Dark Daring Damn Delightful.
[Note: This review, ported from the Xbox One version, has been altered to reflect the differences in this PC version of the game.]
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 only notable difference between the PC version of D4 and the console version is the ability to use a mice and keyboard to play in the absence of Kinect functionality. You can choose a range of aspect ratios ranging from 720p to 1080p; obviously playing in 1080p at 60fps is the best option if your computer can handle it. My personal preference is playing with a wired Xbox 360 controller but switching to a mouse and keyboard did not hinder the experience at all. Although there is no key mapping option available in-game, the control scheme is fairly simple. I played with a Logitech wired trackball mouse at one point and didn’t have to use the keyboard at all.
When clues pop up during cutscenes, you don’t have to hold the cursor on them to fully investigate; simply running the cursor over it will automatically detect it. Another change when playing in the absence of a controller is a mechanic added into the QTEs where you have to drag a circle to another spot on the screen instead of having to combine thumbstick directional moves with trigger buttons and button-mashing. Aside from these elements it’s still the same D4 it was when it was on Xbox One.
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 you just have to move the mouse cursor to the top of the screen and an icon for the detective mode will become visible, and if you are using a wired controller/gamepad, you can simply hit the designated button to activate and deactivate 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.
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.
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 PC through various online outlets like Steam, GOG.com, and humblebundle.com. For $29.99 you can get the entire first season along with a large amount of DLC content, including 12 character skins, soundtrack, and the original voice over script. So far there has still been no official news on future episodes or seasons; hopefully, the move to the PC platform will change that.