spacetrucking's Dreamkiller (PC) review

A Dream Unfulfilled

Dreamkiller's interesting premise is undone by a variety of gameplay issues. Mindware Studios tried to recreate the frenzied insanity of the Painkiller games with mindless, non-stop run & gun action. But they missed the mark with some restrictive weapon design & repetitive gunplay, and you're better off sticking to your existing old-school favorites.
 
 A typical patient file, complete with clichéd name and psychosis
The best thing going for the game is its setting. Alice Drake, the protagonist, has the ability to enter and control other people's dream. She uses this ability to help her patients get rid of their nightmares. The game uses some comic book style clips for exposition but sadly, these are too few and far between the four chapters. Alice usually jumps straight from one nightmare to another and the narrative is largely delivered through patient files on the loading screen. Her monologue is full of corny one liners but they can still be funny in an ironic fashion.
 
Dreamkiller certainly shows some creative spark with inspired level designs that take advantage of the premise. Most of them properly convey the patient's phobia with unique and varied architectures. The enemy design is very artful as well. However, it's hard to appreciate the underlying art when the game throws the same set of mobs at you repeatedly inside a locked room. To make matters worse, the graphics look a bit dated on the PC. 

But all this could've been forgiven if the basic shooting was fun. The game follows the stripped down formula of Doom and has you clearing room after room of the same enemies. Sadly, the gunplay is Dreamkiller's biggest shortcoming. The weapon design is central to the quality of a shooter like this. And most of the guns here are disappointing and very restrictive in the way they operate. You get your derivative versions of telekinesis, shotgun, minigun etc. but none of them are very satisfying to use. The slow reload mechanic with most guns is not conducive to fighting the multitudes of enemies Dreamkiller throws at you. On top of this, Alice can only carry one gun at a time and the weapon pickup is particularly annoying as it automatically switches your weapon everytime you walk over it. Since there are a lot of confined spaces, you will frequently end up picking up something you don't want.
 
Creative enemy & level designs are undermined by the gameplay
Bad enemy animations and middling audio effects are part of the reason that none of the weapons are satisfying. The dumb enemy AI doesn't help either as they blindly rush towards you no matter what. There is a weapon upgrade system where you pick up dreamcatchers to increase your weapon's effectiveness but even at the max level, they lack the necessary punch to get you excited.  
 
Dreamcatchers are also used for the game's health system. In the old arcade fashion, you start each level with three lives and collect upgrades as you go along. The game tries to keep things interesting with some additional mechanics on top of the basic shooting. Alice can teleport short distances to avoid enemies but the ease of combat never requires you to use it. There is a killing spree mechanic where you can unlock Berserker Mode by getting 10 kills in quick succession. The mode does exactly what the name suggests, quickening your movement and firing speed. It would have been a fun mechanic if the weapons actually allowed you to take full advantage of it. As it stands, it's hard to get more than ten kills when going berserk.
 
The other system is an Ikaruga style phase shifting where Alice enters her's patients subconscious through a portal to take care of their deeper problems. But she can't stay there too long or else her health starts dwindling after a while. The constant switching to tackle enemies on either side is a neat idea but a few ill advised portal placements make some of the fights needlessly frustrating.
 
The single player campaign will last most players for about 8-10 hours and there are four accompanying multiplayer modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Conquest (the first team to control all the brains wins ). The game doesn't support dedicated servers and online play is plagued by lag and stability issues. I struggled to find more than a couple of Deathmatch games so the multiplayer is doubtful to add any real longevity. 
 
Recommendation: Dreamkiller has lot of good ideas but it fails to execute on them. It's a real shame because there is a niche market for such straight up shooters. The game comes across as a lesser version of some of the old favorites its trying to emulate and you're better off sticking to them.
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