The Dream Machine:
What do dreams have to do with anything, anyway? Ask anybody and they'll tell you; the human brain is weird, and you can probably just ignore what it gets up to while you're asleep. But what if you couldn't? What if there was something, or someone, behind even the strangest dream you ever had? Victor and his wife Alicia have just moved into their new apartment in the city and are getting settled in, but there may be something strange about the old building... and even stranger about its tenants. The Dream Machine: Chapter One is the first installment of a new point-and-click series by Anders Gustafsson and Erik Zaring. You do have to register an account to play, but it only requires an e-mail address and a password.
Interaction is simple; you control Victor, you point, and you click on objects and people to interact. Move your cursor to the top of the screen to open your inventory, and click on the small icon in the upper right corner of the screen to open a menu to allow you to fiddle with settings or save your game. Other than that? Explore. Poke around Victor and Alicia's small apartment and, when you're able, what areas of the building you can access. If you don't know where to go next, speaking to Alicia will usually give you a clue.
While this first chapter is free for everyone, future installments will need to be purchased when they become available.
Analysis: Originally released as a demo, waaaaay back in February 2009, it's easy to see what's taken so long; claymation is freaking tedious to make. Fortunately, it was worth it, since The Dream Machine is absolutely gorgeous and a real joy to play. The clay presentation also adds to the surreal feel of the whole thing; the vaguely inhuman looking human characters help give the whole thing an appropriately dreamlike atmosphere. The developers have actually gone out of their way to make the whole thing accessible too, with options for players who may be hard of hearing or colourblind under the settings menu.
The problem is that The Dream Machine really only just begins to feel like all its gears are turning at high speed when it abruptly throws the brakes on you and the chapter ends. It probably says something good about the game that it knew precisely the most intense moment to end at, and that I had a lot of choice expletives for it when it did. But on the other hand, while interesting and certainly integral to setting the mood for things to come, there's not much action in this chapter. The puzzles are clever enough, although one or two of them can be a little frustrating and require a visit from your frienemies and mine, the trial-and-error twins.
So it's a good thing that, for the most part, The Dream Machine leans more heavily on the narrative side of things. As Victor, you can have some fairly long and involved conversations with various people, with a nice variety of responses to choose from. How you treat people in dialogue doesn't really have any effect on the game (... so far... ), but it does give you a little bit of freedom and helps you connect with the experience. Which, might I say, is fairly creepy at times. There's nothing here that's going to jump out and frighten you, but there's at least one plot point that is fairly unnerving when you stop to think about it.
I don't end many games railing in fury against a "To Be Continued" screen, but The Dream Machine is excellent about getting its hooks into you within a relatively short time frame. It probably won't run you more than an hour at most, and while there is some small amount of replayability if you want to go back to certain scenes and try different dialogue options, for the most part when it's done, it's done, leaving you with little else to do but to petulantly await the release of the next chapter crouched in the bushes outside the developer's house. IMEAN, patiently in your own home. While it lasts, Chapter One of The Dream Machine is fun, intriguing, and extremely well made.