OXCGN’s Dyad PSN Review
You are freaking out, man
by Nicholas Capozzoli
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
A few years ago I heard a radio broadcast of Joe Rogan describing what it was like to take Dimethyltryptamine, a potent psychedelic.
Having never taken my own mind-altering adventures past good ol’ beer, I sat, enraptured, listening to the effusive description flow forth from the ex-Fear Factor host.
As Joe put it:
“Literally, you are transported into another f***ing dimension. I don’t mean like, you feel like you’re in another dimension; you’re IN another dimension…there’s f***ing complex geometric patterns moving in synchronous order through the air all around you in three-dimensional space.
And it’s like they’re arteries, except there’s not blood pumping through them there’s f***ing light. Pulsating lights with no boundaries and you couldn’t really understand it. And there’s an alien communicating with me.
There’s a dude who looks sorta like a Thai buddha, except he’s made entirely of energy…and he’s telling me not to give in to astonishment…there’s a beat like ‘WOOOO-DOO WOOOO-DOO WOOOO-DOO’ and there’s all these f***ing complex patterns moving around…and I am f***ing freaking out.
And it lasts for about 5 minutes.”
Suddenly, I had a very apt description of the face-melting gameplay that I’ve been grappling with for the past week.
Let me be clear: Dyad is not a passive experience. You can’t just put your brain in the passenger seat and watch the LSD-inspired visuals fly by.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Underneath the drug-induced veneer there’s a hardcore, high score-chasing arcade experience that rewards active, even obsessive participation.
In fact, a significant portion of the skill required to succeed at Dyad lies in one’s ability to maintain focus, to try to keep one’s hands at 10 and 2 even as the very fabric of reality seems to distort around you.
Your squid-like pointer moves down a tunnel, ever forward as a rush of colorful shapes fly towards it. Moving left or right gives the effect of traveling along the tunnel’s walls in either direction, though your own object stays pinned to the bottom center – it’s the enemies and tunnel itself that appear to rotate.
Your primary means of conveyance are actually the enemies themselves. They’re a diverse group, ranging from unassuming nodes of color to swirling curves and stars.
Most can be “hooked” with the thread-like appendages of your squid and used to vault further down the tunnel, providing you with a momentary burst of acceleration.
Dyad‘s first level limits itself to this simple move, but each subsequent stage adds a new conceit, such as hooking pairs of enemies for added boost, “grazing” in close proximity to enemies in order to build up a charge, or using said charge to hit the afterburners and destroy any units in your path.
Later stages allow you to connect enemies with a conveyor belt of sorts, or become invulnerable for small periods.
By the time you reach the last of the game’s 28 stages, you’ll have amassed a hefty array of moves to supplement your racing.
Thankfully, Dyad‘s progression is impeccably timed: you’ll never advance too far without mastering earlier techniques, but neither will you find yourself perpetually stymied by Dyad‘s difficulty.
Each stage can be completed for a rating of 1-3 stars, and you’ll find that all can at least be beaten for the lowest rating in just a couple of tries. From there, it’s all about maximizing scores.
A 3-star rating will unlock a “trophy” version of the level, so there’s incentive to shave off the necessary seconds from your runs to unlock, and then beat, these versions.
The goal of Dyad‘s levels vary. While all involve some form of racing, you’re also intermittently tasked with destroying a particular number of enemies, using a set amount of techniques, or other similar requirements.
There are a few more unique levels, too. Level 23 sees you fighting against your constantly increasing speed, much like WipEout‘s “Zone” mode (it also prompted this tweet). Another asks you to hook pairs of enemies using only audio cues.
The game’s electronica soundtrack isn’t merely background noise; every action that you take is reflected in the sounds that you hear.
Successful maneuvers can introduce drums to the track, or prevent it from upping its tempo to frenetic levels. Using your stored charge for a boosting “lance” move invokes a celebratory air horn. The audio lets you know when you’re lagging behind, or when you’re ready to use your lance.
It’s a give-and-take system in which you alternate between affecting the music and responding to its cues, and it complements Dyad‘s visuals nicely. In fact, it’s entirely possible to play Dyad sans-HUD, using only the audio and a few symbolic visual cues to aid your progression.
That’s a commendable achievement, though it’s also important to note that the music suffers a bit for the burden. Dyad doesn’t have a memorable tune to its name, and most of the tracks aren’t designed to sustain your continuous attention. Leave Dyad sitting at the “Game Over” screen, for example, and you’ll be subject to a 2-4 second repeating loop of bass that’ll quickly over stay its welcome.
Light and magic
The tunnel alternates between gossamer threads of gridded light and pulsating mosaics of colorful tiles. It’s in a state of constant flux, undulating and distorting kaleidoscopically as you careen through.
Enemies are similarly abstract masses of color, but their forms stick to easily categorized types that can typically be picked out from the background well enough.
Beautiful special effects add even more to the sensory overload, as glowing conveyor belts bond like enemies, or spinning discs of color illustrate how much invincibility you have left.
Of course, if things are going well in Dyad, you’re probably going really, really fast. Combine all that visual flair with such breakneck speeds, you might find that things can quickly go from just a bit disorienting to full on aneurism-inducing.
I’m of the understanding that this is part of Dyad‘s challenge and thrill, but know that the game can occasionally frustrate because of this. Part of the price paid for the game’s fantastic sense of speed is a loss of agency when moving at full bore.
But for most levels, the challenge is more academic. The most difficult tracks try your ability to link moves together in their most efficient combination. They’re puzzles that move at light speed.
When combined with Dyad‘s twitch gameplay, trophy levels of this kind can get brutally difficult. Many seem outright impossible at first glance.
Levels sometimes require that you come at them from new angles; slowing yourself to a more deliberate pace, or throwing yourself headlong down the track with reckless abandon can be the difference between a middling score and that elusive trophy.
At different points each approach may feel unintuitive. And though the game advises against button mashing, I found that a few levels were best approached by hammering X and devoting my full attention to trying to steer.
Yet such situations were a minority. In most cases, experimentation reveals patterns that were hidden in the tracks. Each has a meter, a rhythm that you have to attune yourself to in order to maximize your scores.
You’ll learn what enemies to hook, how to guide your eyes further down the track, how to time your dodges, and when to put the pedal to the floor and just hold on for dear life. Dyad really does a remarkable job of instruction, provided you’re willing to listen.
By game’s end, you’ll be able to pull the important information out of the flood of color and shape. There’s a certain pride that comes with being able to make sense of the spectacle.
Stay on target
When Dyad is at its most thrilling, it captures that peculiar rush that comes from being on the verge of losing control of a speeding object. I’ve experienced it in situations that run the gamut from snowboarding to plowing through a particularly difficult level in Guitar Hero.
The feeling doesn’t usually last very long, often only for a couple of seconds. But the adrenaline can make those seconds really last…you have time to marvel at your speed, then to doubt your ability to control it, and finally, to fear the impending crash.
If you manage to pull through, there’s little else like it. You can sit back and let the endorphines wash over you, basking in both the rush, and your ability to master it. It’s supremely satisfying.
Dyad manages to capture all of that. It’s a fleeting sensation, one that often gets lost among the failures and frustrations that the game will batter you with.
But a savvy player can appreciate how the sour makes the sweet that much sweeter. And that’s a good thing, because after a full week of Dyad, I think I’ve begun to taste colors.