We ask different things of different games. While there are the AAA Skyrims, bulk stocked with content, mechanics, and hilarious glitches, there are also the sublime gratifications of Pongs and Puzzle Bobbles, which deliver as much satisfaction as the player can siphon out of their simple gestures. There are complicated concepts and there are basic concepts, and the arm space for enjoyment isn’t limited to the numbers of words required to describe how to play them. Shawn McGrath has been working on the new PSN game, Dyad, for several years now. In terms of complexity, Dyad is neither here nor there, but it sure is a trip to somewhere else.
Dyad is not explicitly a racing game, but time is of the essence and it is your intention to move forward. You are not a car or a runner, but an orb with abstract, tentacle limbs, which latch on to “enemies” in order to thrust yourself forward. Weapon wise, the only thing at your disposal is “lancing” yourself, piercing face (?) first into enemies while also hurdling onwards. In order to gain energy for lancing, you must play chicken with the enemies after prodding them with your hooks; inching in close enough to harvest energy but not smacking them and getting sent backwards a few inches. In order to make the most of your lance, you need momentum, which can be earned in a multitude of ways depending on the conditions of the level. The entirety of the game is built on these two fairly simple actions, but simple things get hard as conditions wind up and the bleeding stimuli becomes more invasive.
If it hasn’t become obvious from the techni-glorious screenshots or the hyper-delirious, tunnel vision video previews, Dyad is a game that will make a handful of gamers feel very, very old. The speed of visual assault makes Dyad appear to be a deceptively more complicated outing than it actually is. Opening with a well earned epilepsy warning, Dyad offers several hours of synaesthesia the likes of which will flirt with Rez and Lumines fans, but will frustrate those looking to nail the leaderboards the first time round.
There is a lot of visual clutter. It doesn’t degrade the play, much of the play depends on this eye-candy. At times, the game cheekily seems to know just how much the colour clouding messes with you, but all the same it can feel like you’re in a delirious blur of neon decadence, which makes even the game-iest concepts at hand difficult, like gauging your own speed or recognizing how much invincibility remains. Sometimes it doesn’t feel quite worth it, when the pallet and sounds are decaying in on each other in to some horrifying, rogue mess. But sometimes there are glorious peaks, curve-balled and magnificently directed sequences when the game suddenly switches gears and persuades you down a wondrous rabbit hole where you control so much but feel powerless to the game’s smarter command.
There are 27 stages in Dyad, each have their own conditions in regards to goals and the very, specific type of enemies which can help you or hinder you with those goals. These goals are also the criteria for your high scores, the package making sure to stir up the same concepts to keep things constantly refreshing. Getting a high enough score in the main level unlocks a secondary challenge stage, which ups the often already high ante. If you fail to get full stars, beating the level flat gets you access to a remix mode, which lets you customize each stage’s audio and visual factors to play as long as you want just as you’d like. Often the game feels like it rebounds back into a tutorial, and despite the new elements the basic rhythm of the game can feel like it’s hitting the same beats. The visuals and music don’t always change drastically enough to match the fluctuating goals. But oh, those moments.
If the first image that comes to mind from 2001: A Space Odyssey is Keir Dullea plummeting in to a red, wired room, the second is likely the same astronaut sifting down a tunnel of spectral intensity. This is, and will be, soon the immediate visual point of reference for the zeniths of your Dyad trip. Streams of lucid forms rushing towards you, while you navigate the visuals with rather finite controls. Dyad is in a new middle ground for games of this scale. Not entirely the daydream of Rez but also not the music-based point grab of Frequency, the experience is an organic hybrid for players getting tired of either route. Dyad could have used a bit more control, struggling with your own vision can be a chore and the moments where leash-held direction feel so much more prominent than the usual where music and pallets make you wonder if your television is going to break, but it’s a ride down a heavy tunnel you shouldn’t miss.
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