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Jane Jensen is a respected name among fans of classic
adventure games; she’s the woman who brought us the Gabriel Knight series back
in the 90’s. It has been over ten
years since she made a new game, but she has finally brought her latest opus to
the market. The new project, Gray
Matter is a terrific example of Adventure
gaming, and will delight gamers looking for a good story.
In it you’ll spend most of your time controlling Samantha Everett, which is good, because you’re going to like Sam. She’s an American street magician who is making her way through England to an exclusive magician’s club. Sam is gorgeous, mischievous, independent, and filled with theatrical flair. I’m not ashamed to admit that I developed a huge crush on her over the course of the game. Aside from being photogenic, and a lot of fun to be around, she’s also a tremendously deep character, who brings some subtle emotional baggage along with her on her travels.
While trying to reach London, Sam gets stuck in Oxford where numerous adventures await her. She cons her way into a job as the assistant to a reclusive neurobiologist, and helps with his parapsychology experiments, which are eventually revealed to be attempts to communicate with his dead wife’s ghost. While these bizarre experiments are going on, a series of unexplained, possibly supernatural events are also happening at the nearby universities. Sam has to use her charm, wit, and skills as a street performer to figure out what’s going on.
Gameplay sticks to the modern adventure style, with 3D
character models on 2D backgrounds, and a point ‘n’ click interface. It has a map that can be pulled up at
any time, and used to quick travel to various locations, which will save
players from the boredom of backtracking.
It also uses a progress bar that keeps you advised on how many steps are
left in the various quests of each chapter, along with bonus objectives to
Gray Matter also has
a very unique feature based around the fact that Sam is magician. Understand that “Magician” doesn’t mean
that Sam shoots fireballs at anyone.
She’s a performer who uses sleight of hand tricks to get what she wants
at various points during the game.
Instead of combining inventory items to solve puzzles, Sam has to perform
sneaky acts to trick people into doing what she wants, or to get her hands on
items guarded by NPCs. To perform
these magic tricks, players need to figure out which feat from Sam’s magic book
will work for the situation. Then
players have to amass the needed components, and ultimately remember the
sequence of events to, for example, sneak a key out from under the watchful eye
of a nosey receptionist. It’s a
new way to go about puzzle-solving, and it makes Sam a more distinct character
But players won’t always control Sam. At various points, they’ll find themselves in the shoes of Dr. David Styles, the demented neurobiologist for whom Sam works. David is a brooding, tormented widower who is trying to connect with his wife’s spirit through technology. His story parallels Sam’s in many ways; Gray Matter is about two people experiencing the loss of loved ones, but in different ways. David can’t let go of his wife, while Sam still has unresolved issues about her parents’ death when she was young.
Despite having many serious and emotionally profound moments, Gray Matter is also very funny. Sam has a great sense of humor, and is rather impish. She’ll also make amusing comments about unimportant items in the background if you’re curious enough to click on them. Jensen’s writing is excellent on many levels, and the voice actors delivering her dialog do a wonderful job.
The music is also great, it was composed by Jensen’s husband, Robert Holmes and it features some songs by The Scarlet Furies (Holmes’ band with his daughter Raleigh). The soundtrack is absolutely good enough to warrant getting the Collector’s Edition which includes a soundtrack CD (If this Edition is available where you live).
Aside from being written well, the characters also look good too. Well, at least Sam does. She’s highly-distinct; absolutely riddled with unique traits, right down the Ace tattooed on her cleavage. I’m personally looking forward to some Sam Everett coplayers in the future. Unfortunately, most of the other characters don’t have the same degree of detail, and flair; David Styles comes across a little silly at first with his Phantom of the Opera mask.
The other drawbacks are few, and forgivable. First, Gray Matter isn’t particularly hard. Seasoned adventure fans should be able to figure all of the puzzles out without much trouble, and people new to the genre can rely on a hints feature. When you hit the SPACE bar, labels will appear over all of the “Hotspots” in the area. This will let you know what things in the area might be of interest. It doesn’t always show everything, and often just points out red herrings, so it isn’t a game breaking hint system, but it will keep most players from resorting to online walkthroughs. There are eight “Chapters” to the story, each should take about an hour and a half to solve, so it will keep players entertained for a nice chunk of time, without wearing out its welcome.
Fans of the Gabriel Knight series probably had this game shipped from Europe as soon as it hit shelves months ago. However anyone who likes the adventure genre should definitely pick up Gray Matter now that it’s readily available in North America. Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, this is still a great game for anyone who just wants to tag along with an interesting adventuress for a while.
Gray Matter is available now for PC and XBox, and can be bought at numerous digital distributors.