I don't normally do reviews of games other than Tomb Raider, but Dreamfall is one out of the box!
Dreamfall is the sequel to the 1999 PC-only Longest Journey, and is a game like none other I've played. It's classified as a 3rd person adventure, and it has an occasional action sequence, but more than anything it's an interactive story with adventure style gameplay, in a 3D world based in both reality and dreaming. If you don't like to sit and listen to the dialogue that tells its strong story (much of which isn't strictly necessary to play the game, but is interesting and relevant none-the-less), then Dreamfall may not be to your taste, but if you do then this can be an engrossing experience. Note that this is an M-rated game as it does have adult themes, strong language, and some adult humour!
The main character you play is Zoë Castillo, a young woman from Casablanca in the 23rd century. You also play as April Ryan (the main character from the original Longest Journey who makes a second appearance here), and Kian (a deeply religious assassin from an occupying power, in opposition to both Zoë's and April's causes) - both these characters exist in an alternative reality, or parallel world, which Zoë visits several times. You switch between these characters, and a variety of locations, in a sometimes arbitrary manner, but go along with it as it becomes clearer as you learn more of the story.
Dreamfall has some things in common with the busy everyday world of Beyond Good & Evil, and the puzzles and fantasy locations from the Myst games (I was reminded of a mix of both Channelwood and the Haven swamps in one location), while not really resembling those, or any other adventure game I've played. The few action sequences are poorly implemented and would have been more appropriate as video cutscenes, the playable character of Kian would have been better left depicted in cutscenes as well, and the character animations are somewhat stilted for a game that is less than 2 years old (it was released in April 2006, roughly the same time as TR Legend, but the animations aren't even in the same class as TR1 from 1996). On the other hand the locations look very good, and in general the graphics are good for a last-generation game, so the minor flaws stand out that much more as a result.
The story, however, makes up for any shortcomings in other areas! The story makes the game, as you become engrossed in delving ever deeper into Zoë's story and dreams. There are influences from Australian Aboriginal spiritual mythology (The Dreaming) mixed with futuristic science and technology, a world of magic set in the Middle Ages, and a dystopian future Earth where Africa is a cultural powerhouse and North America and Europe are decaying and dysfunctional. Add to that a TV vision experienced by the main character that hints strongly at the movie 'Ring' (and the remake 'The Ring'), and you get the idea that this is an experience that is quite out of the ordinary! It has an ending that is an extended string of purely narrative scenes and leaves it wide open for a third part in the series (Dreamfall Chapters, which has only been announced so far for PC, is intended to complete the Longest Journey/Dreamfall story...)
One message that stands out, and which is relevant today, warns against a county imposing their religion and customs on others who, although having different beliefs and practices regarded as 'ungodly', are no less worthy, but who end up being labelled terrorists simply because they defend their land and beliefs. Yes, that isn't an alien concept in today's world either, nor in past ages for that matter, and I also feel strongly about it, so it resonated with me and increased my enjoyment of the game!
Dreamfall isn't for everyone, and action freaks aren't likely to enjoy it, but for those who appreciate a strong story that is told using in-game dialogue, it can be a very rewarding experience and I highly recommend it! I was strongly affected by the story, which as a result of the player having a close connection with the main characters through the game, is that much more powerful than it would be if it was just presented as a movie (the end credits include a fictitious 'filmed on location in...' credit, suggesting that it's as much an interactive movie as a game). I can't recall any other game having this strong an effect on me, and the final long sequence of video scenes that completed the story (so far) and ended the game moved me to tears more than once. Powerful stuff indeed, and I hope I'll one day be able to play the final parts of the game! (Xbox 360 version please :) It doesn't challenge my passion for TR, but that's mainly because they are such different games, not because one is better than the other...