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Just a Small Time Bot… Machinarium [Review]

MachinariumMachinarium, by Amanita Design, finally sees its release today. After 3 long years of development, the adventure title that has been recognized by  many indie awards finally get’s to share itself with the world. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was just a bystander, watching the game being played by a crowd of people at PAX09. Now, however, I’ve played it, I’ve beaten it, and I absolutely, bloody loved it.

Machinarium is a fairly simple story about a robot. Now, I’ve heard words around the web that the game was about discrimination and that you play as a “lesser” robot. This wasn’t true to my findings. The actual story is one of lost friendship and bullies. You see, you aren’t being tormented by every robot; just a specific three who are the antagonists of the game. In fact, most other robots, aside from a single dick policebot, are pleasant and they help you through the city.

Anyways, there are many layers to the game and I don’t want to give away any spoilers so let’s just get on with the review:

Gameplay

Machinarium is a tried and true adventure game. Which is absolutely perfect. The system was never broke, and Amanita Design didn’t try to fix it. Throughout the game you’ll be pointing and clicking to move and to interact with objects. It’s how the adventure gods wanted it, and Machinarium stays true to that. The only thing I had a problem with was the detection of what could be used and what could not was a bit wonky and sometimes my walking pointer just wouldn’t appear in places I knew I could walk too.

This game is daaaaamn hard. I won’t assume that everybody is on the same level as I am, but Machinarium packs a punch when it comes to adventure games. While some of the puzzles may seem easy, I usually found that they were just small pieces in an even larger puzzle. Needless to say, the game’s puzzle system has layers and you’ll be trekking back to places you had once thought to never go again in order to find some missing piece.

Amanita Design built in one of the best hint/walkthrough systems of any adventure game I have ever played.  It became apparent that Amanita did not want to leave their players high and dry in times when they were stuck so they decided to give you a way out, just in case. The system is two-tiered, upon entering each new room you’re able to view a small hint. This hint is just a picture that points you to your ultimate goal in the room. If that doesn’t help, then Amanita has seen fit to give each room it’s own walk-through via a picture book. The only catch, though, is that each time you want to open the book you have to play a scrolling shooter and you can’t look at the walk-through at the same time as solving puzzles. Once you close the book you’ll have to play the game again to re-open it. It’s an absolutely brilliant way to manage walk throughs and hints without just giving them away.

It’s very hard to back yourself into a corner. With most adventure games, there is always the latent fear that your going to back yourself into a corner by doing this before doing that and thus not able to continue on with the game. With Machinarium, however, I found doing so was impossible. At one point I even thought I had backed myself into a corner and reloaded about an hour back only to realize that I just wasn’t looking around enough.

Style

I’m going to say this very bluntly; Machinarium is fucking beautiful. I know, I know… the hard “F” is always a hard decision to make when it comes to writing, but with Machinarium there is, literally, no better way to just say it. The game screams with a unique style that is both beautifully detailed and depressingly realistic. Few times have I ever seen a game as drop dead gorgeous as Machinarium. Throw in the fact that the animations are just as smooth and you get one hell of a setting. Bravo Amanita… bravo!

Like with the art and setting, the music for Machinarium is beautiful and well orchestrated for the game. Each tune is matches the setting excellently and never once did I dislike what was playing at the moment. To put it into a single phrase, the music for Machinarium is absolutely perfect for a dystopian robotic society.

Finally, and this is more of an addendum to the style section as opposed to an actual review, but it must be said that Machinarium is art. There is no debate about this. Anybody who tells you all video games are not art has never seen or played Machinarium.

Story

I mentioned above that Machinarium’s story is, in my findings, not about discrimination, but rather a story about lost friendship and bullies. This holds true. Machinarium’s story is beautiful in it’s pureness. There are no underlying messages about society, racism, or discrimination. Which is great! Far too many games get wrapped up in their own political, societal beliefs that it becomes less engaging. Machinarium stays true to it’s story throughout and is all the better for it.

There is no dialog in Machinarium. Not a single real word is ever uttered or written throughout the game (aside from the menus). One would think that this would hamper any character development or attachment you’d have, but I actually found it to be amazing. This is what Wall-E should have been: a beautiful story being told without actually having been told in the literal sense.

Amanita threw into the game a delightful extra; one that wasn’t needed or required but helped further establish a connection between yourself and your robot. If you simply wait long enough, without doing anything, you’ll get to watch a small cartoon about your robot and his lost friend. These are beautiful moments in the game that show just how much work and effort Amanita put into the game.

Everything Else

There is no multiplayer, no leaderboards, no extras really. What you have is just a damn good adventure game. One that every gamer should play if for nothing else than the experience.

Flat out, I absolutely loved everything about Machinarium. It’s now my personal favorite adventure game, beyond even the original Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and Gabriel Knight. Amanita Design created a beautiful addition to the genre and I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to experience it.

Cheers on releasing your game guys.

[The developer/publisher of this game gave DIYgamer.com a free copy of the game for review purposes.]

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