Gray Matter – review – Console news

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Xbox 360/PC; £29.99; cert 12+; DTP Entertainment

Twenty-odd years ago point and click adventure games offered some of the most enthralling cerebral gaming experiences you could get on the PC (or Amiga). Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky and the rest offered a compelling mix of puzzles, narrative and, in some cases, humour. The late nineties saw the genre submerged as 3D hit the PC and the consoles. Helped by touch screen devices and a growing download market – ie less financially risky for publishers – the genre has seen a resurgence in recent years. Full-price console releases remain a rarity though so Gray Matter certainly has a clear run. The involvement of Jane Jensen – creator of vintage adventure series Gabriel Knight – is another plus point for fans of the genre.

Unfortunately much of this goodwill is lost when you get to play – at least on the 360 version. Things start off promising. The plot is entertaining enough – mysterious house, magic and the like — though it lacks the humorous touch found in the likes of Monkey Island. Players get to control both the main character leads, Dr David Styles and Samantha Everett. Despite Jensen’s involvement the latter still retains the busty design prominence often seen on female gaming characters.

The main problem though is the controls. The lack of a mouse or touchscreen means the interface is clunky. For example you need to hold down a trigger before using the joypad stick to flick through available interactive items. This list varies depending on where you are standing but the controls are a long way from the simplicity of point and click. They do, however, reduce the age-old frustration of scanning the screen for hotspots.

Simplifying some of the genres conventions is a running theme of Gray Matter, with puzzles generally straightforward. There is very little of the “stick pen in pineapple to create a hovercraft” here. Some puzzles can be solved by simply using an object from your inventory with an item. More interestingly there is the chance to flex your magical muscle and use tricks you have learned.

There are other issues too with the 360 version displaying its PC heritage. For example the font is small and would likely be unreadable on a standard definition TV.

Generally though compared to something like Sony’s Heavy Rain – in many ways the natural progression for the genre – Gray Matter feels clunky and dated. However, despite all this there is something warmly nostalgic about Gray Matter. Once you get used to the controls and start working through the story you do start to get intrigued – if not gripped – about what may happen next.

Predicting how your average Call of Duty fan will react to the languid pace and dated visuals on offer here is easy enough. But the 360 needs the change of pace offered by games like Gray Matter and if you can ignore the flaws you may well appreciate it too.

• Game reviewed on Xbox 360

Rating: 3/5




Greg Howson © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds is updated regularly every day with the latest games consle news and games reviews.

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