D4 Season One: Clam Chowdah

immagine-8In our open-world shooters, linear adventures and virtual sports, we almost never see our playable characters eat or drink. We see advertisements for soft drinks and walk through restaurants, but they’re hollow props meant to maintain the illusion that John Marston must stop for a bite when we’ve turned the game off. Unless the developers want to characterize someone as slovenly or offer a wall-chicken as a quick health boost, they tend to avoid any downtime at the dinner table. After all, who would care about some lousy burger when there are zombies to shoot and worlds to save?

In D4, SWERY certainly doesn’t force you to his table. The invitation only appears once you start a conversation with your ex-partner, Forrest Kaysen, and it’s clearly marked as a side-quest of sorts. However, skipping it would be a grave mistake, because you’d miss out on the following:

  • Boston accents so awful that they make Leonardo DiCaprio sound like a native
  • A husband having marital issues because of a disagreement over “clam chowdah”
  • The protagonist, David Young, endlessly breaking crackers into his soup, forming a mound that rises toward the heavens
  • Forrest Kaysen devouring five pieces of pizza, stacked on top of one another, in 2-3 bites

As you can see, SWERY has a knack for taking the mundane, day-to-day moments of our lives and transforming them into surreal, comedic outings that tower over the standard trappings of genre fiction. Suddenly, the time-travelling former detective chasing his wife’s murderer gets upstaged by a flight attendant with an encyclopedic knowledge of airplanes, or a tall man in a doctor’s outfit who holds firm opinions about cutlery. It can wear thin at times (that doctor reeeallly liiiiikes to streeeeetch things ouuuut), but for the most part, D4 knows when to move on before the scene grates on your nerves.

image_35451_940SWERY’s work is often compared to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and for good reason. Lynch also centered his plot around a homicide, but while the world yearned to discover who killed Laura Palmer, her mystery was merely a stage for its off-kilter cast of characters. Who could forget Agent Dale Cooper’s euphoric love of hot, black coffee, or the woman who spoke to her log? I wouldn’t be able to recite the investigation from memory, but even though I watched it years ago, I still remember the red room with the reverse speech in Cooper’s dreams.

Lynch and SWERY also share a deep love for Americana that surfaces in their most prominent projects. As Young and Kaysen chat about baseball over their outlandish meals, the scene oozes with a sincerity that leaps from the screen. The best bits of D4 are an examination of our culture through a visitor’s eyes; he might punch things up for dramatic effect and get a few key details wrong, but above all else, he wants to share his wild admiration by rebuilding the world as he sees it.

That isn’t to say D4’s central mystery is inert. Though this isn’t the first murder mystery with plenty of twists and turns, these first three episodes dole out the action at a satisfying pace and drop plenty of hints to keep your mind in step with David’s own deductions. The stamina meter (which effectively serves as a secondary health meter) regrettably punishes you for poking around your apartment and eventual destination, but credits are never in short supply, and there are plenty of opportunities to purchase snacks for a quick boost. Unless you’re in the midst of choking someone with the tube of an oxygen mask (yes, this actually happens), you’d have to exert effort in order to fail.

D4 was technically built for the Kinect, but if you’re one of those Xbox One owners who decided to ditch the peripheral for a cheaper bundle (like me), the controller support works fine, if a little awkward. The sticks act as your “hands,” and you end up waggling or sliding them around to compensate for the lack of detectable limbs. You’ll also want to keep your peripheral vision wide-open for the quick-time events; as always, it’s a little too easy to get caught up on the button prompts and miss the ongoing madness in the background.

The biggest problem with D4’s first season is that it’s over before you know it. It doesn’t feel paltry by any means, but like any successful series, it leaves you with plenty of burning questions and ends with one hell of a cliffhanger. I’m all too eager for answers, but the central whodunit won’t be the reason why I’ll throw in another $15 once Season 2 rolls around. Who could pass up another dinner with SWERY?