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Dreamweb - review
Dreamweb – a game with more grit than a council depot at the height of the winter season. Long before Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt crashed onto the scene, Empire Interactive were pushing the boundaries of adult-orientated games with this point and click adventure, whose candid approach to sex, violence and other adult themes was just as unique to the genre as its top-down viewpoint.

Set in a bleak and rain-sodden future, reminiscent of the street scenes from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, players assumed the role of Ryan, a twenty-something bar worker who is reaching the end of his tether. Plagued by disturbing visions of an apocalyptic future, strange happenings with his electrical appliances and an inability to sleep, the player joins Ryan as he is about to uncover the source of his problems. He has been chosen by the protectors of The Dreamweb, responsible for the balance between good and evil, just as evil is gaining the upper hand and threatening to turn the world into a barren wasteland. This powerful evil influence has possessed seven humans, and Ryan is charged with the task of killing them in order to rebalance the scales.

While the plot may sound like the stuff of numerous hoakey videogames before and after its release, Dreamweb succeeds where others fail by creating an atmosphere and premise that certainly doesn't pull any punches. As the plot progresses players are left with the nagging feeling that something is amiss and have to wrestle with the possibility that Ryan has actually become totally unhinged; that the idea of the Dreamweb and its earthly balance is nothing but a part of his broken mind to justify his actions. The possibility that he is little more than a cold blooded serial killer is not mentioned directly during the game, but it's something that is strongly hinted at and a feeling that will creep up on the player as they progress. Indeed those with the original version of the game will no doubt have taken time to read the accompanying diary which documented the strange occurrences that have been plaguing him prior to the opening of the game, as well as his possible descent into madness. The line between reality and insanity is blurred throughout, with players eventually left to form their own opinion of whether they, as Ryan, have descended into the depths of darkness or have had an epiphany, the revealing of the Dreamweb symbolising the opening of his eyes to the unseen shadowy world all around him.

Dreamweb gained infamy in the gaming world for its stark depiction of a sexual act during the encounter with the first of the seven possessed humans. Like an earlier and more restrictive version of Eidos' Hitman series, Ryan is required to break into the penthouse suite of rockstar David Crane - in short this involves axing one of his unsuspecting bodyguards to death, shooting another in the head, before bursting in on the musician flagrante delicto with a groupie. Once the young lady had quickly dismounted and dived for cover under the bed (giving a flash of his pixellated appendage before he reaches for a pillow to hide his shame), players are then left with the option of ending Crane’s life. Though in reality little choice is given, since failure to perform the act results in security bursting in and spreading bits of Ryan all over the bedroom in place of Crane – just one of a number of sudden death moments in the game that require the player to carry out prescribed actions or be killed themselves. This is nothing unusual given the game’s genre or the era of its creation. In fact in this instance the kill or be killed moments and the build up to them, although extremely linear, actually work in the game’s favour by driving forward the belief of predetermination and predestiny that Ryan has in his actions. Notorious for the depicted sex and violence, the game is also memorable for its handling of that particular scene. The build up to the ultra-violence is expertly handled, with a savage change in pacing and music that makes the killing even more shocking and brutally effective on the senses. This is something which is repeated throughout the course of the seven assassinations, which are equally gory and sometimes completely over the top.

However the whole `reluctant messiah` mood of the game is changed during the second mission when the player is forced to solve a puzzle by executing an innocent person simply because they stand in their way. This single act serves to muddy the moral water even more with a killing that cannot be justified by reasoning that the person was evil and would have destroyed us all. This is someone who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, a weaker and unarmed target than others in the nearby area. It is situations like this that elevate Dreamweb above the norm, with powerful, though provoking, narrative and situations. Another example is that the game does not expect the player to carry out killings with a mysteriously obtained gun that Ryan just happens to own. Players are not only expected to track down their targets, but in the initial instance with Crane, obtain a weapon with which to kill him. This is something that serves to involve the player in the on screen events from the start, making it quite clear that they are the ones driving things along, no matter how linear. While far from being a `murder simulator` due to its linearity and lack of improvisation, Dreamweb does a good job (given its age) of placing the player in the mindset of a killer.

With a basic musical score, somewhat limited by the technology of the time, in parts the soundtrack sounds like something thrown together by John Carpenter in his heyday. Chilling and cold like the rain-sodden streets depicted in-game, it does a good job of enhancing the experience.

It’s hard to overlook the games distinct feeling of Britishness, which remains to this day a refreshing experience. The game’s UK origins are visible in every facet, from the depiction and characters of the key players in the story, through to the rain-sodden environments and the rich vein of dark humour that nestles comfortably amongst the shocking ultra-violence. The narrative was created at a time when UK-based sci-fi was much darker and punchier than output across the Atlantic (a trend which seems to have been flipped on its head by the horrific events of September 11th), and its unique interpretation is something very alien and totally missing from gaming today.

Setting aside its powerful storyline, as a point and click adventure Dreamweb is certainly not flawless. The linearity and sudden death situations leave no room for error and if the player knows what they are doing the game can be completed in a very short period of time (although this is highly unlikely on the first play through). The game also features a system whereby almost every object in a location can be either picked up, opened or interacted with, meaning there is no shortage of exploration to be carried out. However the problem here is that a vast majority of items are completely useless and nothing more than window dressing, often resulting in a choice overload and confusing the player as to what is needed and from each location. While the graphical system is used to good effect with locations and characters feeling suitably hardboiled and grimy, the unique viewpoint employed can create problems in that it is easy to overlook important items or switches. A magnified viewer and text pop up system to highlight items of interest does combat this, but it can be frustrating having backtracked through locations several times only to find that you missed the essential, speck-sized item tucked away in the corner.

Complaints aside, Dreamweb is a title that has become infamous for one particular scene rather than the deeply provocative storyline that runs throughout. Anyone who has played it from start to finish is sure to be able to recollect, with clarity, the most memorable parts as the story unfolds; such is the power of its themes and distinctly downbeat ending.
Feedback via Forum or Email us ntsc-uk score 7/10
System: PC
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Creative Reality
Publisher: Empire Interactive Entertainme
Players: 1
Version: European
Reviewed: Mar 2006
Writer: Jamie Davies
Pros:
- Distinctive and thought provoking storyline
- Has an almost unique British feeling to it
Cons:
- Suffers from sudden death sydrome
- On screen items easily overlooked
Dreamweb 1
Dreamweb 2
Dreamweb 3
Dreamweb 4
Dreamweb 5
Dreamweb 6
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