Who killed Little Peggy?

The Xbox One may be bombing in Japan, but Microsoft has one of the region’s best games in D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die.

Never heard of it? Well, that’s hardly surprising. D4 has received no promotion whatsoever since its release, slipping onto the Xbox store with as much gusto as a field mouse passing wind on a blustery day.

If it wasn’t for a review code popping up in my inbox, I’m sure I would have missed out on the magic that is D4, too. And that would have been an absolute travesty. In fact, I’d be downright furious because D4 is one of the most entertaining games I’ve played since this current generation began. Seriously, it’s off-the-wall awesome and the perfect tonic in an industry that has become infatuated with resolutions and framerates instead of whether a game is actually… you know, fun to play. D4 is definitely fun to play.

Young Love

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is an episodic murder mystery game – think The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us and you get the general idea of what to expect when it comes to the game’s direction. Everything else, however, will come as a complete surprise.

You play as David Young, a Boston-based private investigator whose wife was brutally murdered by a mysterious killer known only as “D”. David’s unable to remember the ‘who, what, where and why’ regarding his wife’s death, but the aching scare on his forehead is a painful reminder.

All in day's work for David Young.

All in a day’s work for David Young.

Remembering, or trying to discover who “D” is, is where the game’s interesting premise comes into play. David has the ability to dive back to specific points in time using objects he’s recovered from a crime scene; it may be a flight marshall’s pen, a worn baseball or something seemingly commonplace. The key thing is whether an object carries a particular significance to a place in time, like how a cuddly toy reminds you of the day you won at the fair. These objects are mementos, and David’s ticket back to the past.

Put Your Hands Up For D4

Player interaction is one of D4’s most noteworthy achievements. You can play the game using an Xbox One controller or the much criticised Kinect. I initially booted up the game with a controller in hand due to Kinect’s sketchy past but quickly switched to using the troubled camera due to my forgiving nature and the hope that the peripheral could finally get the job done.

I’m amazed to report that Kinect works wonderfully in D4.

I’m amazed to report that Kinect works wonderfully in D4. You interact with the environment by raising either your right or left hand (sometimes both), and grab, pull and push objects – even people – as you go. Swiping from left to right while hovering near the edge of the screen lets you turn on the spot; you can lean by tilting your body; and if you move your head up and down you can sufficiently peruse an area for clues.

By holding your hand over objects, you’re able to gain a greater insight into David’s thoughts on how it may relate to the investigation. Grabbing context sensitive areas (which is done by closing your hand) lets you move around the world, interact with objects, initiate a conversation, or simply consume food so you don’t run out of stamina (being a detective is hard work, you know!). There’s a ton of great gestures to uncover, but I won’t spoil them all here.

Let’s Get Physical

It may sound finicky, but using Kinect just works. And believe me, the words “work” and “Kinect” in the same sentence is an oxymoron if there ever was one. I found myself examining every object, determined to speak to every colourful character I encountered, and smiling at every well-thought out Kinect gesture I came across such as using my hand to wipe a grubby window clean.

The physicality of each interaction and the option to use my voice to converse with characters really enhanced the experience and helped me lose myself in the zany world of D4. Oh, and until you’ve held your hand over your face in dramatic fashion to “dive” back in time, you haven’t truly lived. Best interaction in a video game ever.

Of course, all of these cool Kinect gestures would be for nought if the characters around you were dull as dishwater and if the story lacked substance. Thankfully, D4 has this covered. You’ll face off against a woman who thinks she’s a cat, force feed a close friend an unsalted omelette, play baseball using the leg of a fashion designer’s mannequin (who he thinks is alive) and watch a flight attendant get high off an inhaler, all while a plane gets struck by lightning. You can’t make this stuff up (unless you’re the talented Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro, the man behind Deadly Premonition, that is) but I loved every random situation D4 conceived. The story is genuinely entertaining, too, with the right balance of mystery, humour and emotion weaved into each chapter.

Until you’ve held your hand over your face in dramatic fashion to “dive” back in time, you haven’t truly lived.

The game is backed up by accomplished voice acting throughout and a pleasing cel-shaded graphical style. The soundtrack, I must say, is a real delight and managed to catch me completely off guard for all the right reasons – a theme that began from the moment I began playing the game.

Good Gamble

But alas, D4 isn’t perfect – very few games are. But it’s so spectacularly unique, so wonderfully designed and just plain bonkers that it deserves to be praised. It’s also the first video game to make Kinect seem worthwhile, which is a truly monumental achievement.

Sometimes discovering new experiences is all about taking a risk; a chance to try something you would usually avoid, like eating sushi for the first time. D4 is different, and will be too bizarre for some, but this is exactly the type of game the Xbox One desperately needs.

A review code of D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die was provided courtesy of Xbox.

A Fine Memento