Review: Bad Dream: Fever

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Bad Dream: Coma ended up being a middling point-and-click with a few clever sequences tucked away at the end. I had hopes that Bad Dream: Fever would build on that and mix that cleverness in across more of the game. It certainly looked like it did from the screenshots, and the greater level of detail and polish. But for all the steps forward this one takes, it leaps backwards in terms of gameplay and story flow. I suspect that this one still hides the best parts at the very end, but it’s such a slog to get to that point that I can hardly say it’s worth it.

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You awaken in a bedroom that is very much not yours, in a world where everything is dead or dying. A strange, inky substance is consuming everything, filling the veins of the inhabitants and blotting out entire city blocks. You’ve got to get to the bottom of this horror, and for once you’re not alone. Aided by a mysterious woman in a plague mask, you’ll have to comb the city for clues and tools that will help you uncover the purpose and source of this plague. But once you do, you may find that the world itself is not at all what it seems to be.

At least, that’s how my understanding of the story goes. For my part, I could barely get an hour in before all the issues with the gameplay drained me of any motivation to continue. Where Bad Dream: Coma had all the trappings of a traditional point-and-click, Fever streamlines and re-arranges these elements in bizarre ways. You have an inventory, but you don’t use or combine items from it. Having the right item for an interaction just changes your cursor to that item automatically. Items also tend to be much more tucked away than normal, sometimes even hidden behind scenery pieces you have to move just to get at them. Honestly at times I felt more like I was playing a hidden object game than an adventure.

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These quibbles are nothing next to the bigger design problems, though. Right from the start you meet your unnamed lady friend, and for the next hour (at least) you’re simply following her orders. What little info you get about the world and the ink destroying it are filtered through her as she sends you to collect tools and samples and cleaning products for her every whim. Even examining an object gives you her take on it instead of your own or something informative, and if she’s feeling impatient she won’t describe it at all. Worse than this, though, is that the game won’t let you collect objects if you haven’t been told you need them yet. This is one of the mortal sins of point-and-click adventures, because players can easily find something that’s clearly useful, not be allowed to take it, and then forget about it when given the vague go-ahead to get it later. I’ve had to do so much backtracking and random clicking in this game simply because it won’t let me take things I KNOW I’m going to need.

There’s one locked door in the game that absolutely sealed the deal for me. It was locked with a three-digit combination lock, so I set out to find the combination. I combed every open area in the game for ten minutes to no avail, and eventually had to consult a walkthrough. Turns out that there is no combination to find for the door. You have to click on the lock and try to turn the numbers to discover it’s rusted over, go find a can of oil you couldn’t pick up earlier, oil the lock, and then the girl tells you the combination. No part of this is interesting or satisfying puzzling or adventuring, it’s purely stumbling into the developer’s very specific plan for the player and following it to the letter or getting stuck.

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The irony here is that apparently Bad Dream: Fever is about game design, a sort of reflection on the process of making Bad Dream: Coma. I never got to the point where this even becomes apparent though, on account of how poorly-made this one is. It’s never fun to give up on a game like this, because the art is more interesting and more polished that before and the concept is certainly novel. But I just have so many problems with the way this one is paced and plotted that I can’t do it. Maybe if you’re more in tune with this sort of pointing and clicking you can get through to the theoretical good parts, but as for me, I might be done with the Bad Dream series as a whole.

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