Imagine a majestic bald eagle soaring through the sky, not a care in the world except for where its next furry meat-snack is coming from. Now imagine that same eagle trying to flap its wings with a brick tied to its talons. That's pretty much how we'd sum up Dreamfall: The Longest Journey - a high-flying adventure that's been weighed down with several unnecessary and awkward fighting sequences.
Dreamfall is a sequel to The Longest Journey, a highly regarded PC adventure game from 2000 that was big with the "point-and-click" crowd of adventure purists. To make Dreamfall more accessible, the sequel travels the action/adventure route in this follow-up.
Well, kinda. Heroine Zoe Castillo can wander her fully 3D surroundings freely, but any interactions with the environment - climbing, chatting, picking up items, even walking up stairs - are triggered only when an on-screen icon says you can do so. It's an interesting departure from the traditional, "3D person walking around a 2D background" system that this genre grew up using.
Dreamfall's adventure roots are also apparent in your character's Focus Field, a mode that puts your attention on a particular object or person in the form of a big blue beam of light. Its use is only required a few times during the entire game, though; you may forget the mode even exists until you get stuck.
Dreamfall's hook is its story, a fanciful journey that picks up 10 years after the first game ended. You play primarily as Zoe, an aimless twentysomething, who suddenly starts receiving strange messages on video screens a la creepy horror flick The Ring. Before long, she becomes wrapped up in a corporate thriller that is somehow connected to a magical parallel world called Arcadia - now home to April Ryan, the heroine of the first game. Besides Zoe you'll control April and a third character, a spiritual warrior named Kian, during various points of the game.
The compelling storyline slams to a halt, though, whenever the game veers off-course into a completely unnecessary fight sequence. It's not that we're pacifists; these "fights" are just slow-moving and deadly dull. (For instance, there's about a two-second gap between pressing the kick button and the resulting kick, during which time your opponent will likely have hit you in the ribs while your guard is down.) The underlying mystery of the game is how these bits made it through beta testing unscathed.
Luckily, the combat scenes are short, if not necessarily sweet, and don't detract irreparably from what is otherwise an excellent adventure game (though we do feel compelled to enter the standard, adventure game disclaimer: this isn't an action game - be prepared to do a lot of just walking around and talking). Let's just hope the attempt to broaden its audience works: Dreamfall ends on a cliffhanger. If it's all the same to the creators, we'd rather not wait another six years for a resolution.