by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
When Shawn McGrath sat down to design Dyad, I would be shocked if hallucinogens were not discussed. Not using them, mind you, but rather recreating the most colorful, guilt-free acid trip possible. Experiencing Dyad immediately brings back memories of reading Go Ask Alice. In it, the author describes losing herself to a hallucinogenic bliss, fading away into waves of color that she could hear as well as see. In the wormholes of Dyad, I lost myself in that same way, honing in on the bells and chimes of colored particles. I faded into the pulses of the music and gave myself to racing through its vibrant walls. Dyad is a tough game to describe, but it is absolutely one to be experienced.
Its roots trace most firmly back to Atari's 1981 classic, Tempest. Like that game, Dyad is a tunnel-racer that allows you to slide along its walls, dodging and dispatching enemies as you go. Dyad, however, is distinctly non-violent. You play a particle of light and rather than destroy enemies, you “hook” onto them to propel yourself forward. The game rewards you for matching colored pairs with a burst of speed. The pace, however, and ultimately the difficulty, are completely in the hands of the player. Playing slow is a reasonable tactic for decreasing the difficulty, and still allows you to unlock levels, but loses the wonderful sense of speed.
Velocity is exhilarating but also dangerous. Colliding with other particles slows you down and can even prevent you from completing objectives. The faster you travel, the harder the game becomes. Later, when you receive the “lance” ability, the collision penalty is temporarily removed and you rocket forth faster than ever. Even then, the invulnerability is fleeting and careful attention is required to survive. Early on, you will likely be surprised at just how intently you watch the game. The sense of speed is astounding. Colors bloom and blend into one another all while continuing to shift with the level's soundtrack.
Part of the genius of Dyad's design is that it builds upon itself. New concepts, such as hooking and lancing, are introduced early but are applied in progressively more challenging ways throughout the game. By the end, achieving even a single of the game's three star rating will require you to use all that you've learned, every system, while also paying keen attention to the particles coming your way. Some should be avoided, others focused on, and still others simply grazed from zip-line to zip-line (think speed tracks within the tunnel).
Since there is no narrative to speak of, the entire emphasis is on earning the best score possible against each level's unique challenge. Earning three stars is only the starting point since your performance is instantly ranked on a global leaderboard. At one point, I made it my business to climb these rankings, but try as I did, I never broke the middle-hundreds. In chasing high scores, Dyad is similar to a puzzle game. Each level must be approached as a series of problems. Finding the key to each section is what allows scores to soar, but figuring them out is steeped in trial-and-error. It would even tread into repetitiousness if not for the game's wonderful soundscapes.
Mesmerizing audio-visual experience, smart build-up of challenges.
Disappointing achievement system.