D4 is an episodic murder mystery that occasionally dabbles in heartwarming and serious tones, but mostly goes out of its way to entertain with madcap humor. These moments include a grown woman who acts like a cat and carries a live rat in her mouth, and a joyfully gluttonous associate who devours three chili dogs at once during a dinner conversation. Fans of the cult hit Deadly Premonition will recognize this puzzling tonal blend, as it is the fingerprint of game creator Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro and his studio, Access Games. Swery and his crew succeed again in making a game that is so weird and engaging that I can’t fully comprehend it, but I want more of whatever it is.
The story follows detective David Young, a troubled soul who recently lost his wife, Little Peggy, to the hands of a murderer with the call sign “D.” We learn early on that Young is obsessed with this case. He was involved somehow, but his memory of it is hazy. He’ll do anything to solve it, but simply identifying the killer isn’t enough. Thanks to a special gift, Young believes he can alter history and save Little Peggy’s life.
The game describes Young as “a detective who investigates the past.” If he can get his hands on an item that held significance at a crime scene, he can use it as a bridge to the past, launching his physical being back in time. The first teleport we witness places Young on an airplane to investigate a passenger who mysteriously disappeared mid-flight, but he gets more than he bargained for, as there are numerous events afoot.
D4 is designed to work with Kinect. Most of the gameplay is serviced well with simple hand waves and easily recognizable arm gestures. But even the most basic of actions proved problematic at times. I ran into a number of instances where Kinect would lose sight of me, or my hand would bounce across the screen in a way that made it seem like I was playing during an earthquake. Kinect adds a layer of fun to the action sequences – such as performing a motion to swing a bat – but I found the controller to be a better fit. Playing this way loses some of the zany, arm-waggling flair, but at least it’s reliable.
The gameplay doesn’t require much input. Young cannot be controlled outright; he can only move to specific locations in the environment. Much like Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, most of the interactivity in these areas is tied to mundane actions. Among these, he can eat food, turn on the TV, knock a squirrel off of his windowsill, and read hockey magazines (there's a surprising wealth of hockey content in this game). Most of these actions, as odd as they sound, provide story context (through Young's inner thoughts) or boosts to his stamina, vision, and health – three meters that you really don’t have to worry about if you are interacting with a fair number of objects.
Outside of searching for clues tied to the mystery at hand, the missions Young undertakes don't offer up much excitement. He is sent on uneventful fetch quests, and is sometimes asked to observe a specific number of things within a set amount of time – such as airplane windows or the carpet. Side activities fall flat as well, asking Young to catch falling clovers in a weird minigame, and answer numerous airplane-based trivia questions. These gameplay segments all too often feel like filler material designed to expand the length of the game, and are not fun or integral pieces that advance the story.
After enough clues are found at a scene, Young makes a startling revelation tied to the case, which usually leads to an elaborate action sequence unfolding. Both over-the-top and surprisingly violent, these sequences are visual treats that deliver different success and fail states depending on your ability to move your arm correctly or press buttons before time expires. The game does a great job alerting players when they must interact with the action. Slow motion is also used effectively in these moments to ensure the player can easily pick up the onscreen prompts and not miss any of the chaos that is unfolding. And you'll want to see all of it. Access doesn't hold back from loading these moments up with weird spectacles.
These spectacles are often tied to other characters, some of the most colorful I’ve seen in a game. One character is an oddly tall man who holds a fork and knife and talks so slowly that it almost seems like a joke Access is playing on the player. Another character has a relationship with a mannequin. Most of the story is delivered through Young’s conversations with these bizarre personalities. Big laughs come from these interactions, and all of the relationships are nurtured well within the plot.
The narrative hooks are numerous and capable of sinking in nice and deep. I can’t wait to see where this crazy tale goes next in the forthcoming episodes. Hopefully less of my time is spent on needless action, and more of it is focused on the case and characters.
D4's initial release includes the prologue and the first two episodes for $14.99. More episodes are on the way at an unspecified date.