Along with our group-selected 2015 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as one of the year's best.
D4 gave me my first Firefly moment in a game—that feeling of, ‘Damn, this was cancelled before its time.’ I’ll have to imagine in my head what could’ve been if it was allowed to run for multiple seasons. This is an episodic game with no true ending, a three-episode arc of a fun QTE murder mystery with entertaining characters that will likely never continue in any form.
I was a big fan of Access Games’ previous cult hit, Deadly Premonition, though like most critics, I acknowledge it was a very bad shooter and flawed sandbox game. D4 takes the things that game is good at—oddball but compelling characters, offbeat humour and grim crime drama—and narrows the scope to focus on just those things, with far higher production values. The only thing it really loses is the same sense of place you get from the scale of an open-world game, but it’s worth the sacrifice. It’s basically a point-and-click adventure, somewhere in the ballpark of a Telltale game in the framework of QTEs, dialogue choices and episodic structure. But no one else could make a game like D4.
D4 follows former Boston PD detective David Young (named, most likely, after the hero of the first, Twin Peaks-ier version of Deadly Premonition, Rainy Woods) as he investigates the death of his wife, ‘Little’ Peggy. The killer is a mysterious figure known as ‘D’—and it just so happens someone called ‘D’ was flying on a plane that recently went missing after a lightning strike. David travels through time in his bathroom (!), finds himself on the plane several days ago mid-flight and begins to piece the clues together.
The bulk of the game is set on the airplane, then, and this time is spent interacting with a ludicrous array of stylish, unlikely characters and trying to figure out who ‘D’ is. It gets weirder as it goes, crossing into seemingly alternate timelines, and David later finds himself teleported to a different part of the airplane. But the real reason I enjoyed D4 so much, I realise in retrospect, wasn’t so much the airplane mystery stuff but rather the time spent in David’s apartment. It’s just a bedroom, bathroom, living area, kitchen and balcony, but it’s an incredibly detailed space that’s full of interesting interactive elements.
There are magazines on the shelves about ice hockey, letters from David’s dead wife that detail his incredibly sad backstory, fortune cookies and a record player. There’s drawers to rifle through, a fridge that’s always topped up with food, but also two people: Forrest Kaysen, Young’s former Boston PD partner, and Amanda, a cat in the form of a human woman that just started living in his apartment one day.
At any point you can put the airplane mystery to one side and just spend time here. Forrest is one of my favourite characters I’ve encountered in a game this year. He’s there to help David with the investigation, but he also cooks up food at various points through each episode when asked. This takes you to a cutscene around the dinner table, where Forrest discusses with David which city produces the best clam chowder, or Forrest’s seemingly strained relationship with his wife. While delivering detailed opinions on such matters, Forrest devours sausages and pizza in absurdly large portions—these interactive scenes are optional, but I like them a lot. I’ve come around to the idea that Forrest sees it as his job to keep David’s spirit up as he muddles through the investigation, too, and that these meals are as much about being a good pal as making sure he’s solving crimes on a full stomach. These cutscenes recharge your health, but they’re about characterisation—they mimic real friendship convincingly, and D4’s cast is well-acted and interesting enough to earn these moments.
The fact it’s unlikely I’ll get more of these little asides, or new magazines on ice hockey to read in the apartment, or indeed closure on the main mystery, is a shame. But I’m really glad D4 came to PC. This is a more mature game made by a team that’s clearly getting better at game design each time. Not to mention producing opening credits sequences. I can’t wait to see what Access makes next.