If you've played any of the original games of Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro and his Access studio before, you'll know they can have a tendency to be a little odd. That much was clear as far back as Spy Fiction, and it's a strangeness that's snowballed all the way up to Deadly Premonition, the deliciously bizarre facsimile of Twin Peaks that earned itself a much deserved cult following in the years following its release. D4, an Xbox One exclusive that's to be released episodically over an as yet undecided number of instalments, is something else though. It's a surreal, hilarious and often imaginative adventure game that takes the bizarre humour of Deadly Premonition to an extreme, and it's really all the better for it.
D4 - its full title, if you're interested, is Dark Dreams Don't Die - shares more than a sense of humour with Deadly Premonition. There are stamps that tie it to its spiritual predecessors; Forest Kaysen will appear, as he does in all of Swery's own games, while less explicitly the main character's called David Young, a throwback to the protagonist of Rainy Woods before Twin Peaks' lawyers presumably moved in and it became Deadly Premonition. More importantly, though, the loving reception that Francis York Morgan's tale received gives D4 a certain confidence; after all their plaudits, it feels as if Swery and his writing partner Kenji Goda are truly comfortable with how unhinged their art can be.
And it's never been as unhinged as in this. You play as David Young, a man blessed with the ability to travel through time via his interaction with Mementos, a skill that's central to your unravelling of the mystery surrounding the death of Young's girlfriend. The episode we sit in on takes place on a passenger plane mid-flight, and it's told as a graphic adventure game that's probably best described as Heavy Rain played for laughs.
Access's contemporary interpretation of the graphic adventure is at once a little more straight than Quantic Dream's and, thanks to Kinect, a lot more offbeat. Using Kinect allows you to survey scenes with your hand replacing the traditional mouse pointer, where you can hold and grab items as well as shift your view by swiping across. You can also interact with objects too - which in this demonstration largely means shoving crew staff and passengers - and often there'll be a segue into a Heavy Rain-like gesture lent a little tactility with Kinect. Bring Young's face down to a sink and you'll have to bring both hands up to splash it with water, an act that replenishes the stamina you rely on in order to carry out in-game actions.
Kinect comes in handy elsewhere, too. Dialogue trees can be selected by reading out the answer of your choosing, tilting your head can subtly shift the camera around and you can grab items by closing your hands into a fist. This being Kinect 2.0 it's all possible while sitting down, and this being the product of a Microsoft that's doubtless well aware of how D4's target audience views its peripheral it's entirely optional, but as Young's investigations on the plane deepen and have him confronting a suspect it's clear that this is one game that's most likely better with Kinect.
The scrap is fuelled by QTEs, but they're energetic and tied in to such ludicrous on-screen choreography that most people will be laughing too hard to take offence. Suitcases cascade musically around the cabin while Young interrupts the fight at one point for an impromptu dance with a flight attendant, and the finale sees the player pick up the discarded leg of a fashion designer's mannequin friend (I did say it was weird) to kick off a baseball mini-game. With the swing delivered correctly - though it's worth bearing in mind that it's impossible to fail D4's QTEs - the ball flies across the cabin, its force knocking the suspect's eye clean out of its socket. Scene finished, and one giggling demo attendee well and truly won over.
There's still a fair amount of uncertainty around D4, with no commitment to how the pricing structure will work and no idea on how long its episodes will play out for. And with it being an Access game there are sure to be rough edges, no matter how well D4's comic-book stylings flatten them out. But with Swery seeming to have the grand backing of Microsoft and a bigger swagger in his step after the love afforded Deadly Premonition, D4 could be the unlikely game that wins a previously wary core crowd over to Kinect.