–Dreamfall Chapters begins with protagonist Zoë Maya Castillo trapped in a coma, a predicament arguably more appealing than slogging through the interminable opening sections of this game. You're charged with wandering around a dreamscape while your physical body remains in a hospital bed, using powers that are barely explained to complete objectives that are never really made clear. Trial and error will get you through as there's only so many combinations you can try, but it's not the compelling opening gambit that a largely story-based game should have in order to get you on the hook.
Before you know it, you're quickly given control of a second protagonist, Kian Alvane, in a sequence in which you must complete the most boring prison break in recorded history. There's no elaborate plot: no digging tunnels behind posters of movie starlets – or even Wentworth Miller with a map to the prison tattooed to his backside. You just hear some riots going down off screen while you're picking locks with an arrow that you managed to get the guards to fire at you and caught in a pillow attached to a broom handle and – okay, you get the picture. It's an adventure game.
While the game doesn't make a strong first impression, business does pick up once it settles down and gives us more of a storyline to work with. Zoë lives in a futuristic city in Europolis in the year 2220, in which an evil corporation has been selling a device called a Dream Machine that swathes of the general public have become addicted to. People dream their lives away while shareholders see profits soar, but there's hints that money might not be the only reason for trapping the great unwashed in perpetual slumber. The shady corporate conspiracy angle might be cliché at this point, but the precarious political situation in Europolis is a vaguely intriguing backdrop, and the colourful cast of characters and occasionally amusing dialogue make for an experience more in line with what you may expect from an adventure title in 2017.
Meanwhile, our other hero Kian is freshly broken out of prison in a magical land of talking birds, cat-girls, and weird antelope people. His storyline is initially less interesting; a familiar tale of officer-turned-rebel once he notices something sinister afoot in the empire, all set in a similarly rote fantasy world. Magical creatures are being persecuted by humans, but what on the surface appears to be little more than bigotry is subterfuge for an altogether more nefarious plot. While Kian's side of the story seems like an unnecessary distraction from Zoë's in the early going, it becomes an integral component of the narrative as the true goals of the villains are gradually revealed.
Dreamfall Chapters' story features just enough twists and turns to entertain, and the hit-miss ratio for the jokes falls just about in favour of the former rather than the latter, but the game frequently stumbles once you're required to actually play it. Puzzles in the game are rarely as illogical as the ones you'd find in adventure classics like Day of the Tentacle, but they're confusing enough frequently enough to derail any momentum that the narrative attempts to muster up.
There's a moment late in the game in which a friendly character is about to be burned at the stake in what should be a dramatic moment. Instead of breaking him free via a swashbuckling action scene we're instead left to engineer his escape by using free samples from a local wine merchant to soak the kindling of the bonfire, causing the executioner to blow himself up when he tries to burn our friend alive. It's one in a series of many examples of what should be important story-beats being buried under cack-handed, trial-and-error puzzling that is detrimental to the experience as a whole. And wine isn't even usually flammable.
Not all of the puzzles in the game are frustrating, but few are actively engaging, and it leaves us wondering if perhaps Dreamfall Chapters might have been altogether more enjoyable if they'd followed the Telltale template a little more stringently. The crummy puzzles are a problem exacerbated by the map system of the game, which gives you the absolute bare minimum to work with leading to navigation around the game-world becoming an unmitigated chore.
You'll frequently be given mission objectives to complete in which you're required to travel to a place you've never been to, but often the game doesn't tell you where these places actually are. You have to find them via a combination of electronic tour guides and blind luck when playing as Zoë and blind luck alone when playing as Kian. The game does an admirable job of recreating the feeling one associates with being lost in a city you're visiting for the first time, but since Zoe lives in Europolis, and has presumably been to the building she works in before, it seems like bad design to leave us wandering the streets aimlessly just to get to the office, and it sucks a lot of the urgency out of the story.
The adventure genre evolved with Telltale's The Walking Dead, leaving the often baffling and illogical puzzles of the Lucasarts and Sierra era behind, and embracing a stronger focus on episodic story-telling. Dreamfall Chapters is an adventure game that feels simultaneously like a contemporary to surprise hit Life Is Strange and a throwback to the more obtuse titles of yesteryear like Grim Fandango, never quite managing to hit the highs or lows of either. For those who have grown accustomed to the Telltale approach to adventure gaming, Dreamfall Chapters might prove to be too frustrating an experience to warrant persevering with, but for people who fondly remember trapping the infamous goat in Broken Sword or the rubber chicken zip-line in Monkey Island, it might provide a welcome dose of nostalgia.