July 20th, 2012 | By Dominic Tarason
I barely slept a wink last night, putting me in a semi-altered state today as I fired up my review copy of Dyad on the PS3 for the first time. My vision blurs at the periphery, but my reflexes remain sharp thanks to a steady intake of coffee strong enough to melt steel.
Hours pass. Many strange noises are heard – some from the game, some from the reviewer. A cat intermittently sits in front of the TV and stares, uncomprehending, transfixed by the glowing lights. I am now dizzy, slightly stunned and convinced that this is the ideal state to play Dyad in. I may also be in love.
It’s surprisingly easy to define Dyad – it’s an abstract, score-attack racing game. You control a weird space-squid-thing as it flies through a neon tunnel. The left analogue stick rotates you around the tunnel, and two buttons allow you to ‘hook’ (pulling yourself faster ahead via grabbing enemies) and ‘lance’ (thrusting through enemies, accelerating faster with each impact) your way through the various colour-coded obstacles in order to accelerate yourself further. One analogue axis, two buttons. Easy, right?
The game slowly ramps up the complexity. Almost every level introduces some new element, from a different type of scoring (go faster, cover a certain distance within a refillable limit, hit a certain number of targets before time expires, etc) to different movement mechanics and obstacle types. By the end of the game, there’s a lot of different elements all vying for attention, and your play-style will probably become quite personal, as there’s multiple approaches to many levels.
You cannot lose in Dyad, at least not at first. There is no failure state, and no Game Over in the regular playmodes. Victory is relative, both to other players online and various target times and scores. Progression is inevitable, but there’s always a new goal, just slightly out of reach. Competitive players can repeat levels, shooting for higher scores, while those just in it for the chill-out factor can activate a variety of Remix options, including visual tweaks, disabling collision detection and more, letting you play the game at your own pace, your own way.
By hitting the three-star goal in any of the normal levels, you unlock a trophy challenge version of it with much stricter victory conditions and a real chance to lose. These are genuinely challenging, and really require you to change how you play. The very first tutorial level, teaching you how to pull yourself down the tunnel faster by ‘hooking’ pairs of targets of the same colour becomes very focused, as you only have 50 presses to hook 22 pairs before you reach the end of the track, meaning you have to be both fast and precise. The controls are simple, but with 27 levels, each with a different goal and rules in play, there’s depth and replay value in spades.
Still, when I think about it, the hunt for high scores and glory just seems unimportant. While you’re playing, you sink further and further into obsession – not for score, but for speed itself. You have to go faster and faster. Each speed boost changes the music slightly, each enemy tagged adding a new tone to the soundscape, and the visuals blurring and brightening as you accelerate. It’s an addictive feedback loop, if you dig the thousand-miles-an-hour psychedelia on show.
Every single level has its own unique visual style, using a mixture of shader effects, patterns for the tunnel and enemy types used. Likewise, every track has a unique tune attached. A flexible, shifting piece of trancey electronica with layers that fade in and out depending on performance and speed, whether you’ve hit powerups to make you invincible, and whether you’ve made tweaks in the customization panel. Not every level is particularly melodious, either. Survival-type levels where you have dwindling lives or a health bar descend into dark audiovisual noise – a chaotic bombardment that makes you wonder whether your PS3 is having a seizure of its own – and completion of those stages feels like a relief. They’re mentally exhausting, but in a very cool way.
This all slowly builds up – each level teaches you to move faster, become more invincible, accelerate faster and keep accelerating more and more, leading up to a concluding level that I’d rather not spoil, but caps off the experience perfectly. I’ll say this, though: After beating Dyad, I think I know how The Flash felt, becoming one with the Speed Force.
The only real complaint that I can see being levelled against Dyad is the same that plagued so many reviews of Jeff Minter’s Space Giraffe, which is coincidentally referenced in Dyad, too. Once it gets up to speed, it become a game about picking out brief snatches of comprehensible order from a wall of visual noise. The faster you go, the higher you score, but the harder it becomes to see what’s happening, increasing the chance of colliding with an enemy and getting bumped back further. At higher levels, the game becomes a balancing act between control and orchestrated chaos. It might not appeal to some, but I have a feeling that Dyad as a whole would be lost on them anyway.
Dyad is available to buy now on the PS3 via PSN, and costs $15 for regular users, $12 for Playstation Plus subscribers. It may also allow you to see beyond the bounds of space and time itself, but that’s largely theoretical.