I suspect not many people would've heard of this game unless they happen to be adventure gamers and old-school ones at that. Why you may ask?
Back in 1993, Sierra published a computer game that was quite a bit different to its previous games in that it had a more adult story line. A writer by the name of Jane Jensen brought to us the supernatural mystery game, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. It was an excellent adventure game for its time (it's still pretty good fun to play today).
Okay, what's that got to do with Gray Matter? Well Jane Jensen was the designer for this game too so when I heard that she was making another adventure game, I just had to get myself a copy to check it out. Is this game another case of great story but poor execution or is it actually a neat well-rounded adventure game package?
Unfortunately, the voice acting isn't terribly good in this game. The emphasis is always placed on the wrong words and sometimes the voice actors seem to be overreacting. Otherwise, the sound effects themselves are alright.
The music in this game is top notch, but that's probably no surprise with Robert Holmes at the helm (Jane's husband) who also scored Gabriel Knight! Not only that, but his daughter's band, the Scarlet Furies, also scores music for this game! Yes, it's nepotism galore, but hey if you get an awesome soundtrack as a result, I'm not complaining.
The in-game graphics generated by the engine are actually pretty good - the best I've seen in a point 'n' click adventure game, especially an indie adventure game. The character textures are quite detailed and so are the backgrounds. The only criticism is that the cutscenes, which don't use the in-game engine, seem to be drawn by amateurs (emphasis on the plural, there seems to even be differing artwork styles between cutscenes). There are also inconsistencies between what the characters look like before the cutscene and during the cutscene.
No surprises, but there's a great plot here, in the same vain as Gabriel Knight. You play as Samantha Everett, an American magician who is touring the UK. However, during a storm, your motorbike breaks down so you take refuge at the nearest house, which happens to be a creepy manor belonging to a neurobiologist named Prof Styles. Strange things have been happening at the manor, and it's up to you and Prof Styles to figure out what's going on.
Since the game is of the mystery genre (which I personally think is the best genre match for an adventure game) it's very entertaining, especially with Jane Jensen providing it. The only problem I have with the game is that it actually seems to end quite abruptly. A longer epilogue on what actually happened and what becomes of all the characters would've been nice.
The game runs just like your traditional point 'n' click adventure. You move around and interact with objects using the mouse, you can talk to characters and pick conversation topics and you have an inventory where you have the ability to combine items.
One neat feature is that when you check the map, they colour-code the locations to tell you whether you need to complete any more puzzles at the location. Also there is a special screen to see how many points you've acquired for that day.
The puzzles in the game are challenging but at least they are logical, except for one puzzle which I had to finally resort to Google to solve the riddle. It assumes you've read the Bible in order to answer the question which is a bit unreasonable since not everyone who plays this game is going to be a devout Christian (surely?). It would've been nice to have had a Bible actually in the game to pass on the hint to all us heathen :).
As an aside, it's interesting to note how similar the game is structured to the Gabriel Knight games (1) the game is broken up into days, (2) you wake up every morning to have a coffee and a chat, (3) you travel around the city (in this case, Oxford) through the use of your map and (4) the game is a paranormal mystery.
The game is almost as replayable as any adventure game of the recent era, but thanks to a throwback to a bygone age, there actually is a reason to replay the game. Just like old Sierra adventure games, you get awarded points for completing puzzles in this game and you can actually finish the game without getting the full number of points. Completing extra puzzles awards you these bonus points giving you a reason to play the game at least a second time to hunt them down.
The game is very well polished and I'm glad it's got the good ol' point 'n' click interface unlike another adventure game company and their games *cough* Telltale *cough*.
Overall - 9/10
Old-fashioned adventure gaming with a 21st century veneer.
The best deal available is from GAME Australia. It also includes free shipping in Australia!
Unfortunately stock is low, so you may have to end up importing if EB or GAME fails you.