Too Long; Didn't Play: The Dream Machine

Sponsored By: RGNinja

Time Dreaming: 78 minutes

Dream Weaver Review

Good, old fashioned nightmare fuel.

REM Review

I like it when game developers try to incorporate non-digital art into their games. Sometimes you get something like The Neverhood, which used clay to create a world with amazing character, or Blue Flamingo, which used matchbox cars* to build a sense of scale and lighting I’ve never seen in another game.

And sometimes you get The Dream Machine, which uses clay and cardboard to create pure nightmare fuel.

I mean, good grief, just look at those character models. They have no eyes, just a pair of hollow sockets peering out at the world. Early in the game, one of the main characters remarks that another character gives her the creeps, and I wanted to ask, “How do you tell?”

The artwork is fitting, though, because The Dream Machine is a game about nightmares. You play as Victor Neff, expecting father and all-around terrifying person, who finds out that he and his equally terrifying wife have moved into an apartment building owned by an extremely terrifying man with some secrets.

Since this is a point-and-click adventure game, I won’t give you much more detail than that. Point-and-Clickers are mostly about the story, after all, and The Dream Machine is no exception. I will say that the story turned out to be a great deal more interesting than I initially seemed, which I suppose isn’t all that surprising given the history of the genre. Praising a point-and-click adventure game for the story is like praising a bicycle for having at least one wheel. Whoop-de-doo! You’ve got one-half of the things that define your product. Nonetheless, I have to give credit to The Dream Machine for having a genuinely interesting wheel spinning for it.

But a bicycle with one wheel is a unicycle, and an adventure game with only story is a movie. The other wheel, metaphorically speaking, is made of puzzles. The Dream Machine’s puzzles are, unfortunately, mostly stock-standard adventure game puzzles. You pick up a thing, and combine it with another thing. Maybe you’ll combine it with two things, and at least once you combine it with three things, but that’s the extent of it.

The game feels like razor blades in the early 2000s, before Gillette discovered how to put four blades into an overpriced cartridge. I wait with bated breath to see if they can figure out a sensible puzzle that combines five things. I’ll be bating my breath for a while, though (I’m a master at it by now, wokka wokka), because while The Dream Machine has figured out how to combine four items, it’s still missing the boat on the whole “sensible” part – unless your logic is “just cram everything you currently have in your inventory into one place,” which is, now that I think of it, fairly typical of point-and-click adventure games.

Who decided that was ok, by the way? Did someone at Sierra or LucasArts decide that logical puzzles were too hard to make challenging, so they decided to make them random instead? Sure, make the solution to that puzzle combining a butter, peanuts and an army helmet. Nobody will figure that out, and we’ll all get rich selling Prima guides! Muahahaha!

Except this is the internet, and there’s always at least one person with more time than sense who’ll make a spreadsheet of every possible combination of every item in the game just for fun, and then post it to UHS-Hints.com, and your whole business model goes down the crapper.

Where was I? Oh, right: Puzzles. The Dream Machine’s puzzles are not particularly unique for the genre, but they are serviceable and I only needed to consult a walkthrough for one puzzle (I’ll let you surmise which one. Here’s a hint: I spent nearly 200 words mocking it.)

Which brings us back to the art, which is the third part of the adventure-game bicycle and where my analogy completely collapses. As terrifying as the character models are, the game’s art design is cohesive and fits the story and puzzles extremely well. I will also give them credit for this: Two chapters in, and I haven’t encountered a single pixel hunt. For that alone, The Dream Machine deserves some kind of medal.

Will I keep dreaming my li-ife away?

Well, I only received chapters 1 and 2 as a gift, and I’m almost done with chapter 2. Chapters 3-6 are out, but I’m not sure I’m enjoying it enough to shell out the money for it. I mean, I could go back and play The Silent Age again and not only wouldn’t it cost me a dime, but it wouldn’t cause me any nightmares from those hollow eye-sockets peering out at me.

Is it the Dark Souls of Point-and-Click dreamscapes?

As I mentioned above, I only needed to check a walkthrough once, and that was for a completely nonsensical puzzle that presented no clues that I could find anywhere. As Point-and-Click adventure games go, that’s pretty tame on the difficulty scale. Usually I have to check a FAQ before my first save just to get the hang of the developer’s idea of “logic.”

So it’s not the Dark Souls of point-and-click. That is, as far as I’m concerned, a selling point, but maybe you veterans of the genre feel differently.

*spoiler alert: not real Matchbox cars

Comments

Ooooh boy, was I excited to see this on the front page, because I was really curious to get your feeling on this one, DoubtingT. And I have to say, I'm disappointed!!! The first two chapters are fine, I even made it to chapter 5, but never finished it, unfortunately. Completely stalled out. Honestly, you think **that** puzzle was bad? It gets worse. Didn't help that I couldn't find a walkthrough to save my life (or my playthrough, actually).
It's different though, I'll give it that.

Eleima wrote:

Ooooh boy, was I excited to see this on the front page, because I was really curious to get your feeling on this one, DoubtingT. And I have to say, I'm disappointed!!!

I get that a lot.

You do know I kid, right? Always a pleasure to read your reviews.