Review by Psalm51
"Games as art? Not that old hoary chestnut..."
Let me be completely open with you...There is not much to criticise with Gray Matter. If you are looking for an old-school style point-and-click adventure, then this is the game for you. Gameplay is made a little frustrating by overlapping hotspots, Chapter four is overly complex (visit the game forum to see numerous cries for help re. Chapter four) and the game seems to suffer from a minor slow-down problem in Chapter eight, but otherwise it's pretty much all good. The final puzzles are too hard for casual gamers, which can leave you feeling the game is something of a wolf in sheeps' clothing, but there are folk who like hard puzzles (fans of Myst?) so I won't subtract anything from the score for that. Perhaps the most fascinating issue Gray Matter raises is the old chestnut question...Can games ever be considered as art? I'll go over that issue in Graphics/Sound but you certainly get the feeling as the game ends that Jane Jenson (game Producer, made famous by her involvement with the Gabriel Knight games, see wiki) is testing that premise once again. For people who care, the subject was discussed and closed many years ago, but here it is back again to taunt us. As only to be expected, the game doesn't answer the question and given that it will never sell enough copies to matter, the subject will sadly go un-noticed and un-remarked on by todays gamer...
Introduction - I am not a great fan of this genre but I play one every now and again. I've played and completed genre greats Syberia and Still Life, done the same with Ankh: Heart of Osiris, Runaway: A Road Adventure and Broken Sword 2, and have even beaten Art of Murder: FBI Confidential from City Interactive. I always use a FAQ while playing point-and-click adventure games and am not ashamed to say that. Getting stuck and stumped in these games is no fun at all and I believe that this type of game should ship with a simple text walkthrough on disc. Gray Matter does not come with a simple text walkthough on disc but it does have a built-in hint facility and a quick press of the Windows button gives you access to the desktop and thus any FAQ you have copied there to consult. Job well done Wizarboz... With this in mind, some would regard Gray Matter as the "perfect" or ideal point-and-click adventure and they would be near the mark with that assessment.
Gameplay - 8 out of 10. I hope that I've got your attention now, what with my reference to games as art and the perfect point-and-click adventure! Anyway...gameplay. Well, it's point-and-click gameplay at it's best, with just a few mini-games included to provide some variety. The early puzzles are indeed quite easy and they never get too hard, until Chapter eight. You get to play as both Sam and David in the game and this aspect is well done. The game features a location colour (hint) system. If a location on the main map is shown in gold colour, then you have to visit that location to do something to advance the main story quests. There are two main quests running in parallel and you have to make progress in both quests before you can complete a chapter. Chapters end with well done comic book FMVs, so you know when a chapter is done. The game also features a progress (bar) system that can be checked at any time. Pressing the P key or clicking one of the depressions on the top LHS face, allows you to see what progress you are making in the game. Mini-games are a weakness of the game, but you get the feeling that the game was designed for a mature audience; one which would not appreciate poorly done mini-games.
Story - 9 out of 10. The story in Gray Matter is probably the best story I've experienced in a computer game. It could easily feature in a forty-five minute episode of a good TV drama. FMVs are suitably atmospheric and are an ample "reward" for completing a chapter. Each character has a diary. The diary collects pretty much everything that happens in the game and FMVs can be watched again from the diary. I found the ending to be truly epic and it came across as unexpected, but I have read that others are unimpressed with the final outcome of the story. I'm easily pleased and pleased I was with the story of both quests in Gray Matter.
Graphics/Sound - 7.5 out of 10. Ah yes...Games as art...discuss. There was a time when point-and-click adventure games were in the ascendancy and the concept of games as art was a hot topic. 3D hadn't really been invented in games and thus levels which featured well drawn backdrops seemed like the best computers could offer. Generally, 2D characters moved around these levels (think Monkey Island games, Broken Sword, etc.) but it was the beautiful backdrops which amazed us. With the advent of 3D, beauty in games has largely been replaced with function and a move towards replicating the physical world we live in, in the games we play. In other words, we've left beauty behind in favour of photo-realism and function. Gray Matter takes us back to those times, with beautiful backdrops, great music and sound and a simplicity in gameplay. Getting stuck is just as much as a bummer as it always was, but there, we can't have everything. I'd describe the graphics as "old school" but most scenes include some animation. Reflections also feature in a number of scenes and this impresses. The mood music and backing tracks are a treat, although they do outstay their welcome. As already mentioned, perhaps the biggest complaint with graphics in the game are the overlapping text for hotspots. This and the odd level that has to be traversed to expose more of it. That's pretty much it.
Play Time/Replayability - 8 out of 10. My game completion time was just less than twenty hours. That's long enough for me but you might want more. As covered in Introduction, I'm no point-and-click adventure game expert, so you might well be able to cut five-ten hours off my game time if you are. The game is eight chapters long and, after Chapter one, the game familiarisation chapter, each chapter will take you 1-2 hours to complete. In fact, Chapters four and six might take you longer than two hours and none of this takes into account getting stuck. I won't let myself get stuck (thus my need to have ready access to a FAQ/guide) but you might like that aspect. I suppose that there is some pleasure to be had in waking up in the middle of the night just to say...Eureka...as you solve the current puzzle you're grappling with. This is a pleasure I can do without; I'm just odd like that. As for replayability; perhaps not right away but maybe in a years time.
Final Recommendation - 8.5 out of 10. The Poll of the Day on the 9th March 2011 showed the demographic of visitors to Gamefaqs. Apparently, over 75% of visitors/users of the Gamefaqs site are aged 14-25. No wonder the point-and-click genre is risking rigor mortis as I can't see many gamers in that age range being attracted to the slow pace of play in Gray Matter. It is being released on both the Xbox 360 and PC platforms at the same time, but I still can't see that many units being sold. IMHO, Gray Matter represents pretty much the perfect old-school point-and-click adventure game experience. Add to that the pleasure of grappling with the idea of games as art and I don't think that you will be disappointed with this game. Move over Lara Croft...Sam is coming to get ya...(in joke!)
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/11/11
Game Release: Gray Matter (EU, 02/25/11)
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