A strange dream

by Anaïs Tn

2021

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Number of Reviews: 2
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A fragment of a dream, April 10, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2021

A Strange Dream doesn’t seem finished. The first sign is that the game’s file name is “test.aslx” and opening it pulls up the Quest editor rather than launching into the game proper. The intro text positions the player character as confused and discombobulated, waking up with a pounding headache in a strange, decrepit mansion, so perhaps this is a fourth-wall-breaking bit of metafictional slyness? But given the slapdash quality of what’s on display, unfortunately it’s more likely a sign of a game entered into the festival before it was ready.

Your goal is to unlock the front door and escape this crumbling manor, but within a few short actions it’s clear that it’s not that the place works according to dream-logic, it’s that it just doesn’t work. Interacting with the game is simple, with a subwindow allowing for compass navigation and another for examining and manipulating nearby objects via a menu. But if you exit and then re-enter the lobby, every time you look around you’ll see the exact same text about confusedly waking up that you get at the beginning of the game. Objects that the text implies should be hidden – like a silver key that’s described as being revealed when you pull out and look behind a book on a library shelf – are clearly listed in the subwindow from the get-go. It appears there’s meant to be a light puzzle, as upon lighting a match the game says “you can now go downstairs”, but you only find the match in the one downstairs room in the house, which you can get to and explore just fine without any extra light.

I found some flat-out bugs – trying to re-open the table after closing it threw off a scripting error – and wonkiness in the taking code meant that while the game cheerfully told me I was picking up keys and trying them in the front door, they never actually showed up in my inventory. After getting stuck, I wound up pulling up the editor to see if I could figure out what was supposed to happen – again, maybe this is what the author intended? – and as far as I could tell, a gold key I’d found in the upstairs office was meant to have allowed me to escape. Entering that office and taking the key appears to be the only actual puzzle, unless some of the other keys were also supposed to have gated other parts of the house?

The premise here would allow for a good bit of puzzle-y fun, and I did enjoy the use of pictures to show the often-beautiful furnishings of the house. I also laughed at the sentence “looks like you are in an old mansion, falling apart” (we’re all getting older, let’s not throw stones). But unless it’s all meant as some kind of ironic commentary and I’m just too thick to get the joke, it sure seems like A Strange Dream just isn’t a complete game at this point.