The Dream Machine: A Point and Click Masterpiece
It is a strange thought that developers are still finding new and curious ways of creating video games, even now in 2017. One such developer is Cockroach Inc, who has made a unique point-and-click adventure out of clay, cardboard and other such materials.
The Dream Machine is an episodic game that began development back in 2008 by a two man team. Its first two episodes released way back in 2010. It was only on May 11th, 2017 that the long-awaited final chapter of the game released.
The art design, plot and atmosphere of this game are all quite unique, while its gameplay is far more traditional of the point-and-click genre. While it is an outstanding game, there are a few issues that hinder it from receiving the top score.
A written plot that falls short at the last hurdle
In The Dream Machine, you take on the role of Victor Neff. Victor and his pregnant wife Alicia have just moved into a new apartment and are getting settled in, hoping to start a new and quieter life. That dream is cut short when they find that something is very wrong with their new residence and its owner.
Victor must seek answers to his many questions, and embarks on a journey far from anything he could have ever expected. To say anything further about the plot to The Dream Machine would only serve to ruin what the first two chapters have in store for the player.
What I can say is that to begin with, the plot seems very simple -- perhaps even a bit uninteresting. It revolves around completing daily tasks that pretty much everyone has to go through when moving house, along with learning a bit more about Victor and his wife.
It isn't until the very end of Chapter 1 that things take a dark twist and the intrigue really kicks in. From Chapter 2 onwards, the story continues to kick it up a notch and keeps the player gripped as more of is revealed to them. It is, however, the final chapter of the game where the narrative trips up and stumbles in its very final moments.
While the ending to The Dream Machine wouldn't bother someone who only played the game as of the final chapter's release (like me), those who waited years for it may be disappointed. I won't spoil it, of course, but I will say that for a game which has so much creativity and imagination put into it, the ending just isn't on the same level.
I knew the kind of ending the developer was aiming for, but I expected something a bit more unusual than what was delivered after everything I had experienced prior to that -- and it left me feeling slightly underwhelmed.
Despite its hiccup of a conclusion, though, the plot to The Dream Machine is one of intrigue, with good writing and excellent imagination that will please any fans of the genre.
Traditional point-and-click gameplay
Anyone who has played any modern point-and-click adventures should feel right at home when it comes to the gameplay of The Dream Machine. Throughout your adventure, you will need to talk to characters, interact with the environment, collect items, and solve puzzles.
The dialogue and interacting with the characters is one of the highlights of this title. While a lot of games in the genre can have moments that are very heavy on exposition, The Dream Machine keeps a good balance between its dialogue and gameplay. Never does it feel like exposition is being rammed down your throat, and it is never long before you are back in control and exploring the world again.
As for interacting with the environment, that is similarly well-designed -- as everything which can be interacted with is always in view. You don't have to hover your mouse over the screen looking for something that is barely visible.
As for the puzzles, they are well-designed and fun to solve. There are a few that would be considered a point-and-click cliche, like the sheet of paper to get a key puzzle. Aside from that, though, the puzzles are all logical and can be solved with a bit of brain power and patience.
Overall The Dream Machine doesn't do anything to reinvent the gameplay of the point-and-click, adventure but it does execute the traditional gameplay of the genre perfectly.
A unique art design with amazing atmosphere
What sets The Dream Machine apart from every other video game out there is its unique art design. As mentioned in the introduction of this review, all the visuals of the game are made entirely out of clay, cardboard and other everyday items.
While a similar art design was used in the development of The Swapper from 2013, it was The Dream Machine that invented this style. It gives the game a unique atmosphere to it that no other can quite deliver. Even in moments of calm like when Victor has breakfast with his wife, there is always this sense of unease.
There is no mistaking that it redefines how the visuals of video games are made. But developing a game like this comes at a great cost. Due to everything you see being made by hand, the time it takes to make the game is excessive -- and this ultimately led to the long periods of time between each episode. So there is an advantage and a disadvantage to its design.
With that said, there is never a point in the game that it isn't visually appealing. Through the entirety of the game, I was in awe as new and incredible sights were revealed to me. If you are looking for a game that does things a bit differently from an artistic perspective, The Dream Machine is certainly going to take your interest.
A point-and-click masterpiece
I actually feel bad giving this game a 9 as opposed to a 10. It's beautifully designed, well-executed, and everything you could hope for from a point-and-click adventure. The problem is that its best feature, the innovative art style, is also a bane that created long gaps between episodes.
The conclusion to the plot was also not as fitting as it could have been. If I had waited seven years for it just like many have, I would have been even more disappointed with it. Make no mistake -- despite its downfalls, The Dream Machine in its entirety might very well be one if not the best point and click adventure game to date.
Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided to the writer for the purpose of this review.