Dreams is an overwhelming triumph.
Dreams is an exceptionally hard game to review, not least because it’s not clear if it even actually qualifies as a “game” in the traditional sense of the word. What Dreams is is a creation and sharing platform, to be entirely honest – one of the strongest, most powerful creation tools I’ve ever had the chance to get my hands on, and honestly, probably the most powerful when I consider how remarkably simple it all is.
It doesn’t seem simple when you first boot it up. You get inundated in a cavalcade of system messages and notifications before you’ve even got the chance to get your bearings, from a message telling you Dreams is intended to be a service game, to one telling you you can turn on subtitles, to another one explaining the game’s various control schemes. There’s a lot, but once the game begins, things are actually far simpler.
This is done by design. Dreams is extremely easy to come to grips with, but until you have, the sheer number of options could appear dishearteningly overwhelming. Media Molecule has smartly decided to have a short sequence of tutorials for players to go through first, starting with the bare basic concepts of creation and object manipulation, and then slowly building on them and introducing more and more complex concepts, such as triggers, animations, and properties for objects you put in a scene.
"You won’t even realize how the game is slowly adding, doubling, and even tripling the complexity as you make your way through tutorials, and learn a bunch of concepts that have never been available in a front facing software suite intended for mass market consumption before this."
According to a recent interview, these tutorials, and the attempt to make all of this overwhelming creation simple was what took the bulk of the development time for Dreams, and very honestly, it has paid off. You won’t even realize how the game is slowly adding, doubling, and even tripling the complexity as you make your way through tutorials, and learn a bunch of concepts that have never been available in a front facing software suite intended for mass market consumption before this. That Dreams can often give you options as versatile and powerful as a full-fledged engine like Unreal or Unity – all while not needing a single line of coding knowledge from you, and, perhaps most importantly, keeping the very act of creation fun, is probably its greatest accomplishment.
There is no way to explain how accomplished Dreams is to anyone who has never had to put up with any professional engine or game or asset creation tool before. Everything is laid out simply, and instantly intuitive, with a ridiculous amount of helpful prompts and overlays to help you get your bearings should you ever forget where to find something. Dreams is magnificently powerful, and lets you create anything, and I really mean that. You can create a whole game, or just a single level, or you can create individual assets, and then bring them together in a level. You can create things that aren’t games at all – music, music videos, movies, TV, there’s literally no limit.
The best thing about Dreams is how collaborative it is, because you have access to assets and creations by all other players (just as your own creations are available to them). If you are creating a level, but don’t want to spend the time to individually model each character within it, and define its properties vis-a-vis everything else, you don’t have to. You can just pull up the search menu and look for a similar asset someone else somewhere may have created, and pull it into your creation for you to use. And you can even modify it per your own needs. As for credit? There’s no issue there, because if and when you publish your creation, you, as well as everyone else whose creations you may have used to any degree in your game, are automatically credited. The simplicity is astounding.
"There is no way to explain how accomplished Dreams is to anyone who has never had to put up with any professional engine or game or asset creation tool before. Everything is laid out simply, and instantly intuitive, with a ridiculous amount of helpful prompts and overlays to help you get your bearings should you ever forget where to find something."
The true triumph of Dreams in terms of its UI, however, might be the controls. I said earlier Dreams explains its control schemes to you before you’ve even had the chance to start the game, and I think that’s because Media Molecule are, justifiably, proud of what they have accomplished there. Dreams is a creation suite that is honestly complex enough that you can even see a keyboard/mouse control setup struggling to keep up with it – and yet, Media Molecule have managed to make it effortless to navigate its depths and intricacies with a controller.
A huge part of this is because they remain the only developer in Sony’s stable of studios to actually leverage the multiple innovative input mechanisms built into the DualShock 4, and which other developers have all but forgotten about over the course of the generation. The default control scheme mimics a mouse setup, by mapping cursor movement to motion controls, leaving you to be able to fully navigate a 3D space using the analog sticks. Combine this with some really clever paradigms – including the use of the L1 button as a modifier, essentially doubling the amount of input options available to Media Molecule – and you’ve got a really simple, great control scheme. For those who are absolutely determined never to let anything motion controlled get anywhere near their games, there is a control scheme without them available. But it’s far slower and clunkier, and it’s clear the motion controls are how the game was truly meant to be played.
I’ve spent a whole lot of time discussing the creation part of Dreams – this is really my favorite thing in the whole package, I have to be honest – and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of how ridiculously deep and powerful, and yet simple, the whole thing is. But the flip side of the equation is impressive in Dreams too. The amount of user creations you can already access in Dreams, from a fan remake of Fallout 4 or a new Crash Bandicoot game, or the aborted P.T. Silent Hills, fully remade in Dreams, is astounding, and truly speaks more to just how amazing Dreams is more than anything I can say. Actually navigating the interface when looking for creations is ridiculously simple, as you get what is essentially a Netflix- or Game Pass- style menu recommending a whole bunch of things to you, plus a powerful search feature to use if all else fails.
"Dreams is a creation suite that is honestly complex enough that you can even see a keyboard/mouse control setup struggling to keep up with it – and yet, Media Molecule have managed to make it effortless to navigate its depths and intricacies with a controller."
With all of this said, I will say that Dreams is probably not for you if you are hoping for a “campaign” of any sort. Games such as LittleBigPlanet or Super Mario Maker have usually come with a built in set of pre-fabricated content, which is so meaty and substantial that you can feasibly recommend those games even to people who may have no interest in the creation or creative side of things at all. With Dreams, I feel a bit more hesitant to do that. There is a main “campaign”, but it’s extremely short, and while it’s an impressive demonstration of what you can do in Dreams, I’m not sure it’s enough to justify the cost of entry by itself.
Obviously, there’s a never ending stream of content in Dreams even not accounting for the “main” campaign, including a whole bunch of other stuff created by Media Molecule, as well as a frightening amount of player content. And there’s a lot of it that’s great, with some that’s beyond great. And if having access to a never ending trove of creations in that vein appeals to you, Dreams is for you, even if you’re not into the creation side of things. If not, though, and if you are hoping for a campaign that can justify the cost of entry even for those who don’t want to engage with the creation stuff, Dreams is a harder sell.
Media Molecule has said it will have more games it will be releasing within Dreams. Judging by how great their titles have been in the past (remember Tearaway?), we can probably look forward to some very strong pre-made content for Dreams in the future, which will make it worth it even for those players who have no interest in creating their own levels. So this may actually change in the future – but right now, the warning for those who may be interested in Dreams purely to play it still stands.
That one warning aside, I have nothing to complain about with Dreams. It is an overwhelming triumph to an extent I had not imagined was even possible with something like this. It’s a spectacular platform that, if Sony actually manages it right, could be the next big thing, like Minecraft or even like Newgrounds once was. Never before have I had the pleasure of seeing a product that is so obviously flawless, with so much potential for future growth. At the tail end of the PS4’s life cycle, we have received what might be the console’s crown jewel.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Extremely powerful but remarkably simple and accessible; very versatile; incredible controls; fantastic tutorials that slowly introduce you to layered concepts without overwhelming you; great interface that makes creation, sharing, and playing effortlessly easy; extremely charming; leverages everything the PS4 has to provide; makes the very act of creation fun
There is a lack of clear, compelling packaged content for those players who may want to PLAY something, but aren't interested in creating their own things, to point to
Dreams' story is only beginning. Never before have I had the pleasure of seeing a product that is so obviously flawless, with so much potential for future growth.