This year’s Eurogamer Expo was huge – bigger than ever before. There were games aplenty; huge AAA releases like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin’s Creed III rubbed shoulders with more understated gems such as The Unfinished Swan and Tokyo Jungle. For me though, the expo’s greatest game could be found tucked away in the back corner of the Rezzed section – nestled in the dark, facing the back wall of the Press Area. It’s here, in these depths, I found an incredible adventure: one that’s not only highly ambitious, but stuffed full of imagination and potential. It’s here that I found Dream.
Developed by fledgling indie developer HyperSloth, Dream is as every bit fantastical as its origins. Having been formed out of a placement year at university, HyperSloth is comprised of three full-time University of Huddersfield students; and in reality the company has only been going for around four months. As you can imagine this means this Steam Greenlight approved title has only been in development for around four months too – but what was on show was frankly incredible for such a short space of time.
Telling a tale that many graduates can probably relate to; you play as graduate Howard Phillips who – upon finishing university – becomes obsessed with his dreams due to his directionless life. Throw depression into that mix, after Phillips’ uncle dies, and you’ve got plenty of material for a game focused on lucid dreams. Putting aside the potential parallels to thoughts that may have graced the minds of HyperSloth’s close-knit team, Dream runs wonderfully in the Unreal Engine 3 – and so is an absolute (excuse the pun) dream to play, even so early into development.
Split into three acts, the story begins as a somewhat open world to explore before focusing in on a more story driven experience. I was given a chance to explore the sandy dreams of Howards mind in Act 1 and quickly became lost in the vast expanse of beautiful rocks and sand that shrouded his thoughts. After finding a grove with a grave and a set of lights that had to be turned on – or off, I wasn’t quite sure – I had stumbled upon one of the games fiendishly hard puzzles.
Although upon completing the puzzle – a feat that I was told had only been done by one other before me – I gained no reward due to it having not been coded yet, I still gained a sense of achievement for my efforts. The same would happen again when I managed to crash the build on show by actually completing the four atmospheric mazes found at the end of the preview. Still, I had a lot of fun in solving all the puzzles I came across – something that can only be seen as the Dream being on the right track.
While the early section of my time with Dream was impressive, what really sold it for me was the heart pounding section towards the end. Upon descending down into a lab and hacking into a fully functional computer terminal, it was time to hit four mysterious mazes and switch off all the lights in the name of science. It’s here that an illusory beast chases you through the darkening corridors and, while it can’t actually hurt you – merely dumping you outside the maze again – Dream’s excellent use of ambient audio really raises the tension.
The beast that stalks each of the maze corridors can only be heard in mono sound, while the other ambient noises ring out in stereo – or higher in the final build. This means that when you hear that bloodcurdling roar you have no clue as to where it’s come from. You’re left searching frantically in hope that it isn’t coming from behind you or even sneaking up from your flank. Add in the fact that as you switch lights off in each maze it becomes increasingly hard to see the black cloud chasing you, you’re really quite helpless.
HyperSloth have also taking quite a shining to the potential of the Oculus Rift VR headset that got a Kickstarter earlier in the year. This means that they have created a world where visual input and stimulus is as important as aural cues; therefore environments require you to take in everything around you, and those mazes once again skew with everything you already perceive. One maze flooded with poisonous gas stretches and skews your vision, slowly tilting your vision by 45 degrees, requiring you to tilt your head as you stumble through the dark. Another maze has you scrambling over mounds of sand that have formed in the tight corridors – thus causing a sense of claustrophobia. They’re simple additions but they completely change how you approach each problem, and if you’re wearing a set of the Oculus Rift headsets you’ll definitely feel involved in the world around you.
Dream still has a good year or so of development left ahead of it, and Eurogamer was the first showcase for the game in the world. If the rest of development continues along the same path of high quality work that the last four months have brought to fruition then Dream will be an absolute treat. There’s a reason why it was amongst the first set of titles to become approved on Steam Greenlight – even without any solid footage to show – and after seeing it for myself it’s hard to believe that it won’t do well on release. Now, lets just hope that this ambitious title doesn’t become bloated with ideas as the months roll on by.