Dark Light

Delving into someone’s mind or subconscious in order to learn more about them, their experiences, struggles, and hopefully fixing them is an endlessly fascinating concept to me. Movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and even Inception to an extent, are beautiful, entirely unique, and highly memorable experiences that prove the potential of this concept.

What’s more, the inherently interactive nature of videogames opens up a whole new set of tools to play around with to execute this concept and deliver an interesting and compelling experience. To The Moon & Rakuen are excellent examples of this, but there are no other games that come to mind. That is, until now.

Into A Dream
Into A Dream, developed and published by Filipe F. Thomaz, is a surreal walking simulator type game where you delve into the dreams of Luke Williams in order to traverse his memories, understand the roots of his depression, and hopefully save him from himself. There are also elements of platforming and puzzle-solving present in the title.

So how well does it live up to the promising premise of an exploration of depression through dreams? Let’s find out.

Scattershot Story-Telling

Into A Dream

The game basically consists of exploring a sequence of seemingly random memories of Luke, which include a work party, time spent with his family at their summer house, etc. These start off pleasant and endearing, but towards the end take a dark turn. Many dark turns in fact. Traversing his non-linear memories in this way, you’re tasked with piecing together the story and figuring out what exactly happened that led to him being depressed.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that the game tells a dark, melancholic, but ultimately compassionate story about family, humanity, and self-forgiveness. All in all, it is a pretty effective and interesting one worth experiencing.

Into A Dream
However – and this is my primary problem with the game – it is not an accurate depiction of what depression is like. Luke is haunted by the guilt and grief caused by certain past events. It is a circumstantial depression that has clear real-world causes, not really an underlying mental illness, which is what I expected. As a result, the game fails to deliver on the promise of an exploration of depression that’s promised by the blurb.

Ignoring that, the story is pretty powerful, but could’ve been exponentially more so if it wasn’t let down by the scattershot manner in which it is revealed. The narrative structure is such that the story is revealed slowly and non-linearly, separated by gameplay sections, and this can feel random and disjointed, not to mention confusing.

Into A Dream
The first two hours especially are extremely slow and not fun to get through, and the story also drags on a bit too long at the end and outstays its welcome. By the time the story wrapped up, I honestly didn’t care that much anymore. However, it does have some excellent sequences towards the end, which are worth experiencing.

Gameplay As A Chore

Into A Dream
The gameplay is the least important aspect of a walking simulator, so as long as it doesn’t detract from the narrative, I try not to complain about it in games of this genre. However, in this case, the gameplay definitely took me out of the experience, and constantly at that. The platforming is rudimentary, and the jumping/climbing animations are goofy and look plain dumb. The platforming includes jumping platforms, swinging across ropes, and pushing and pulling crates, and I cannot for the life of me determine what any of it has to do with the narrative.

There are also some technical issues. At one point while moving a crate, the character got stuck in the animation loop and I had to reset the game to fix it. Also, this might seem like a tiny detail, but you can’t hold down the run button to run continuously through rooms, you have to instead let go of it and press it again each time you enter a room, which was frustrating.

Into A Dream
The puzzle elements, while simple, could’ve been decent, but are brought down by the extremely dark environments. The items you need to pick up to solve environmental puzzles are really hard to make out against the black background and lack of lighting, so I soon resorted to just running across the level mashing ‘X’ hoping to pick something up, which works for the most part.

As a result, these gameplay sections in Into A Dream just feel like chores to get through to experience the story. At times, I got the same annoying feeling you get when you’re watching an interesting video/movie which constantly keeps buffering, preventing you from enjoying it properly. 

The gameplay, ideally, should assist the narrative and bolster its impact. But here, it just felt like an obstacle, just a chore to get through before the next interesting narrative tidbit is revealed. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for fun, challenging gameplay, you best look elsewhere.

Exploring the Ethereal 

Into A Dream

Alright, now let’s get to the good stuff. The first thing you’ll notice, and the aspect of the game Into A Dream pulls off the best is the dreamlike visuals. With the focus on silhouettes reminiscent of Limbo, the art style is simple but effective in simulating that light, ethereal otherworldly nature of dreams. Unlike Limbo though, it’s not just black and white. The color scheme, sometimes including almost-iridescent colors, is remarkable and makes for some wallpaper-worthy screenshots for sure.

Characteristic of dreams, none of the silhouettes have faces or any such details either, so obviously, there’s a lack of facial expressions. However, the voice acting does do a great job of bringing forth the characters’ personalities. Playing this game for a long stretch of time, there were many instances where I found myself lost in a trance, completely immersed in the dreamlike world. Plus, the piano-heavy soundtrack is excellent and contributes to the dreamlike feel wonderfully.  

Into A Dream
However, as I mentioned earlier, the environments are just too dark in many of the levels, to the point where you can barely see where you are and what you need to do. This became frustrating quick because it seems like a problem that’s so easy to solve, but even adjusting the brightness setting to its highest doesn’t fix it. 
Also, though the visuals are beautiful (when not venta black), there’s sadly not as much variety as I’d like to have seen in the levels, save for a few exceptions. So the art style while striking for a while loses its novelty over the course of the game. 

While the ethereal state is pulled off well, I can’t help but be bothered by the apparent narrative disconnect in the visuals. I mean, this is supposed to be the inside of a depressed mind, how come it’s so… pleasant? Another such inconsistency was that though you’re not supposed to be able to read in a dream (one of the characters mentions this), there are signposts and book titles that are readable.

Into A Dream
Also, while it’s great that the game is fully voice-acted, it’s inconsistent in quality. There are many immersion-breaking moments as the delivery of the dialog is iffy at times and comes across as fake and unnatural. The voice actor of the protagonist constantly overacts his lines, which was annoying and prevented me from taking the story as seriously as I would’ve liked. Also at one point, a character is said to be out of breath but her lines are delivered regularly, with no hint of being out of breath. At another point, a grown-up version of a character sounds exactly like her child version, which makes no sense. It’s hard to tell what’s done on purpose to mimic a dream and what’s just shoddy voice acting.



Into A Dream

Though it suffers from a fair share of issues – technical as well as in design – the dreamlike visuals and the interesting, compelling story makes Into A Dream a title worth experiencing. However, the misleading blurb claiming to depict depression, the lackluster gameplay, and the scattershot structure of the story all make it difficult to easily recommend the game. As long as you’re aware of these shortcomings and are willing to give them a pass, this is a title worth picking up.

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