Review: The Dream Machine – A Surreal Stop-Motion Point and Click Adventure
|Game Name:||The Dream Machine|
|Platforms:||PC, Mac and Linux, (provided your browser supports Flash Player 8+)|
|Developer(s):||Erik Zaring and Anders Gustafsson|
|Genre(s):||Point and Click, Adventure|
You play as Victor and Alicia, a couple who’ve just moved into a new apartment. While trying to get settled in, they soon discover that all is not as it seems in the quiet, unassuming apartment building…
What We Think
Among the dozens of interesting games I saw at IndieCade 2011, I happened to stumble upon one of the finalists in a quiet back corner room where a few computers were tucked away, though their screens were being washed out by the sun blasting through a window in the later part of the afternoon.
Liking stories that explore the landscape of the subconscious and dream-states, and a long time fan of “Psychonauts,” naturally, I was immediately intrigued by the name “The Dream Machine” and then subsequently delighted by its unique look. The graphics you see, comprise hand-made stop-motion animation of clay, Popsicle sticks and other found items handled with painstaking care that would make the Quay Brothers blush.
To quote the developers:
“In order to differentiate it from most other games out there we decided to steer as far away from all things polygonal/vectoral, and are actually building all the environments, props and characters out of materials like clay and cardboard.”
The amount of creativity, and time that went into this is unlike any other I have yet seen. Whereas Telltale adapted the famous claymation franchise Wallace and Gromit for the PC with 3D graphics resembling clay, Dream Machine is literally to claymation what Dragon’s Lair was to Saturday Morning cartoons, except that it has much greater interactivity than the cut-scene style of Bluth’s standup arcade title. But I felt the same sense of awe as I did then.
Once I got to play a few minutes of the game I knew I was in trouble. The creepy vibe and fascinatingly mysterious story had me hooked. It wasn’t until tonight I was finally given the chance to play the first three chapters, and I can tell you that what worked in the first only gets better with the following chapters.
Beginning on a deserted island, you are taken on a journey through a surreal dream-like world, trying to solve a mystery that gets ever stranger and dire. The creepy vibe of the characters, are only made ever more captivating by the taut, but pensive ambient soundtrack that plays behind it. The music deserves a second mention; it really helps put you in the vibe of being in the dream world, that subtly and gradually becomes a nightmare.
The game is quite challenging, but not impossible, and with a little time, (and verbal brainstorming I had to do aloud), I pushed my way through the puzzles that appear within the narrative progression and often require surprising and imaginative solutions.
I want to give nothing away about the plot so I won’t delve into story points, but I believe it took me a total of three hours to finish the first three chapters, and those three hours had me at the edge of my seat and exclaiming aloud in angst when I arrived at the words TO BE CONTINUED that finally appeared across my screen.
Again bear in mind that I only played the first three chapters which are all that has been released thus far. More chapters are in production.
The HUD is clean, modern and nicely executed. Everything from my inventory to dialogue was well placed, easy to read, and never got in the way. From a mere design perspective, Dream Machine was a pleasure to navigate and interact with.
This game gets 5 out of 5 stars for me: one for the plot line, brilliant, interesting, smart, captivating. One for the one-of-a-kind animation that is a character all its own – for the fact that it is so refreshing to see true art in motion in an indie game – true artisty in playable form. One for the whimsically mysterious, and sometimes hypnotic music that helps teleport you to the world of the Dream Machine and maintain the texture and tone of the game even as you migrate from daydreams to nightmares. One for the clever and challenging goals you must accomplish, that get increasingly difficult, but never so frustrating as to make you want to quit.
In other words, they were very balanced with a nice progression. One for the fact it kept me hanging, entertained, captivated and left me excited thinking about the world and characters long after it was over, just like a great bedtime fable.
To get a sense of the work, craftsmanship and thought that went into this title, I recommend visiting the developers blog for behind-the-scenes photos, musings about the game logic and their workflow.
The Dream Machine can be purchased for 5 Euros per chapter or the first 5 chapters can be purchased as an “Early Bird Bundle” for 14 Euros direct from the official site which is a 20% discount (in case you suck at math).
This should be on the top of everyone’s list in 2012. Even if you aren’t a fan of Point and Click adventures (a generic category that encompasses anything from Gemini Rue to Machinarium), I can assure you “The Dream Machine” is an amazing game experience worth your hard-earned bucks.
As a special bonus, you can play the entire chapter absolutely free within your browser at the site below. (Flash 8 or higher support required).