The cyberpunk theme is on-trend right now, especially with Blade Runner 2049 creating a massive buzz. Given that point, developers Aist could be on to a winner with their adventure, DreamBreak, providing an alternate look at post-Cold War Russia in a cyberpunk setting. As a point and click adventure with action elements, will it offer a dream of a tale that’s full of high tech brilliance or instead force me into needing a break from the genre?
Meet Eugene, just a regular guy earning a living in Russia by working at a bar and doing the jobs no one else wants to do; things like unblocking toilets and sorting the electricity issues out. He’s an odd job man going about his business, until one day a mysterious chap gives him a message, just before the messenger winds up as a victim of murder. The minimal contact between the two drags poor Eugene in to a conspiracy driven ordeal where the police will put a few bullets in you if they think you’re up to something. Lovely eh?
Although it’s easy to grasp the basics – the state is controlled by propaganda merchants, and Eugene is your bog standard handyman – any additional depth to the story isn’t really given. All of the dialogue is text based, but it doesn’t really bring anything substantial to the goings on and neither do the snippets of ‘lore’ which can be found here and there.
The gameplay mainly consists of taking control of Eugene and navigating him left, right and occasionally up and down, through numerous 2D areas to interact with things to try to figure out what crazy world he’s been caught up in. If it was to be compared to any game in terms of the movement, and especially the horribly clunky jump mechanic, it is similar to that of Another World. Having clunky jumping isn’t ideal when the short platforming sections arise to leave you trying to hop over exploding mines or rush past a laser wielding robot. That leads to a lot of deaths – even though it shouldn’t be difficult in the slightest.
Even the puzzling moments and mini-games barely test the mind. I do appreciate the Pipe Mania style mini-game, the one involving a crane to manoeuvre crates, and a weird but fun Space Invaders type shooting segment. There’s also a cowboy arcade game which sees you up against other cowboys, one after another, trying to shoot them before they shoot you. Unfortunately, almost every single mini-game has a flaw; with the crane bugging out frequently and refusing to pick anything up, the cowboy has a shield which can be used constantly whilst shooting to alleviate any need for skill, and the fixing of the pipes leads to solutions which make zero sense. In short, the mechanics for the fun parts are hit and miss; held back by a mixture of poor implementation and bugs.
DreamBreak does however shine in terms of aesthetics, because despite going for a pixelated art form, the colour palette used helps to bring a bit of life into this run-down version of Russia, with buildings standing out from each other and a surprising amount of detail presented in the backgrounds. I certainly appreciated the subtle orange outlined parts of environmental areas which indicated it may further advance the adventure as without this, there’s no other guidance. The pixel format only lets itself down when text is displayed as it makes for slightly more difficult reading.
I’m not one to go on about soundtracks usually, but the old school sounds really do suit the action and whatever is happening. With upbeat tempo tracks to ramp up the excitement for a chase, or a mysterious beat to complement a scene in which you’re searching for answers, they go together well. There are even Vinyl shaped collectibles to find, unlocking tracks for listening to in another section of the game. I don’t personally think they are good enough to be listened to outside of the gameplay to be honest, but it’s a partnership that mustn’t be broken.
One of the major plus points, from an achievement hunter’s perspective, is the ease in which the whole 1000 Gamerscore can be earned. In no longer than 90 minutes you’ll have picked up all the collectibles, garnered all story related achievements and wrapped up the alternate endings. The only one with the potential to throw a spanner in the works is in regards to the betting mini-game where you must back the rocket powered llama to win a race – it’s the equivalent of backing a three-legged horse.
DreamBreak arrives on the scene with a cyberpunk tale which falls flat pretty swiftly and fails to tell an engaging story. It’s only the sheer variety of the puzzle and action elements that keep you hooked in, and even though the majority don’t work all that well, the ideas deserve credit. The shortness of the game is disappointing, but on the flip side of that it makes for an easy, but not time consuming, completion to reap the full Gamerscore. I do like the visuals – an awful lot more than I thought I would – and the soundtrack delivers in providing the atmosphere for proceedings, so that’s something.
Games under a tenner can often be forgiven for being short when the story is top notch and the gameplay is innovative, but that’s not DreamBreak. It’s a bit of super short fun which is ideal for achievement hunters, if at least it can be bought with a hefty discount. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother.