Gray Matter PC DVD
Published by dtp entertainment AG
Developed by Wizarbox Studios
Few names in the adventure game genre can be as important as Jane Jensen. She is both an accomplished author and creator of the impressive Gabriel Knight series, Jensen is considered as something of a legend in the genre and as such her latest title, Gray Matter has been eagerly awaited by most adventure game fans. In many respects Gray Matter is just what you'd expect from a Jane Jensen adventure game. It has a solid storyline, with a paranormal flavour and some interesting main characters too. The only thing Gray Matter is guilty of is not really bringing many new ideas to the genre and considering the wait for a Jane Jensen adventure, that's just a little bit disappointing.
Gray Matter puts you in the shoes of young Samantha Everett, a magician who is on her way to London. Things don't get off to a great start however. Unfortunately Sam ends up heading for Oxford rather than London thanks to a misleading road sign, which has spun around in a thunderstorm, and not long after taking a wrong turn her motorbike breaks down. In the distance she can see a large house and decides to push the now useless motorbike up to the house and find help. On arriving at Dread Hill House, she witnesses something rather strange. A woman approaches the house and on the intercom announces herself as Dr Styles’ new assistant and then something appears to terrify her and she takes flight. For some unknown reason Sam approaches the door and then introduces herself as Dr Styles’ new assistant and so begins a rather strange, but altogether interesting storyline. The only thing I would say against the storyline, in which you'll play as both Samantha and the rather strange Dr David Styles, is that I felt the ending could have been better. In many respects however, the storyline is enjoyable and also feels about the right length.
In many respects Gray Matter is a traditional point and click adventure game. The puzzles (which I'll come to in a moment) are genuine adventure game puzzles and some you'll encounter later in the game are quite challenging. There is no hint system on offer however, which some may view as a good thing. There's also no need to do any pixel hunting to find objects that you can interact with if you don't wish to do so. Pressing the space bar will instantly reveal all of the items you can interact with. Of course this isn't an original feature as such but it's still a welcome one. The lead characters can't die in the game and you can't ever become stuck so you're safe in the knowledge that you can take your time and explore the environments in the game without taking any risks. What I do like is that you can press the 'M' key to bring up the map screen and travel from one location to the next with just a single click. You can also press the 'P' key to bring up a 'Chapter Progress' screen which shows you how much of the current chapter you've completed in addition to showing you your progress on each of your objectives.
The puzzles in Gray Matter consist of several types but the ones that stand out are the ones that rely on magic tricks. You'll have items you need to acquire and students that you'll need to convince to 'volunteer' for Dr Styles’ experiments. In order to complete these tasks you'll need to use your magic skills. Sam has a magic handbook with includes a variety of magic tricks. You'll need to figure out which trick is appropriate to your problem and then figure out what items from your inventory you'll need. The trick is planned out first and only once you've managed to get every stage correct will Sam perform the trick so in effect you'll never see Sam make a complete mess of things and land in hot water. In many respects this is a good thing, particularly as it prevents a potential source of frustration, but it would have made for some humorous scenes during the game.
Graphically speaking, Gray Matter both impresses and disappoints. Most of the background artwork in the game is very impressive and really helps to create an immersive experience. The animation of the characters in the game is rather clumsy however but whilst it doesn't look that good it certainly doesn't spoil anything. Another disappointment is that instead of fully animated cut scenes, you are shown still images, probably in order to imitate a graphic novel style. This wouldn't be so bad if it was always clear what was going on. For instance, it's not 100% what happens to the woman who is supposed to be the 'real' new assistant for Dr Styles because and this isn't the only point in the game where the 'cut scene' events are not 100% clear because of the style that has been adopted. The amount of load screens you'll encounter is also disappointing. The load times when making the transition from one area to another are never long but I don't recall a PC adventure game where I've seen so many loading screens.
You'll have no problems following the game's storyline as Gray Matter is subtitled. The cut scene dialogue doesn't display any character names or portraits next to the text but it's obvious who is speaking. Throughout the rest of the game however you'll see a character portrait displayed next to the dialogue. All tutorial messages are shown in text. There aren't any captions in the game but none of the puzzles will prove difficult for deaf gamers. The game manual has been well written and includes some useful pointers for those who haven't played an adventure game before.
The wait for this Jane Jensen adventure game has been a long one and I'm sure many fans of hers will appreciate what Gray Matter has to offer. In short it's a good adventure game with some unusual aspects and an enjoyable storyline (even if the ending isn't as satisfying as it could have been). Is the game on a par with the Gabriel Knight titles? In truth it's difficult to say because it's always easy to look back on the games of yesteryear with fondness and be more forgiving of their faults. I would say that the main characters in Gray Matter aren't as interesting as those in the Gabriel Knight games but I appreciate what Gray Matter does differently. For anyone who enjoyed the Gabriel Knight games however, Gray Matter is easy to recommend.