From the rust-covered towers to the ever present and unsettling feeling that someone is watching you, Machinarium might at first glance appear a depressing and lonely game. But that couldn't be further from the truth, as in fact this story of a little robot that dared to step outside the lines is nothing if not full of hope. Hope, not only for the characters that inhabit it, but also for the point & click genre it so lovingly embodies. Smart and absolutely beautiful to behold, it’s an amazing experience from beginning to end.
Although there isn’t any dialogue, exposition instead being told through animated thought bubbles, Machinarium still manages to cover quite a bit of ground and tell a heartwarming story at the same time. It isn’t overly complicated or involved, but for what it’s worth it managed to keep me firmly engrossed in the world, and the ending was nothing if not perfect, leaving a smile on my face as the credits passed by.
More a refinement than a reimagining of the genre, Machinarium takes all the staples of point & click adventures and then adds its own unique flavor to them. Every room takes the form of a puzzle, and solving them is the driving force in the game. They start off basic enough, with the traditional “put item X into slot Y” sort giving you a chance to learn the controls, but quickly evolve into much more complex logic puzzles that require a great deal of thought to complete. The payoff is palpable when you finally reach that “aha” moment, but very rarely they simply became too involved and frustrating as I started randomly clicking the screen in hopes I might trigger something I missed.
This brings me to my main problem with the game, and that is the fact that it is far too easy to get stuck do to not knowing what can and can’t be interacted with. It would have been incredibly handy for there to be a button to highlight these points, and I could have saved a lot of walking back and forth hoping to hit a hidden switch or trigger an event. The developer doesn’t completely abandon you though, instead including an excellent hint system as well as a full on walkthrough for the entire game. Though it depletes some of the fun when you have to resort to them, they nonetheless do a great job of eliminating the need to rush to the internet when you have no clue what to do, keeping you from being pulled out of the experience.
Though for the most part confined to PCs, adventure games have slowly began building a reputation on consoles as well. Complications generally start to arise however when controls are introduced, as translating a mouse and cursor to controllers has been a harder problem to solve than most probably would have guess, and unfortunately Machinarium falls into this trap as well. Though not terrible by any means, the way your cursor locks onto items causes a lot more headaches than it helps relieve, and as a whole they are rather clunky. I eventually got used to the quirks, but they could have definitely been improved upon.
Where Machinarium unquestionably triumphs though is its art direction. The hand drawn backgrounds and characters are positively stunning, and every screen looks like a children’s book put in motion. There is so much detail in each and every object, that I had to stop just to try and take it all in. The world really is breathtaking, and although you see only parts of it, everything is so cohesive and well designed that you can easily picture the areas you never get to.
Though not as prominent, the subtle sound design adds an unmistakable ambience to the game, with music used only when appropriate and sound effects that bleed into your subconscious. Even if the puzzles had fallen completely flat, the presentation alone could have carried the game. Thankfully that isn’t the case, with both complimenting the other to a near perfect degree. The one and only gripe I have is that everything is presented with two giant black borders on the side. As with the controls, it’s something that I managed to live with, but having it completely widescreen would have been icing on the cake.
Aside from the occasionally clunky controls, lack of widescreen, and overly complicated puzzle, Machinarium is absolutely brilliant! The art style is really what sets it above and beyond almost anything else I’ve played, and the puzzles offer a fantastic feeling of accomplishment when not causing you to feel dumb for not knowing the answer. A love letter to fans of point & click adventure games, Machinarium is a must play in the genre, and will no doubt go down as one of the PlayStation 3’s best sleeper hits.
Final Opinion: 4/5 Great!
Note, this review is of the PS3 version of the game, and does not reflect the differences found on other platforms.