Gray Matter: preview

When it comes to gaming, you may think of grey matter as the wet, spongy mess that is wiped off the walls of a Gears of War or Unreal Tournament arena. Rather than letting players poke gun barrels through mushy brain goo, Developer WizarBox are working on a game where the plot focuses on neurobiology and brain experiments amongst other things.

Gray Matter is a point and click adventure game full of the usual item hunting, combining and using that anyone who has even heard of Monkey Island will be accustomed to. The main protagonist is Sam, an American ex-goth street magician who finds herself lost in the bowels of merry old Oxford. She finds herself at an old house in the middle of a particularly dreary night, and lies about being the new assistant for Dr David Styles in order to get a bed for the night.

The panties on that chest, go on, interact with them. We won't judge.

Whilst snooping around the house the next morning to try and get her bearings, she gets caught by the housekeeper and compounds the lie further to stay in good stead. From here on in, curiosity and sheer commitment to deceit means that she gets stuck in her new found persona and starts on the ‘adventure’ part of this point and click adventure game.

Fixed camera angles in each environment mean that a decent level of detail has been pumped into each setting. It’s very reminiscent of the older Resident Evil games in terms of in-game graphical style, just a lot less creepy and bloody. It plays as expected, with certain hotspots such as doors or items being clickable for interaction.

Everything in this game happens at a leisurely pace, and as such, it unwinds more like an interactive novel than a hard and fast gaming experience. This may make for a relaxing puzzler for those who enjoy a good yarn, but the lack of urgency in everything means that your character dawdles between areas. This is fine moving from one side of the screen to another, but when you have to cross multiple screens that consist of lengthy paths or courtyards, it can be a bit tedious.

Fun fact: That pub is actually an HSBC in real life.

A fair amount of magic is involved in the game, but it’s a lot less Hogwarts and a little more Paul Daniels. One of the items in Sam’s inventory is a book of magic tricks, like the one in your loft from when you were ten-years-old. The tricks are classic acts of sleight of hand and misdirection, but our plucky adventurer adapts them slightly to be relevant in a variety of situations to manipulate them to her advantage. This generally involves stealing things after convincing the mark that the item has been destroyed or creating a distraction to get people out of the room.

The mechanics involved in such tricks add a new twist in to the otherwise copy and pasted gameplay formula. A screen pops up allowing you to line up the actions for the trick, such as palming items, misdirecting the audience or poking something up your sleeve. Arrange the items into the correct order, referring to the trick instructions in the handy book if needs be and abracadabra – the conundrum is solved.

Gray Matter doesn’t so much break the mould that the genre has been set into, but it follows the ground rules to the dot. Whereas other similar games feature the occasional puzzle that appears to make no sense at all, Gray Matter actually appears to follow a logical logic. Items make sense and you won’t find yourself mindlessly clicking everything that the cursor twitches at in the hope that it all magically falls together. If you get really lost a swift tap of the space bar reveals all clickable features in an area, meaning you don’t get bogged down to the point that you are chewing your toe nails off in frustration.

As with all local pubs, they know you're not from around these parts.

The game was released in Germany last year, to what Wikipedia assures us was a positive reception. The European localised version that we have been playing with definitely looks to back this up. As a story driven mystery adventure you could not really ask for much more. It’s one of those things you’ll have to be in the mood to play and the pace to begin with seems to drag with the enthusiasm of a fallen tree. Get your teeth into it though and you’ll be itching to dig deeper and find out what lies under the next metaphoric stone to turn over.

Gray Matter will be out at the end of February and if you like your click safari adventure games rooted in reality and sans bloodshed, you’ll definitely want to give this one a look at.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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