Dark Daring Damn Delightful.
The tale of a vengeful detective searching for answers after the murder of a loved one isn't exactly what I think of when I imagine unique and innovative storytelling, but somehow D4 is able to make me rethink that. The main focus of the game is David Young who lost his memory after his wife was gunned down and somehow this has given him the power to go into the past via his bathtub… Seriously, just stay with me on this one.
If Scott Bakula can quantum leap into the bodies of strangers from the past accompanied by the hologram of a sarcastic middle-aged man, then we can call a suspension of disbelief on this one. It's just a detective who suffers from amnesia time-traveling in a tub to fight crime and who sometimes hangs out with his gluttonous ex-partner and a cat woman… which is literally just a woman who acts like a cat all the time and apparently buys David groceries. (Just roll with it.)
The gameplay of D4 is much like that of a point-and-click action-adventure game, and with the Kinect you can actually use your hand to interact with objects. I know many gamers are still wary of the Kinect and I cannot blame any of you who still have your doubts. The main problem with Kinect technology is that so far the best games for it are based around fitness, dancing, and cooperative family-time games. Not that any of these things are bad, but the nearly all the Kinect games that have promised to break the mold and delve into action have been real bummers so far. I had a personal experience with such a game back when I played the "not on rails but totally on rails" Fable: The Journey.
My experience with D4 was far more positive.
I think what really gives the Kinect mechanics strength in D4 is that Swery, the writer and director of the game, always envisioned the technology as the backbone of the game so they don't feel like a design afterthought. To enable the Kinect controls you have to be sitting down before putting your right hand in the air and from there you cas use either hand to swipe across the screen or select objects and locations throughout the level. Although you can relax during cut-scenes you have to stay highly vigilant because sometimes a clue will be triggered while talking to someone that will need closer inspection. There aren't any real consequences if you opt out of investigating these bonus clues, but it does make you feel more like a bona fide detective.
There are three primary spinning-plate needs in D4: energy, health, and vision mode. The latter status is the most useful way for David Young to properly detect clues, functioning much like detective mode does in the Batman Arkham video game series. Once you activate it, objects and people of interest are more easily spotted which helps if you're stuck figuring out where to find your next clue. To activate this mode using the Kinect, you have to touch your fingertips on the side of your head, which will hopefully elicit a good round of giggles the first couple of times you do it.
Speaking of giggles, the supporting cast of D4 is chalk full of oddballs and goofs. Every character you encounter has a unique quirk, making every interaction David has even more interesting than the next. From an eccentric fashion designer (pictured below) who favors the company of mannequins to people, to an overly muscle-bound flight attendant obsessed with airplane trivia, every character has something wacky that is interwoven into the story.
Sometimes their motivations are revealed by the end of the episodes, but on other accounts it's clear that there is more to a character that will be revealed down the line as D4's story continues to unfold. You are often given dialogue options as well, which can make interacting with various characters more interesting than they already are. If you choose the appropriate response to a given situation, you will be closer to getting full synchronization for the level, but if you choose the ridiculous one, you won’t get full synchronization, though you will have fun especially since you can actually say the ridiculous response if you’re using the Kinect.
The only difficult thing for me to get a handle on, other than David Young's Boston accent, was keeping up with the energy meter. I know Swery likes to include energy meters in his games since Deadly Premonition actually had a status bar for how tired and hungry Detective York was, but I have a suspicion that David Young may be a narcoleptic. The energy meter in D4 depletes at a very high rate, so if you do not pay attention to it and David passes out while diving into the past, he will be sent back to his apartment and have to dive back into the memory from your last checkpoint. You can also go back and forth from diving into memories to David's apartment through the pause menu if you need to regroup during a case quickly.
There are contingencies set in place to help your character stay focused while in a memory but some people may find the constant vigilance a little over the top. The easiest way to replenish the meter is by eating food, and if you can't find anything around David Young's apartment or on the case you're investigating, there will usually be someone you can purchase those items from in the level, like a cat when you are investigating a case and the lady who acts like a cat at David's apartment. You can also get bonuses to energy and vision by doing miscellaneous tasks around David’s apartment like eating a big meal with David’s ex-partner, washing your face, drinking a smoothie, or cleaning up David’s apartment, which you can activate by picking up a broom in David’s bedroom.
You can also buy clothing items from these vendors using the points you gain by collecting badges, finding clues, and completing cases. Some of the outfits available for David Young can help boost your attributes, increasing your energy, health, or vision meter. You can even buy new outfits for the supporting cast of D4. There are also specific outfits for each character based on Deadly Premonition characters, which is an amazing homage to Swery's previous work. I knew about the outfits prior to playing it, but there are definitely far more to choose from than I had thought and the fact that they also provide useful gameplay bonuses is greatly appreciated.
For anyone still wary of using the Kinect for anything other than a dancing/fitness game, there is the option to play with a controller. I will admit that it did help after a few hours, because as much as I didn't mind the Kinect functionality of D4, my arms did fall victim to the power of gravity. Playing with a controller does make navigating your surroundings a bit easier and when you need to hover the cursor over a clue during a cut-scene it is far less tedious due to the precision of the thumbsticks. However, I did find that the action cut-scenes were significantly more difficult when executing controller commands as opposed to using the Kinect controls.
While it is possible to master the thumbstick and button combinations over time, I found that the Kinect prompts were far easier to master and more fun to execute. There are the generic vertical, horizontal, and diagonal movements, but mixed in there are also special moves you can execute. During one particularly dire slugfest I had gained the upper hand in a fight and had to act out the motion of joining both hands into a fist above my head and swinging it down as if I was actually hitting my attacker. That was far more enjoyable than just hitting the trigger buttons. No matter how you decide to play through these encounters, there is a helpful queue that shows which move is coming next so you can be a little more prepared going into confrontations.
D4 is a game that knows what it is. It’s quirky and odd with an outrageous story and over-the-top characters, and that may not sit well with some people, but that’s the kind of game Swery is known to make. I promise if you attempt to approach the plot or events in this game with any form of rational thought, you'll most definitely despise it. Swery doesn't seem to deal well in the rational world of storytelling and often finds himself far from the confines of standard narrative design.
Swery's been compared to David Lynch before for good reason and I still believe the comparison to be a valid one. His style is very abstract and his stories are often tangled webs of mismatched storytelling that seem to go off the rails right when everything comes together to deliver a valid, oddly satisfying conclusion and I can not wait to see how this one ends. For $14.99, you can begin your journey down the rabbit hole on Xbox One with the prologue and the first two episodes of Season 1 right now. So far there has been no official news on future episodes or seasons.