Dreams Review – A Dream Come True
Cast your mind back to February 20th, 2013, and a little box called the PlayStation 4 was first being revealed to the world at an event in New York City, but while the console, understandably, took centre stage, there was a creative new idea that was also debuted. In 2013 we simply knew that Media Molecule were in the midst of developing a new creative endeavour, one that we would eventually come to know as Dreams. Seven years later, and many developmental hurdles later, and Dreams has finally arrived on PS4’s in a full release state, and I’m pleased to report that a near decade-old dream still shines brightly in 2020.
As was established with the release of 2008’s LittleBigPlanet (another Media Molecule creation), the Play-Create-Share gameplay model underpins the entirety of the Dreams experience. Upon pushing through the gorgeous opening scene, and a quick tutorial, players are given two options, they can “Dream Surf” or “Dream Shape”; the former is the purely playable component, where you can dive into the creations of Media Molecule and the community, while the latter is the games ever-growing creation suite. Both are bulging with things to see and do, and one of (or both) have the potential to completely consume the player.
The thing that you’ll find yourself constantly reminding yourself of is the fact that everything you play in the Dream Surfing mode is constructed with the tools at your disposal in the Dream Shaping mode. That includes what Media Molecule has done, and most will struggle to understand how impressive that is until they begin to Dream Surf. User-created Dreams are immediately at your fingertips from the moment you begin to surf, and while Media Molecule’s suite of ideas is certainly impressive, it’s the breadth and incredible variety of the community projects that is likely to set off a players creative side. From Kart-racers to puzzle games, first-person shooters and still art, Dream Surfing gives players a bit of everything to experience, something that other high-profile game engines are simply incapable of producing due to the fact that they’re often tailored for a specific purpose. With some creative thinking, there’s almost nothing you cannot do with the creation tools in the game.
On the creation side of the experience, Dreams opens up the doors to essentially anything you can imagine – of course, inappropriate content will be removed, but in terms of game concepts, mechanics, narrative and more, it’s a free-for-all. Some players might find themselves to be adept at voice-over and so will contribute audio to the Dreams of others, some might be great character modellers and so they help create titular protagonists or terrifying enemies. All these aspects of game design and more can all be shared and credited amongst the community, often leading to final games with assets pulled from a host of others – all of which are above board ethically and are a great testament to the incredible Dreams community.
The creation tools themselves are equal parts deep, and accessible. Anyone will be capable of picking up a controller and creating a fairly solid game on their first attempt if they dedicate time to the development process, but those who wish to go deep have an almost overwhelming amount of choice in terms of how they tweak and customise their levels to fit their design intentions. Audio balancing, collision systems, as well as tools that help players set triggers from certain events and more are all present and can be tailored to fit the needs of any game idea you might have.
Media Molecule’s “Art’s Dream”, found through surfing will provide beginners with some fantastic ideas to get their creative juices going, but the strength of the Dream Shaper is in the community. Without the constant flow of wonderful ideas and resources the Dreams themselves will begin to bleed into one another, but, after months of early access and now several weeks post-launch, it seems that the ideas, the assets, and the wonderful Dreams keep coming. The variety of Dreams on show is astounding, from blatant rip-offs that may or may not be a breach of copyright (I’m okay with it though, I finally got to play P.T. thanks to Dreams!), to projects clearly inspired by established IP, and original ideas – there’s something for everyone, powered by dozens to hundreds of different creators in each case.
In and out of Dreams, there are various segments of the game that require your Imp, an on-screen friend that works as a PC mouse substitute that is controlled by the Dualshock 4s gyroscopic systems. This can grow a little tedious and frustrating at times, certainly prompting consideration as to whether or not control via the dual analogue sticks would be the better choice. Dreams does boast its own clear, and quite stunning, visual style, which does limit the creations of the community somewhat, but the most creative amongst us will undoubtedly, with time, find ways to circumvent this, to create some incredibly striking digital artistry. Finally, the curation process at the point of writing does mean that the fresh ideas find themselves becoming lost amongst the crowd of knock-offs or meme-fuelled titles that soak up likes. It’s perhaps the one aspect to the game that is still in need of polish from Media Molecule, the remainder of the power now resides with the community.
Dreams isn’t simply a game creation tool, nor is it a simple evolution of the LBP formula – Dreams is a complete revolution of how we can perceive game development. Boasting incredible depth, that with every passing day grows deeper, the developmental tools empower players like nothing we’ve seen on a console before, and frankly put a large number of storied development tools to the test as well. If that isn’t for you though, then you’ve got access to some inspiring Media Molecule concepts, thousands (and growing) of phenomenal player projects, and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of discovery ahead of you. Many have experienced the feeling of waking up, and not wanting to let go of the incredible dreams you experienced in your sleep – the act of playing Dreams elicits the same phenomenal feeling. This is a dream I don’t want to snap out of.
Dreams was reviewed on a PS4 with code kindly supplied by Playstation Australia