Developer Amanita Design Publisher Amanita Design Genre Adventure Platform PC Release 16th October 2009
- I seem to say this an awful lot these days, but the great genre of point and click adventure games is pretty much a watering hole that dried up once games made the leap into the third dimension. We've seen some small resurgence of the genre over the last few years with the sadly now defunct CiNG, makers of Another Code: Two Memories/Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk on the Nintendo DS and Telltale Games, makers of the Sam & Max, Back to the Future and the upcoming Jurassic Park adventure games, being the fore-bearers of this great resistance. Sadly, as CiNG's departure shows; there doesn't seem to be a very viable market for the genre in the modern day video game industry. So this is where indie video game developers come in. Independently developed video games are a bastion for dying
genres to get a fresh new start with some innovative and sometimes crazy ideas behind them as they're more geared towards taking risks.
The Metropolis itself.
Which brings us to Machinarium, a heavily stylised point and click adventure game developed by Amanita Design. Machinarium is an amazing title, not just because it appeals to my penitent for point and click adventures, but because it's a whole game which eloquently tells it's story without so much as uttering an audible word. Not only this but it's able to quite effectively explain most of the game's puzzles in the same, muted way. It performs this feat by showing often language-agnostic pictorials and animations. I say often
because there are times in which the game can't escape from explaining certain objects or actions the player must undertake without sticking a written word or two on it. A shame, but hardly a deal beaker. Especially when the games atmosphere and ambiance us so wonderfully crafted that it captures your attention.
So I've been sounding rather pretentious during these opening paragraphs, but this is exactly what the game's like. Many will discard this game for the sole reason that it's a bit too artsy
, a game which will find a solid audience with those who wear skinny jeans or people who just love an intriguing storyline and love some "alternative
" music, which Machinarium dishes out by the boat-load. But, what exactly is the game's story about? Well, I can't say too much without spoiling things but the basic gist of the story is that our poor, unnamed robotic protagonist has been dumped on a futuristic, robotic landfill site after being carried out of a great mechanical metropolis and we need to help him get back inside, once back inside, we find some rather unsociable gentle-bots
who are up to no good and in true point-and-click adventure styling, we need to put an end to their dubious reign of shenanigans. Again, doesn't sound all that interesting, but the story's simplicity is really offset by the amount of character the game's world has.
What the hell are those things he's eating? Why do they come in minecarts? Why is a robot eating?
The game has an abundance of detail, no two scenes in the game could be considered the same, no two areas in the game repeat similar mechanics and for the most part have very distinct looks about them. Often just rolling your mouse over foreground and background objects will make them do something, be it birds which flutter about or plants that shake. It's sometimes the little details which make a big impression. Saying this, however, some scenes to lean towards being over-crowded and you can quite easily miss important or key items because they weren't clearly visible, sometimes it's just as simple as objects having a dual purpose. For instance, early in the game, you need to imitate a robot policeman, you do this by putting a blue-coloured cone on your head. So you pick up the cone from a stack and... Then what? Took me some time to realise that you had to colour the cone blue, I can tell you that much. Especailly since it wasn't made all that clear and there was nothing blue in sight in which to dye the cone with. Until you repeatedly clicked the cone stack from whence you originally picked up a cone to reveal blue paint. A nice idea and a good lesson in "click things multiple times", but could have been handled a little better. Perhaps a puddle of blue paint surrounding the cone would have been a better indication... Or perhaps it's just me. Who knows?
One of the aspects of the game is that when playing, our robotic protagonist can extend or collapse his body height. Something too tall for you to reach? Click him and drag up. Something too low to fit or reach inside? Click and drag down. Unlike other point and click games, Machinarium doesn't highlight intractable items outside a certain range of you. You'll find yourself walking over to stuff a lot in order to see if it is indeed an item you can pick up or use to make something
happen. But here-in lies a pretty big and pretty infuriating design fault. If you're extended or collapsed and try to move anywhere, the robot will walk incredibly slow
and you can't put him back to normal height unless he stops moving. So you need to click somewhere near by, usually where you were initially
, set his height back and then
go back to moving around. Other than this, the game is very slow going, animations take a good while to finish, the robot himself doesn't move all that spritely when he's at his fastest, let alone when pushing something off-screen, climbing or doing any number of actions which can get quite infuriating when you're attempting to solve a timed puzzle and it takes a good 4 seconds to get where you need to go. I'll tell you now, this game is unforgiving
with difficulty in timed puzzles.
Huh, pretty small in here...
Puzzles can be either really simple or unbelievably
difficult. Where as most games would hold players up as they complete a tedious slider puzzle, (I'm looking at you Professor Layton and Another Code) this game goes one further, having just about any logic or forethought puzzle being a complete hassle from start to finish. While there are no slider puzzles in the game, you are greeted to several incarnations of it's spirit, one being a strange three-circle rotation puzzle in which you need to light up green dots in a specific order by turning one of the three circles until eventually you get the right combination. You can blindly guess around these puzzles and get where you need to, but as time goes on, these puzzles will be the bane of this game's experience as it just drags the whole flow of the game to a grinding halt and remains there for a good period of time as you can't continue without completing the puzzle. (Infact, I don't think there's any optional puzzles in the game.) One which really
annoyed me was a "connect 5" puzzle in which you need to line up 5 screw-nuts in a row, bit like a mega game of noughts-and-crosses. The AI behind this is sadistic, never giving you a chance while often out-right cheating. I'm not sure if the logic behind this puzzle is faulty or I'm missing something, but often at times the AI has won with only 4 screws in a row, sometimes I've managed to get 6 nuts in a row and not won (although the solution may very well be "5 and only 5 in a row", suppose this is where simplistic, pictorial based rule-explanations come to bite you). There's also a puzzle at the end of the game which is timed and you don't have an awful lot of that time to find the right solution.
If you ever get stuck on a certain part, the game is more than willing to let you see a solution by clicking the book icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen. This book will give hints and solutions to the puzzles in that area, but every time you need to access it, you need to play a crude, randomly generated side-scrolling shooter. It's a nice touch, especially if you're not quite an adventure game aficionado. Still, the barrier to enter these solutions is pretty low and can suck all the challenge and intrigue out of the game. Although if you ever need hints for the really difficult puzzles, like the aforementioned connect-5 game, then you're out of luck, since the game just gives you "the solution" without any way of getting to it. The game also makes an awful lot of assumptions and some broken logic to make some puzzles work, although they're nothing new for adventure games of this nature.
Sort of creepy as well, it's like a landfill cemetery... Since you know, they're all machines.
The game is sold, pretty much, on it's looks. The gameplay and the story are pretty barebones, so it's one of the rare times where playing the game is all about looking at pretty visuals and solving puzzles, which often revolve around said pretty visuals. The game's surreal, dystopian metallic metropolis setting has a quaint charm about it, from the grungy, bleak look of the city and it's inhabitance is the biggest character in the game. Unfortunately, our protagonist, the little unnamed robot we control is perhaps the thing we care least
about in the game. Not sure if this was done purposefully, but despite his animated expressions and sense of urgency, all I see him as is a conduit to help far more interesting characters in the game so I can push forward, and that irritates me. This main character is integral to the game's plot, especially from the player's perspective, yet he seems so disposable and lifeless. I can't quite put my finger on why that is.
The game's soundtrack is frankly amazing. A mix of calming, light techno music really sets the tone of the game. "Surreal" and "laid back" is how I would describe it to you. Sometimes you'll just find yourself sitting in one area for a while listening to the music, and you'll often have to stop in that one area since the game is full
of unique music for almost every area of the game. Again, helping with that all-important charm which the game really hinges on. Sound effects can get a little annoying at times, since there only ever seems to be two sound effects for robots walking but other than this, the game's soundtrack does a very effective job at holding your attention. Although your mileage may vary depending on how much of an audiophile you are.
I wonder if they found Google's Android OS insulting? Ah, well this may answer that.
In the end then, Machinarium is a flawed but loveable title, especially for an independently developed game and while I hated -- with a passion -- some of the puzzles in the game, they don't bring the whole game down with it. It does throw up a huge barrier for replaying the game as you never want to go through those hellish puzzles again, but for the most part, you'll enjoy the experience. The game's just a smidge under £8 on the Steam store
if you're interested and there's even a retail special edition with a load of goodies thrown in if you love the game that much. Oh and if you're worried about being stuck on a PC or laptop to play the game, it's coming to a whole bunch of consoles and portable devices including the Playstation 3 and the iPad in the later part of 2011. Trust me, if you like point and click adventure games, Machinarium's well worth your time.