The 90s were the golden era of adventure gaming. Companies like Lucas Arts and Sierra, culminated with unforgettable games and shaped what makes a good adventure game. And somewhere there, we meet Jane Jensen. She created one, if not THE one, of the best adventure game series of all time. The Gabriel Knight series. So, when she announced the development of a new game, after her departure from Sierra, the anticipation was very high.
Here in Europe, it was released early 2011 and surprisingly, I wasn’t that much hyped to play it right away. But, when I decided to get my hands on it, I was blown away!! And I know one thing is certain. Jane Jensen knows how to make a good game.
Our story takes place in the English countryside in a rainy night. Samantha Everett, a street magician who wants to join the elite magicians’ Daedalus Club, lost her way – she wanted to get to London, but a gust of wind, turns the street sign and now she is headed to Oxford – and her bike breaks down in the middle of nowhere. She, then, finds herself outside the house of the reclusive famous neurobiologist, David Styles with an obsession about his dead wife and his pursuit to find a way to speak to her beyond her grave. She seizes the opportunity to pose as his assistant, when his newly appointed one flees. The game is build in the contrast of the two main characters. Magic vs science, reality vs illusion, is one of the themes we come across the game. It’s so well written that despite the slow pace of the game, you are drawn to it.
The gameplay is that of a classic point n click adventure game. 3rd person perspective, left click pick an object, right click puts the object ready for use. In the upper left screen, is the map with useful information and the chapter progress.Pressing the space bar, available hotspots appear on the scene. I liked the fact that there was not a hint system. After all, it is a adventure game, not a casual one. Also, in the inventory, is Sam’s diary/David’s diary, filled with conversations they had and descriptions of various objects. While David’s puzzles involve tasks mostly completing objectives like go to the park and go for a ride on a boat (to trigger a memory of his dead wife), Sam’s puzzles have a more interesting twist. The Daedalus riddles are more like a scavenger hunt, looking for clues and solving puzzles, while in other occasions, she has to use her wits to help herself in some tough situations. With her magician’s handbook at hand, she must complete sequences to perform magic tricks in particular points in the game.
The game graphics are exceptional. The game backgrounds are very detailed, notably the locations in Oxford are breathtaking. Richly colored and drawn perfectly! The manor was imposing and the house interior very meticulously done. Other scenes were bleak and blue toned, while other were bright and red toned. The character models are well designed, especially the game protagonists. The game videos were moving comic strips, which I found very suitable for the atmosphere the developers want to create.
And the game doesn’t only looks good, it sounds good too. Sam and David’s voices are one of the best I’ve ever heard in a game! Professional acting in its finest!! But, I did find some of the other characters’ voices rather blunt, if not bad. The music is amazing. Written by Robert Holmes, Jane Jensen’s husband and frequent collaborator, composed an ambient soundtrack, adding that melancholic vibe in the game.
I genuinely like Gray Matter. Its gripping story (bit slow paced, but slow burning too), its design, its legacy, has you hooked and you won’t stop until you finish the game. Yes, it had its flaws, but if you overlook them (there not that many), you will find yourself delving into a modern story where magic and science contradict, yet somehow intertwine. With the game ending, you are left with the hint of a sequel, but at the time these lines are written, we know that it won’t be in the near future. So, play Gray Matter and enjoy this wonderful adventure game.