[Game Review] The Dream Machine

The award-winning point and click adventure game, The Dream Machine, releases its final chapter on Steam today! To celebrate finishing a game in development for 8 years, they discounted the games on Steam and you can save up to 60% in buying the bundle, which gives you the entire series.

The Dream Machine is inspired by the research of John C Lilly, (who studied the brain and the nature of consciousness) where you play as Victor Neff, who just moved in to a new place with his wife and later discovers an eerie note about the apartment and finds that a machine is watching and tinkering with each of the resident’s dreams, including your wife’s. It is your job to purge each resident’s dream to save them from The Dream Machine.

“It is built by hand using materials such as clay and cardboard.”

I’ve gotta say, this game looks incredible, and it also is animated so seamlessly. The sets look amazing, and I cannot imagine how much time it took to really develop, and to add intricate details to the many backgrounds of the game. There is so much variety and creativity experienced in each explored dream, and to remember that it was all hand crafted just blows my mind. The people they have carved out all match the overall look and theme as well; their faces take different geometric shapes, and look almost scary but also become something you warm up to over time.

It tackles dark and mature themes, and sometimes I get anxious of what might happen next, not because of any horror elements or the graphics, but because of the plot. Many people have moments of waking up and wondering why they dream about certain things, especially when the dreams do not make sense, and here you get to learn about people and experience their dreams via this game. There never really is an ending or resolution in most dreams, because what happens is you wake and sometimes forget what you dreamt about. I’m still waiting for chapter 6 to see how this all ends (and they left it at a very intriguing cliffhanger). Playing chapters 1 through 5 felt like a dream, too, always wondering where it would take me next, which I think is witty, since the menu screen (the featured image of this article) is a photo of a sleeping Victor Neff.

Gameplay

A puzzle-adventure game usually means you will need to explore and analyze situations to solve problems posed to you in order to progress. I never once questioned why the puzzles are the way they are with The Dream Machine, because there was always a reason to solve them. The Dream Machine was able to accomplish making such a natural flow between puzzles while simultaneously telling the story at a good pace, which is a breath of fresh air versus similar story-based puzzle games that have you running around longer for no apparent reason than to just give you a hard time, which robs the player and the developer of time that could have been saved by giving a game more credibility vs. puzzles that do not make sense nor progress the story.

Playing the puzzles sometimes leaves you blank, and you resort to checking on a walkthrough (and sometimes dealing with the frustration of not feeling smart enough to advance without having to resort to a cheat sheet). I sometimes stop because I get frustrated, but I still come back to finish it, because the plot really just pulls me to keep playing, even if the issues I have with it are sometimes bugs (that are usually resolved when the game is restarted, however it would be better not to have them altogether). The autosave feature saves you from the horror of losing chunks of your progress, though I sometimes forget it exists since it is the last slot in the save/load screen.




Sounds

Probably my all-time favorite SFX from the game is the sound of Victor’s footsteps. It’s always different depending on the kind of ground he walks on (and somewhat satisfying to listen to), and there also was never an out-of-place moment where I recognized a similar sound effect played in different scene. As I have emphasized, the developers worked very hard on making the game immersive and natural, and they did a very good job of it. Even moving away from certain rooms that play music doesn’t stop the music, it makes it sound a bit muffled, and it works really well at simulating reality in a game about dreams.

I noticed some spelling errors a couple of times during my play-through, nothing so bad, it was actually almost unnoticeable, however it’s really just the bugs that are frustrating sometimes, I’ve posted some screenshots on it, but the developers continually update the game for bug fixes which fixes my issue with it, though the game crashed once, and I had to redo quite a lengthy part. This was a game I never expected to have to be honest, I also did not expect to enjoy it so much, and I have Tim Wetzel of the Indie Bros to thank for introducing this game to me, and I am proud to share it.

Rating: 9 / 10

The Dream Machine won an award at the 2011 Into the Pixel art exhibit, and indiePub’s 2010 Independent Game Developers’ Competition.

It was fun to share some snippets of my play-through on Instagram, and I had a couple of people tell me the game looked really good and inquired about it. It’s really worth your time, so if you’d like to purchase it (now is a really good time to), you can find details on their website, or on Steam. It’s playable on both Windows and Mac, and can also be played on your browser (just access the website, make an account, and click “Play”). If you want to follow the development, you can also check out Erik and Anders’ (of the Cockroach, Inc.) blogspot.

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