Drake's patients.
The game's cinematics, story, and mission set-ups deserve one final note: While this is definitely looking like a get-right-to-it action game first and foremost, the cutscenes I witnessed had very solid voice-acting for Alice. Her serious, somewhat husky voice, combined with still- or minimally-animated but very moody painted images had something of the vibe found in The Maxx. Alice doesn't yammer to herself throughout the game nearly as much as, say, Duke Nukem, but there will be some occasional instances of Alice Drake's dry humorous commentary to keep things interesting.
Dream Killer will be available for Xbox 360 and PC—sadly, PS3 gamers are once again invited to suck it, at least for a while—in October, well in time for Halloween. In the meantime, have some uneasy, phobic, winged-demons-and-creepy-little-kid-killing dreams on GR, until we can dream up our own full review.
(Duplicate on PC.)