Review - DreamWeb (DOS, 1994)

It's hard to imagine a more flexible environment for a computer game than the world of dreams. Yet this territory has almost never been used, and the one recent exception, Empire's DreamWeb, doesn't come close to exploiting the concept's potential. One might expect such a game to place the bulk of the action in an unpredictable, shifting realm of reverie, an opportunity for the graphic artists to really strut their stuff. Instead, this game takes place almost entirely in urban squalor, only referring to the realm itself, the titular DreamWeb, as an abstract concept to be saved or, occasionally, as a few small chambers.

The player character, Ryan, was just an ordinary guy working at a local bar when his dreams started getting really strange. He was visited a number of times by a man in a red hooded robe who told him to go out and kill people. Ryan's first instinct was to try and ignore these dreams, but they just kept getting more and more intense, and eventually, much more specific about the nature of these killings and how they will help the Web.

The DreamWeb is ordinarily supported by seven humans, and when each one dies, another takes his or her place. However, the Web is currently being manipulated by seven evil people who have to be destroyed so that more worthy folks can take over. Ryan has been chosen for this honorable task.

So the game follows Ryan as he becomes accustomed to his new role as a serial murderer, or as he likes to put it, "Deliverer." He gets the names of his victims from the keepers of the DreamWeb, supernatural agents who are above the law. And yet, for all their great knowledge, they are unable to supply details like addresses. So Ryan has to track the folks down as best he can from computer terminals, barroom gossip, whatever comes to hand. He also has to kill them with whatever comes to hand: a heavy crate works as well as a gun.

The mood is established very well before the game even starts with a supplement book called "Diary of a Mad(?) Man". This is Ryan's journal, written while he suffers his murderous dreams, and it is a very evocative and creepy read. It really gets your expectations up for the game . . . which is unfortunate. The play experience leaves a lot to be desired.

The designers obviously tried very hard to add sufficient atmosphere to the game experience. Unfortunately, their efforts are pretty misguided. The ever-present music is rather pretty, but it's minor key new age, and hardly appropriate to the gritty events here. When you combine that with the fact that it is literally raining all the time in the game world, you may find yourself getting drowsy after a few minutes of play.

The events in the game are, not surprisingly, very dark, disturbing and gruesome. Unfortunately, the graphics are sufficiently low-resolution that you may have to guess at some of the creepier stuff. Of course, if the graphics had been much sharper, I don't know if I would have cared to see the guy who gives you important information while sitting on the toilet . . .

The interface does have its good points. The left side of the screen is dominated by a picture of Ryan and a zoom window that follows your cursor around the play area. At the bottom of the window is a description of the view inside and what will happen if you click the left mouse button. While this is a nice feature, there always seems to be an extra step in the interface clicking whenever you want to use something.

DreamWeb is certainly rooted in an unusual concept. The world needs more games with really strange subjects and unheard-of situations. The main problem I have with this game is that there was so much unexplored potential in the concept. Even the parts that did make it into the final game could have used better graphics. It is sad to see such an interesting idea given so little room to grow. DreamWeb might have made an excellent graphic novel, but as a computer game, it's mediocre at best.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser