Nobody puts D4 in a corner.... except Microsoft…
I waited a year to get my hands on this game, and I am a little pissed off that it took that long. Microsoft announced this as an Xbox One exclusive at E3 2013 but neglected to showcase it at all on the show floor while debuting its next-gen console lineup. Finally, this year they had a playable demo available on the show floor at E3 but stuck it in a corner making it practically invisible to anyone passing by. It's a damn shame too, because this is one of the few games that has the potential to give Kinect technology a chance to be taken seriously.
I can't blame any of you for being resistant to Kinect games, seeing as the best games to play with it are primarily fitness and dancing titles which do not appeal to a wide range of gamers. Swery65, the game's director, specifically designed it with Kinect technology in mind so you can be assured this won't exploit the technology as an afterthought. D4 stands for Dark Dreams Don't Die. In it you play as private investigator, David Young, whose wife was murdered two years prior and, despite losing all of your memories of the event, you have been given the ability to travel back in time to solve cases and perhaps even prevent your wife’s murder from happening. Even though the time traveling wasn't a part of the demo there was plenty about what I saw at E3 that I found impressive.
Each area of the game is laid out in a way that is reminiscent of a side-scrolling point-and-click action game adapted to fit a 3D format. You have to click on spots on the ground where you want to walk by moving your hand into position and opening and closing your fist. This hand motion can also be used on distant objects of interest if you get tired of walking to every marker in the room, relying on Kinect's ability to recognize advanced hand motions. However, certain items require that you're closer to interact with them which can be a bit frustrating at times until you get a handle on the unique control scheme. I kept turning the camera view to the right or left inadvertently, which you achieve by swiping your hand from one end of the screen to another.
To reveal objects of interest in a level you can use your detective sense by touching two fingers to both sides of your head. Once you do this, items may trigger a memory or reveal clues to your character's motivations and reveal them on your map. You can linger over them with the game cursor to analyze them more thoroughly and reveal what your character actually thinks of them. Taking your time to analyze an object completely before interacting with it will earn you bonus points for the level’s overall scorecard. These investigate-able triggers also hide in cut-scenes giving even more insight into the story and character motivations.
Another thing I really loved in this preview was the variety of items you can interact with in one space alone, because not all of them are story-related. If you find mementos in a level, they will trigger your time-traveling abilities, some may have a link to the main story arc and others may trigger side quests. In the demo you are only given the option of exploring David Young’s tiny apartment but the amount of items and events you can trigger by searching around the small space made it feel far more robust.
While sitting at a dining table I was able to enjoy a shot of tequila, physically making the motions of downing the shot and slamming it back on the countertop. It’s a simple gesture but you do have the ability to repeat it over and over again, reinforcing David’s alcoholism. There are many actions like this available throughout the level if you take the time to explore the environment. Interacting with some of the more seemingly insignificant items can trigger incredibly insightful cut-scenes and visions of David Young’s dead wife. I took my time to explore the small apartment avoiding the main objective which was to look at a case file. Doing so turned what would have been a short five-minute playthrough into a nearly 40-minute experience.
After a certain amount of exploration I gained access to David’s bedroom where I was able to see some other additions to the gameplay that aim to create a more immersive gaming experience. You can review journal entries and various other documents you have found throughout the game while David lounges on his bed or modify your clothing and appearance by changing your shirt, tie, shoes, and facial hairstyle. This is a simple addition that adds to the immersion of D4 and possibly changes the gameplay experience because the way you choose to dress or groom David can affect how NPCs react to you throughout the game’s main story.
Despite its focus on Kinect technology, you do have the ability to play the game with a controller although it is highly recommend not to, since it takes all the fun out of the action sequences. At the end of the demo I approached the front door of David Young’s apartment only to be attacked by a crazed girl with a mouse in her mouth. Not quite sure what the symbolism is there but hopefully the game presents some context for it in the actual game. During this assault you have to use your hand movements to swipe across the screen at various angles to deflect objects that are thrown at you including the mouse which the strange woman spits at you. If you miss the mouse, it lands in your mouth butt-first, making you vomit onto the floor. I know it’s gross but it was also strangely entertaining.
Failing to complete these objectives successfully can lead to comical events but will also result in a lower overall level score and damage. You can recover your health in your apartment by eating food or resting for awhile, a feature also present in Deadly Premonition. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Swery65’s directorial style is that he implements a small dose of reality no matter how odd the stories he tells may get. You could technically spend a good portion of the game slamming back tequila shots or watching TV and drinking endless amounts of coffee to avoid the main plot altogether.
D4 is truly something unique that should not be brushed off simply because Microsoft is making Kinect an option on some Xbox One console SKUs. If you want to play something that has an interesting story and artistic vision unimpeded by big business scrutiny keep an eye out for D4. The release date is TBA, but when it does get released it will be episodic and exclusive on Xbox One.