Review: Into A Dream
To the Moon (2011) is one of the most beloved indie narrative adventure games of all time. In it, two scientists travel into a dying man’s memories to fulfill his final wish. Into A Dream (2020), created by solo developer Filipe F. Thomaz, has a similar premise.
You play a man named John Stevens who finds himself in the dream world of another man, Luke Williams. Luke appears to be experiencing a mental health crisis, and you receive a message from the outside world tasking you with investigating its origins.
One of the unfortunate side effects of the dream insertion procedure is that John doesn’t have access to his own memories. So, just like the player, he knows nothing about the people he meets or the specifics of Luke’s life. John meets him and his family at different points in their lives.
Luke, it turns out, is an entrepreneur who is pursuing a vision of ubiquitous renewable energy. Exhausted by work, he reaches his breaking point after the early death of his mother. His wife Rita and his daughter Anne pay the price as Luke grows increasingly distant from them.
Platforms in the way
You view the dream world from its side, and everything is rendered in silhouette, as in a shadow play. As is typical for narrative adventure games, you spend a lot of time talking to characters you meet. The game also has simple platformer sequences (jump & climb), inventory fetch quests, and one puzzle that depends on precise timing.
The game’s action sequences and puzzles are rarely clever or original—they serve as speedbumps that prevent you from rushing through the story. Into A Dream lacks the qualities that make a great platformer (quick animations, optimized hit zones, responsive controls), so this is the single most frustrating aspect of play. Fortunately, you can’t die permanently, and you can save and resume anywhere.
Into A Dream makes excellent use of changing background colors, lighting, and other effects to convey the sense of an unstable yet beautiful inner world. The game is accompanied by Thomaz’ piano music, which suits the game’s atmosphere well. The presentation falls short in other ways.
When it doesn’t get in its own way, the game depicts a world that is suitably dreamlike, at times serene and beautiful, at times shockingly unstable. (Credit: Filipe F. Thomaz. Fair use.)
Close-up views of objects (such as a children’s doll or a tombstone) look amateurish. Characters you meet are only rendered in one or two poses. For example, you’ll always encounter Luke’s wife sitting cross-legged or talking on the phone.
Animation is in short supply, too. Nobody other than you ever moves around—they just dissolve when a scene ends. The presentation gets in the way of the gameplay when you have to figure out what to do next: Where’s the exit? What’s that black object in the foreground? Can I interact with that door?
The game is fully voice acted by a diverse cast, at varying levels of quality: sometimes energetic, sometimes inaudible, sometimes overwrought or cartoonish. Given the game’s tiny budget (it raised less than $3,000 in an Indiegogo campaign), it would be unkind to be too critical here.
I found the story engaging, and the writing is generally good. There are a few spelling and grammar errors that could have been caught (such as the repeated spelling “murdured” instead of “murdered”), and a simplistic heaven/hell theme in the late game that distracts from the main story.
Into A Dream immerses the player in a world that is at times tantalizingly beautiful, but it frustrates them with clunky platformer sequences and immersion-breaking inconsistencies in its presentation. For a work mainly driven by a single developer, it’s an impressive achievement regardless, and I’ll certainly be interested in Thomaz’ future work.
I wouldn’t recommend Into A Dream at its full price of $15, but discounted below $5 it’s an interesting enough experience over 3 hours or so, if you’re willing to forgive its more frustrating parts. 3.5 stars, rounded down because of one especially annoying stealth sequence in the late game.