Microsoft's vision of a Kinect-powered future never came true. Despite the technological improvements with the Xbox One version, games like Kinect Sports Rivals have proven to be mostly clunky and annoying, while using your voice to browse Netflix is simply a great way to hear yourself repeat "Xbox play" over and over again. It just doesn't work as well as it needs to, which is why you can now buy a cheaper Xbox One sans Kinect. But for those of you who have unplugged the camera, there's finally a good reason to hook it back up again: D4, a surreal new detective adventure that's like a David Lynch game you can talk to.
D4 — which stands for "Dark Dreams Don't Die" — is the latest game from director Hidetaka Suehiro. Better known as Swery65, Suehiro gained a cult following after the release of Deadly Premonition in 2010, a game that combined a gritty murder mystery with an incredibly weird story filled with all kinds of surreal elements. It was basically the video game equivalent of Twin Peaks, but with a distinctly Japanese quirkiness. Four years later, D4 treads very similar ground. The set-up is about as cliche as they come: you play as former Boston police officer David Young, who has since left the force and now spends his days as a PI obsessively investigating his wife's murder.
But while the basic plot could be ripped out of any episode of Law & Order, D4 differentiates itself with slightly less mundane things like time travel and humans who think they're animals.
Just before Young's wife died, she told him to "look for D," and that's really all he has to go in for the investigation. All of his other memories from that day are gone. Luckily, he has the ability to take special objects called mementos, and use them to travel to specific moments in the past. At the outset of the game this leads him back in time to a Boston-bound flight where a drug kingpin — whose name, naturally, starts with a D — mysteriously disappeared after the plane was hit by lightning. The specifics of the story can be a bit hard to follow, but D4 remains interesting largely just by being weird: there are characters who speak in Lynch-ian riddles, dream sequences with a strange owl, and a roommate who seems to believe she is actually a cat. She'll even hiss at you.
I don't think I've ever had so much fun swinging a prosthetic leg at a drug dealer
It's a delightfully strange adventure, but what makes D4 truly unique is that it's a Kinect game. You can search for evidence by exploring scenes with your hands, and when you question people you literally say dialogue out loud. For the most part, it works surprisingly well: I never had a problem with voice commands, and while the gesture controls can be touchy, it was never overly frustrating. Probably the best part of D4 is its action sequences, which turn brutal fights into Dance Dance Revolution-style feats of timing and endurance. I don't think I've ever had so much fun swinging a prosthetic leg at a drug dealer.
D4 is clearly inspired by television; it not only feels a lot like Twin Peaks, but is also structured as a series of episodes. The game isn't just trying to mimic TV, though, as it's also incredibly video game-y. You'll get points for having a good conversation, and you can keep your health bar full by buying wine and hamburgers from a helpful cat. You can also interact with even the most mundane objects: the Kinect lets you mimic sipping a cup of coffee, or smash open a fortune cookie by swinging your arm down to the ground. When I walked out on to Young's balcony, I was able trim his hedges. The game seamlessly jumps back and forth from wacky to boring to bizarrely terrifying moments, so you never quite know what's going to happen next.
It seamlessly jumps back and forth from wacky to boring to bizarrely terrifying
The Kinect controls are weirdly satisfying, especially the voice commands, which made me feel more like I was part of the game world. The only place where the experience falls down is when it comes to menus, as it can be incredibly frustrating to scroll through a bunch of options only to accidentally select the wrong thing. This is a problem with basically every Kinect experience I've ever had, and D4 doesn't manage to solve it. But outside of menus, the game is very forgiving when it comes to performing the right motion, making D4 a strangely fun experience. Motion controls aren't the most efficient way to play a game like this, but they really make you feel more involved in the world.
The game is also very short. Much like The Wolf Among Us, D4 is an episodic story. At launch only a prologue and two episodes are available, which will probably take you around three hours to finish, culminating in a bizarre twist that serves as a pretty excellent cliffhanger. D4 is rough around the edges in a way that modern games rarely are — it even looks like an older game, with its jaggy, dated graphics — and I can't wait to see what happens next. Looks like I'll have to keep this Kinect around at least until episode three.