Reviewing Gray Matter, renowned designer Jane Jensen’s spiritual successor to the beloved Gabriel Knight adventure game series, has been a difficult task. At every step of the way I’ve wanted to love this game. As it installed I had visions of the point-and-click genre experiencing a beautiful resurgence, spurred on by one flawless title that reminded us of just how great studios like Sierra and LucasArts once were at making us smile. Sadly, while Gray Matter does provide a nostalgic kick to the senses, it isn’t a perfect return.
Rather than resurrecting an old franchise, Gray Matter presents a brand new and impressively engaging story. The game follows the somewhat implausible exploits of Samantha Everett, a professional magician, and macabre scientist David Styles, who find themselves thrown together in a mysterious plot involving mistaken identities, occult dealings and hidden pasts. The eclectic plot is far-fetched but entirely enjoyable and to be expected from the mind of Jane Jensen.
Eschewing the interface made common by Telltale Game’s recent suite of adventure games, Gray Matter returns to the traditional point & click interface. While this is a clean and simple method, it feels increasingly dated set against the detailed 3D backdrops. Finding the right spot to click on can turn into a pixel hunting exercise and not being able to move Sam becomes frustrating, especially when you need to check two spots on opposite ends of the screen, forcing you to sit through lengthy animations as she skips back and forth.
In terms of its presentation, the game shines at every opportunity. The entire world of Gray Matter is rendered in amazing detail, right down to the historic Oxford streets and landmarks. The interactive backdrops are rich and vividly realised while painted slideshows make for a refreshing contrast when plot exposition is required. The light soundtrack of subtle strings and piano melodies also help build a wonderfully atmospheric air around each of the game’s meticulously created environments.
Gray Matter does fall down, however, when it comes to its voice acting. While the story is melodrama at its best, it’s hard to forgive the hammed-up voice acting. To a British player, the random, mismatched accents (which are able to span the entire country within one small pub) and sometimes cringeworthy cultural clichés break some of the magic that developers WizarBox tried so hard to create. Indeed, the whole game seems to be set in the England that only exists in the mind of American fans of Ealing comedies and the twee British stereotype.
By far the biggest disappointment, however, is in the design of the puzzles themselves. Style’s chapters are especially dull as he wanders his home and the surrounding grounds searching for mementos of his late wife. Sam’s are an improvement, revolving around her skills with magic and sleight of hand that require careful consideration but it takes time for the game to find its stride and truly entertaining challenges are few and far between.
As a trip down memory lane, Gray Matter is a welcome return to a genre many believed to be dead. However, while a thrilling story and slick visuals are enough to provide enough justification for a diehard fan, Gray Matter struggles to rekindle the old flame.
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