I rather like this model of release whereby you can buy games on Steam before their official release and see them develop. Not only does it help spread development costs around and encourage developers who might be put off by a risky launch. It also allows me to preview a good deal of independent games before release. And boy, am I glad to have played Dream.
If you’ve ever played Journey, you’ll know what I mean when I say Dream has a touch of the ThatGameCompany about it. Certainly in the desert area, it’s additions like the wonderful use of lighting in the presentation style and feeling of a civilisation now lost that contribute to a well-built, fantastic atmosphere. It’s not limited to the dream stages either, though – the house in which the protagonist Howard spends his waking hours is meticulously detailed – down to a fully-interactive piano – and can definitely be said to be as well-modelled and thought through as the meat of the game.
Adding significantly to the immediate appeal of what we can play so far is the excellent graphical offering on display. It seems that the Unreal Engine is being stretched by the particle and bloom effects on display, but even with all the dynamic lighting in the world, Dream runs incredibly smoothly. It’s commendable how much the developers manage to squeeze out of the resources available, and this sort of high-quality presentation is well worth observing for any aspiring independent developers reading this.
Of course, the game in its unfinished state isn’t without problems. No mirrors in the game work yet and simply display an oddly vibrant green texture, but given that they aren’t essential to gameplay it shouldn’t ruin anyone’s fun. A more serious problem though is what I would term the Dream Hub, from which different areas of Howard’s lucid dreams are accessed. The overwhelming white colour of the area and the amount of bloom effects can make it seriously difficult to find anything and while it’s not keyboard-snappingly frustrating, it will lower some players’ expectations of the finished game if some parts are unintuitively designed.
The soundtrack is a real treat, perfectly capturing the otherworldliness of the environments with haunting yet beautiful strains. Also to be commended is the use, rare in gaming, of complete silence to achieve an effect. As Howard roams his house, adorned with mementos from the writer who also lived there, it’s odd to hear nothing but for Howard’s voice and the tunes played on the piano or jukebox.
Dream really is shaping up to be one of the definitive independent games of the year. It’s also an important moment for the British games industry, which in recent years has suffered from underinvestment and a lack of recognition. Now, Huddersfield is not only home to Rugby League and Harold Wilson, but also to HyperSloth, developers of this weird and wonderful investigative world. We can’t wait to see more, but for now Dream is available for £12.99 through Steam Early Access.