Product Type: Mazoom PC games
Newest Review: ... as well as winning several gaming awards including the Best Soundtrack award from PC Gamer a few years ago. You can even buy the soundtr... more
Deus Ex Machinarium!
Member Name: cheffrey
Date: 11/12/11, updated on 12/12/11 (43 review reads)
Advantages: A charming, creative, imaginative game
Disadvantages: The Flash bug deletes savegames
However, the jaded old cynic in me is sometimes surprised and delighted, as occasionally a game will come along and remind me just how good video games can be. 'Machinarium', by indie developers Amanita Design (I even love their mushroom based name) is such a game, and is a truly wonderful experience.
Revisiting the now almost forgotten genre of 'point n' click' puzzle adventure gaming, Machinarium is a bold move in the current noisy market of first-person shooters. Playing out like a silent cartoon, the game revolves around the story of a nameless protagonist robot, waking up in bits in the junkyard outside the rusty city of Machinarium, which plays home to a population of robotic inhabitants. Although there is no dialogue, the story is wonderfully told through a series of 'thought' bubbles and flashbacks. It would appear that a bunch of bully boy robots have dumped our likeable protagonist there, separated him from his girlfriend and generally been obnoxious to all the other robots they met along the way. It's up to you to guide our robotic hero through the city, rescue his girlfriend, and uncover their nefarious plans to do more damage to the city of Mechanarium...
This game is wonderfully simple to play. Using just the mouse, you navigate the screens by clicking where you want your robot to go. Objects and characters that can be interacted with will glow faintly when you hover the cursor over them, so there's no need for random clicking on things to see if they are part of the scenery or a puzzle. The robot has an inventory (kept in his tummy) which can be accessed, and as his torso is a spring, he can be stretched or compressed to become tall or short as necessary. This is vital in the solving of some puzzles, and the game is driven by its series of puzzles to solve and move on to the next screens.
The puzzles vary in style and difficulty, which means they always stay fresh. They range from the familiar, such as having to beat a grumpy robot at nought and crosses (or, more accurately, 'nuts and bolts') and sliding tile picture puzzles, to working out how bizarre machines work and re-wiring them to achieve a different outcome. It is worth mentioning that all the puzzles are logical and can be figured out, rather than resorting to the frustrating or obtuse as some point 'n click puzzle games have done in the past (I'm looking at you, Discworld!).
The developers have also been quite kind to the gamer without being patronising. The menu contains two help options. The first is the 'clue lightbulb', which will provide one clue per puzzle. Using this will show your robot's desired outcome, and leave the rest up to you. The second is a journal with the complete walkthrough in there, although unlocking it requires completing a mini-game of its own. By providing these, they have given the gamer a much more satisfying and enjoyable recourse for becoming unstuck than simply googling the answer.
The most difficult puzzles may be too hard for some children, to whom this game will have wide appeal so it may be best for younger players to be accompanied with an adult to help them.
~Visuals and Style~
Machinarium is an instantly likeable game. The artwork has been lovingly put together, with a 'pencil sketched' cartoonish style. The silent comedy aspect is great, with characters brought to life with facial expressions and gesticulations - no easy thing to achieve when dealing with cartoon robots. It is very European in its feel and aesthetics, rather than Disney, but fans of the animated films 'Wall-E' and 'Robots' will find much to like here.
The characters are brilliantly drawn and created, and the backdrops are full of atmosphere and humour. Robot cats chase robot birds, rusty old robots glug engine oil in seedy bars, dustbin robots with hoovers for noses try to keep the city clean... It's a great world to lose yourself in, and it's quite capable of making the gamer laugh out loud on occasion, as well as emotionally engage with these characters.
Amanita have created a truly brilliant game here, with great puzzles, story and characters. It has been released across numerous platforms including PC, Mac and iPad, and since it isn't graphics intense pretty much any computer can run it without the need for huge amounts of RAM and expensive graphics cards. The developers have also done away with the draconian DRM that plagues current PC games, realising that it doesn't stop piracy and alienates the legitimate users. It also means that should you wish to sell your physical copy afterwards you can, rather than being lumped with a game that cannot be sold secondhand. This is a welcome step in the right direction; the bigger games companies should take note.
It is available to buy direct to disk, via Steam, and there is also a lovingly packaged DVD version too. It's also very cheap, costing no more than £10.
However, there is one real problem with this game. There is a very annoying bug that affects a large percentage of users, leaving them with their saved games wiped after closing the game down. As it is programmed in Flash, many web browsers with enhanced protection will wipe any temporary files associated with Flash. This can be rectified by altering the settings, or making a backup of the .sol files before you exit the game. Alternatively there is an archive of saved games on the Amanita site forums which can be downloaded and dropped into the appropriate folder on your hard drive. It's a fairly quick workaround, but an annoying one that shouldn't be in there.
Overall, this is a real gem of a game, made by people who care about their creations and pour imagination, humour and soul into their work. I hope that Amanita stay independent and release many more great works in the future, and don't fall victim to the trend of releasing homogenised mush that large games development houses churn out with nauseating frequency.
P.S. you can try it out before you buy it at their website here:
P.P.S I've just noticed that the game comes with the soundtrack supplied as well, and it's fab. Not only does it suit the cartoon pathos of the game's mood perfectly, it's also great to listen to in its own right. Strange electronica mingles with moody jazz, downbeat reggae is jumbled up with hip-hop beats and ethereal woodwind in bizarre clanking time signatures come in and out like steam escaping from the engine of the robot city. It's a bit like Miles Davis meets Frank Zappa, produced by DJ Shadow. Sort of.
Summary: A truly wonderful puzzle game that will appeal to all ages