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8 Reviews

Gray Matter

Knightmares and Dreamscrapes...

Though point-and-clicks are rarely the subjects of much hype, many genre aficionados are expecting great things from Gray Matter.

Jane 'Gabriel Knight' Jensen's new game has been over seven years in the making. It's a protracted timeframe extended by publisher woes more than anything else, but as Jensen's games are famed for their mature stories and unconventional approach to puzzles, the oft-delayed potential-classic-in-waiting has turned into the most eagerly anticipated point-and-click of the decade.

It's a monumental billing to live up to and, unfortunately, Gray Matter falls a little way short of the lofty mark set by the anticipation. Travesty? Hardly.

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Despite some major shortcomings, outside of XBLA's Monkey Island and Sam and Max titles, better Xbox point-and-clicks are few and far between.

The adventure follows down-on-herluck street magician Sam Everett and aloof neuroscientist David Styles; one a lost American who accidentally enrols as a scientist's assistant and needs to live a lie to avoid detection, the other the aforementioned scientist who's obsessed with his wife's death.

Sam must help Styles conduct a series of experiments for his research - and investigate bizarre goings-on when things go awry using contrived magic tricks; David must get to the bottom of ghostly appearances of his wife. Simple.

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On paper the plot sounds rudimentary but, when given a chance to flourish, Jensen's story gathers pace. Some dodgy scripting further compounded by a couple of instances of weak voice acting are small blemishes on the tale and the final 'shocking' reveal proves to be a tad flimsy under close scrutiny, but against such hefty competition as CSI: Fatal Evidence, Gray Matter is a solid adventure which has had a lot of love poured into its story.

Styles' distrust of Sam is particularly exciting when it leads to him working against her: suddenly all the incidental law-breaking you perform to progress Sam's tale - the stealing of IDs and the breaking and entering - become damning evidence primed for your downfall.

That the eventual fallout is dealt with in a minor cut-scene is a bit of a let down, but despite not maximising its potential the plot's sufficiently fresh to stand out from the stale competition.

Unfulfilled potential is evident elsewhere, too. For a game set in Oxford, Gray Matter is desperately lacking an English touch. Calling mobile phones 'cellphones' and telephone boxes 'phone booths' is excusable given Sam's American heritage.

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But while University colleges such as Christ Church and St Edmund Hall are recreated with astonishing accuracy, incongruous touches such as pound signs appearing after prices and the fact that the city is almost exclusively populated by northerners feels completely at odds with the fiction.

And don't get us started on that title... These issues are minor when compared with the complete lack of console optimisation, though. First up is the control system. In principle the 'wheel of interactivity' seems like a novel point-and-click control solution: you pull RT to trigger a 16-segment wheel and then push in the direction of your desired object to select it.

But when you're standing on one side of the screen and there are fifteen interactive objects to one side, inevitably you're going to need to push away from certain points of interest to highlight them. It's counter intuitive reasoning that could so easily have been stamped out with a simpler bumper-button toggling system.

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