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Gray Matter Preview

Back in the 90’s, the point and click genre of PC gaming was all the rage.  It was a time when four megs of video RAM was state of the art, so shooters and real-time strategy games were still rather primitive.  The technical requirements for adventure games, on the other hand were minimal; just enough horsepower to show a static background image, and one moving character.  Unlike the glut of mindless Doom clones that filled retail shelves, adventure games emphasized story-telling, writing, and characters. One of the most popular franchises was Gabrial Knight, which had three installments that ran from 1993 through 1999.

The designer and writer of this series is Jane Jensen, whose  latest adventure game, Gray Matter is her first game since Gabriel Knight 3, eleven years ago.  It is a “Modern Adventure” game that uses 3D character models on 2D backgrounds.  Players will take control of two characters over the course of the game.  The main character is a female street performer named Samantha Everett who finds herself stranded at a creepy English mansion during a storm.  Being an adventurous girl, she poses as a new lab assistant to the mad neurologist who lives and works in the mansion.  Once there she stays on to help the doctor with his experiments to communicate with the dead.
Players will also control that mad neurologist, Dr. Styles for part of the game.  Dr. Styles was disfigured in a car accident, and now ears a Phantom of the Opera type of mask.  Styles also lost his wife in the same accident, making him obsessed with learning to communicate with the dead, and has created a sensory deprivation chamber which he believes with help him summon his wife’s spirit.

Dr. Styles recruits Sam to help him find test subjects for his experiments, and much of the game will involve Sam using her skills as a street magician to recruit students from the nearby Oxford University, or influence other NPCs. 
Judging from the released trailers and playable demo, the game has excellent design in terms of music, art, and characters.  Sam has a distinctive look about her that separates her from the crowd (Note the Ace tattoo on her cleavage, among the other little details), although Dr. Styles comes across a bit cliché with his Phantom of the Opera mask.  Fortunately, players will spend the majority of the game as Sam. 

The music varies between creepy, and haunting, and the backgrounds are excellent depictions of the lush mansion and its spooky gothic trappings.  A potential weak point seems to be the cutscenes, which are told using still images with very little animation.  I suspect the the cutscenes might have been done in an earlier part of development, because the in-game graphics seen in the demo are of distinctly better quality. 

Jensen’s fans have been waiting this for over a decade for this game, so there is considerable anticipation for its American Release.  It will be available for XBox and PC as a retail box, or digital download. A collector’s Edition was released in Germany, but no word about that edition coming to America has been revealed. When the final product comes out next month we’ll have a full review.


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