Written by: Rik

Date posted: July 1, 2004

Note the handy zoom-window in the lower left.

Released some ten years ago, DreamWeb attempted to bring adventure gaming to a more adult market. With its dark, brooding atmosphere, pseudo-cyberpunk setting, and a little pixellated nudity thrown in for good measure, it secured a 15 certificate and some moderate acclaim when first released. Plot and gameplay flaws prevented it from being hailed as a classic; however, it possesses qualities lacking in many games since its release.

Your character is Ryan, by day an average nobody with a crappy bar job living in the middle of a dark and rainy city. By night, however, he is increasingly disturbed by nightmares, which warn that a group of conspirators are plotting to destroy the DreamWeb, bringing a time of darkness and destruction upon the Earth. The mysterious monks that guard the Web have chosen Ryan to save the world by removing the conspirators one by one. Which means that you get to murder a few people in a grisly manner for no reason other than that it might make your crazy dreams stop.

Anyway, back in the real world, things are looking pretty grim. You begin the game in the bedroom of your girlfriend’s seedy, messy flat. It’s raining outside and she’s reminding you that you had better go to work. You even have to fumble around for your keys and wallet before you leave, while your girlfriend sleeps on. This is the world of DreamWeb: dark, gritty and unpleasant. You step outside and the rain hammers down relentlessly on the faceless grey city streets: after you’ve been to work and got fired, you are mugged for your trainers. It’s that kind of game.

Even at an early stage, it’s apparent that DreamWeb boasts a tremendous sense of atmosphere. It’s hard to really place what exactly generates the feeling of involvement: the blocky VGA graphics were no great shakes ten years ago, and the MIDI card cranks out the music (actually I think it’s tracker music – Stoo). But as the pixellated rain crashes down, the moody music works its way into your head and suddenly you’re hooked. The game has the feel of a tense thriller, and in the manner of that kind of film, Ryan feels somewhat removed from the world and situation in which he finds himself. Dialogue between game characters is vague and impersonal; everyone else seems to have their own agenda, rather than the whole world being centred around your character.

These monks protect the world. Or possibly just drive your character crazy.

Once you’re immersed in the game world, you get the feeling that you’re playing a slightly more ‘grown-up’ adventure. But even if you don’t work it out for yourself, there are a few reminders, such as the odd slightly rude word and the aforementioned mugging, not to mention the uncensored sex scene towards the end of the first section. For those who haven’t seen it: yes, it is mildly shocking, but it’s certainly not gratuitous, and it doesn’t last for very long. In fact, once you get over the fact that it’s not the sort of thing you expect to see in a ten year-old adventure with VGA graphics, you realise it’s in keeping with the tone of the game. Another admirable aspect of the game is the fact that you rarely have to kill any of your victims by means of convoluted point-and-click logic; one of your first tasks is to acquire a gun, and once you have it that pretty much covers all your murderous needs. There’s no woolly concession to the action genre a la Blade Runner either; you don’t have to stab away at the mouse in any tedious combat situations.

From a technical standpoint, it’s really just a standard point-and-clicker. Aside from the top-down viewpoint (which would depersonalise Ryan were it not for the fact that a side-on profile of him is present throughout the game) it’s pretty much the same as any other adventure. I suppose the main reason the emphasis is always put on DreamWeb‘s atmosphere is because it’s the only thing that really makes it worth a look. The adventure itself is reasonably accomplished, but has a few flaws; there are lots of red herring items, sometimes key clues and objects are little more than a few pixels big (although, helpfully, there’s a zoom option) and there are a few fiddly puzzles. And, while the storyline is initially impressive, it soon disappears into a haze of weirdness and comes out looking pretty silly. If you’ve ever been disappointed by a game’s ending, prepare yourself for a hollow, empty feeling inside when you complete this one. Although, to be honest, the ending is perfectly logical: without giving too much away, just remember that your murderous task is given to you by a group of monks who live in your head.

Whatever happened here, it was probably pretty unpleasant.

Ah well. DreamWeb‘s story may end up in straight-to-video territory – more corny, un-scary horror, than tense, adult thriller – but despite that, it remains involving right until the end. It’s dark enough and weird enough to offer something a little bit different, while avoiding the uberweirdness of the likes of Darkseed, and remaining familiar (and playable) enough to fulfil its obligations as an adventure game. Without harping on about atmosphere, it’s difficult to explain why DreamWeb is worth your attention, but without doubt it possesses something that makes it much more than the average, dated-looking adventure it seems to be.