Dyad Review (PS3)
Much was made of Dyad stateside when it was first spotted last year. Creator Shawn McGarth went on record saying that “It’s a bizarre, insane, strange racing game with the weirdest music and most awesome gameplay ever”. A brave statement considering how many developers will declare their creation to be the gaming equivalent of manna. But when others start feeding the hype machine, declaring it not just a game but a “mind-altering experience”, his statement doesn’t ring so hollow.
“Experience” is an appropriate word. Its trippy visual style and musical tie ins had it sitting amongst the much lauded company of Rez and Child of Eden while the gameplay has Wipeout written all over it (in addition to Torus Trooper, a game McGarth was heavily influenced by). And yet, it’s not exactly like any of those. The game feeds success with increasingly intense visual and aural feedback as you flicker between and through enemies that roll past you down the tunnel. It gives a rush, a hit, for being successful at the game. Remember the episode of Star Trek: TNG when people were getting addicted to the new game that was brought on board the Enterprise? Dyad is a possible, real-life equivalent for it.
The game begins auspiciously enough, starting off with its basic “hook” mechanic of grabbing enemies to propel yourself forward, tying that into a tiered “do x, y times before the end of the level” goal system that makes up most of the levels. It’s simple, easy to pick up and merciful on new players who might be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds that the game throws at you. And it throws a lot of them at you, make no mistake. The seizure warning during the splash screens is well deserved. Next up is “pairing”, which gives you a speed boost when you “hook” two enemies of the same colour, dropping in a little puzzle element amongst the speed. Still simple, gradually easing players in while introducing the “race” levels. Then things get twisted a little with “grazing”, which involves to skimming past a hooked enemy to build up the power meter for the final ability, “lancing”, which launches you forward at great speed through enemies.
And that’s when the real fun starts. The colours weave and flare and you zip through levels, be it in the “race” mode or “survival” ones. The latter provides the easiest route to seeing how wild and intense Dyad can be due to the longevity of the stages, going from cosmic space baby to retina melting in a few timely presses of a button. The music ties into this as well. What starts off fairly laid back can become pulsing and frantic as you drive forward successfully, or start dropping out and becoming cacophonous if you’re failing. The bombardment from both sides hits hard regardless of how well you’re doing.
In addition to the tiered goals there are also trophies up for grabs on each level. Some appeal to me on an audio guy basis alone, such as matching pairs based on the sound they make instead of their appearance. There’s also a remix mode that lets you tailor the level to your own needs. A nice little extra touch.
As I’ve mentioned, this is an intense game. And that could also be seen as a negative as well. The jarring style of the game could understandably be off-putting to some, and Dyad is not an easy game despite its apparently simple mechanics. You can just as easily get a low from the game as you can a high. Peripheral negatives also swim around the game. The number of reviews and previews that dip their toes into drug culture references, this one included, might tar Dyad with an unfortunate association that could keep people away. The thought of it being dumped on a “Best Games to play Stoned” list is insulting. The fact that you can’t use your own soundtrack might grate on a few people as well, but to be honest Dyad’s music is so neatly tied into the games construction and mechanics that any external influences would probably ruin the whole thing.
Nevertheless, Dyad stands out with its unique mix of gameplay mechanics and natural synergy between sound and vision, and for that alone it’s worthy of your time.
8 drug-free psychedelic experiences out of 10