Dream Cycle Early Access preview

by Lars
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Dream Cycle is the new game from Toby Gard – one of the guys behind the creation of one of the gaming industry’s most recognisable heroines, Lara Croft. Toby, now at the helm of Cathuria Games, is back with a new brainchild, and it’s incredibly ambitious.

The Steam page speaks volumes of Toby’s ambitions for Dream Cycle – they’re trying to create an infinite adventure game, one that constantly expands and evolves over time. We’re playing Morgan Carter now, an arcane apprentice trapped in the ever-changing Dreamlands, chasing a long-lost relative up to no good. A lot of big words there, a lot of promises, but I’ve been hurt before and the games industry still hasn’t forgotten Peter Molyneux’s relentless tripe. So what is Dream Cycle in simple terms?

Dream Cycle - crossing a bridge.

Well, right now it feels like a foundation. I’ve spent a decent amount of time getting to grips with the game’s fluid exploration and potentially versatile combat system, and while it’s enjoyable, there’s not an awful lot of shape to it yet. It’s still really easy to get stuck here and there, and it’s never clear if it’s down to the game’s traversal system or Early Access gremlins. You can mix gunplay, stealth and melee combat with magic in various combinations, scoping out the lay of the land with astral projection for a plan of attack, or going in spells blazing.

The game promises endless unique adventures, and while that may technically be true at the moment, there’s a lot of variations of the same formula. “Kill the things”, “find the things”, “kill the things again in a slightly different environment”. This all feels like an incredibly early look at Toby Gard’s vision for the game, and while he certainly has the accolades and experience to back that up, one can’t help but wonder if it might have been best to temper expectations a little.

Take combat as an easy example. It’s trying to do so many things – stealth, magic, guns, melee – that it runs the very real risk of doing none of them very well. Ranged combat works, and the stealth attack system is a delight, but melee feels weightless and seems to deal barely any damage. I was delighted to pick up a pistol, loving the prospect of combining spells with bullets, but it was basically a pea-shooter. Five minutes later I found a longbow that quietly one-shotted most enemies no matter where they hit them and never looked at guns again.

Combat seems to favour stealth in most situations, although it is possible to approach it however you choose. It all takes a second place to traversal and exploration, though – most of Morgan’s goals revolve around navigating the empty, treacherous Dream Lands with a mix of parkour and sorcery. Dream Cycle‘s visual style also feels half finished. It employs a hybrid 2D/3D style that almost evokes a comic book in motion, but the effect is currently accomplished through what looks like a line-art filter.

Dream Cycle Early Access: Is it worth it?

As it stands, Dream Cycle just isn’t all that compelling at the moment. Besides the story, which has some lovely otherworldly, Lovecraft-esque potential, none of its elements are strong enough to stand out yet. There is a frankly astonishing amount of directions Toby Gard could take Dream Cycle in – it’s so vague and shapeless at the moment that it could shape up to be something truly extraordinary with his talent and skill behind it.

Putting it simply, this early glimpse at Dream Cycle is not a particularly flattering one. It’s like seeing the girl in all the teen movies before she’s magically stopped needing glasses and let her hair down. It has serious potential, potential that could potentially be undermined by some incredibly steep expectations if Cathuria Games keep selling it the way they’re doing. After all, I’d rather have one or two incredible adventures than infinite mediocre ones.

Dream Cycle is available now through Steam’s Early Access program. You can find more reviews and previews here.

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