Magic and mystery in Oxford. Nothing unusual then…
Gray Matter, the point and click adventure from the hand that created the Gabriel Knight series, Jane Jensen, has been in development for a good eight years now. Although this is unusual, but not unheard of, the passing of this time has created a slight issue for the game. The point and click genre has diminished. Sure, new titles are still being created, and some to incredible success. But for the most part, the market for games of this genre has shrunk dramatically and now consists mostly of either PC gamers who download their games from popular digital distribution portals, or console gamers who get their fix through XBLA or PSN. I can’t help but feel that Gray Matter will have it’s work cut out to succeed to any meaningful degree with boxed versions for both PC and Xbox360.
However, if you are a fan of point and click adventures, then Gray Matter has a lot to like. The story revolves around a young American girl, Samantha Everett, and is set within modern day Oxford. As begins a huge number of bad horror movies, Samantha finds herself at the door of a creepy looking mansion and ends up accepting the offer of a place to stay and a job in exchange for assisting the reclusive Professor David Styles in his experiments. Alarm bells anyone?
The story that follows is filled with mystery, intrigue and a fair dose of magic as the player takes control of both Samantha, an amateur magician attempting to gain entrance to the secretive Daedalus Club, and Professor Styles, trying to get over the death of his wife through bizarre experiments. The puzzles within the game are, unlike a lot of examples of this genre, reasonably straight forward. That is not to say that they are simple, but more that they are not completely obscure and unbelievable, at least not for most of the game. Towards the end is a whole other story. Players will be interacting with objects, finding required items and using magic skills to solve their way through anything that comes their way.
Comparing the two versions of the game, it becomes apparent quite early on that the PC version is far superior. Point and click adventures feature far more prominently on the PC than any console and there is a reason for that. The Xbox360 version of Gray Matter suffers from incredibly clunky controls. This type of game is far more suited to a mouse than a controller and using the controller slows everything up and makes it easy to overlook areas of interaction. The developers have done their best to make the controller more suitable, but it still seems to be an uphill battle.
Another difference is the way that the game looks. It is always said that PC games, given the right PC, look better than their console equivalent, and Gray Matter is no different. Whilst the game seems to be, much like the Oxford portrayed within the game, stuck in a time gone past, the Xbox360 version suffers markedly more than the PC. The settings are nicely detailed, the characters reasonably animated and the cut scenes are acceptable, but whichever version you play, the visuals match the gameplay in being slightly out of date.
Despite the apparent retro feel of Gray Matter, the game is still quite enjoyable to play. It certainly weaves an interesting story and raises a few questions of the player. Console gamers may well find the slow pace to be a little difficult to engage with and I think that the console market for point and click adventures without daft humour is a bit limited. But the PC version is undoubtedly the better of the two and I would say that is where the games’ true market is.
If you are looking for something a little deeper than the usual gaming adrenaline rush, Gray Matter may well be the game for you. But if you have the choice, please pick up the PC version over the Xbox360 version. Of course, if you are a fan of the Gabriel Knight games, or point and click adventures in general, then you will no doubt get some kicks from this title.