We got our hands on a preview build of Amanita Design's absolutely gorgeous new point-and-click adventure.
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The question of whether video games are an art form can, perhaps, be answered by Amanita Design's Machinarium. The independent developer is famous for its work on Web-based flash games--Samorost and Samorost 2-- and Machinarium shares a very similar visual style with those games. However, Machinarium has a unique identity of its own, along with classic point-and-click gameplay and fiendish puzzles.
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You play as a robot that is thrown out to a scrap yard outside the robotic city he once lived with the aim of finding your way back into the city to rescue your robot girlfriend. The questions of why she disappeared, who the mysterious bad guys are, and why you've been thrown out of the city are answered throughout the course of the game. A unique twist to this is that the game contains no actual dialogue--instead a thought bubble appears above a character's head with a series of images or animations to represent what's going on inside his head. The bubbles not only tell you what a character is thinking, but they also give you clues about how to solve a puzzle. For example, in one scene, you must make your way across a bridge; however, it is guarded by a police robot. Upon trying to cross it, a thought bubble forms with a little animation showing other police robots crossing but no one else, which gives you a clue on how to proceed.
This simple clue sets up the classic point-and-click gameplay. The solution is to somehow dress up as a policeman by collecting and combining items, with the mouse turning into a pointy finger to indicate interactability. Items that can be picked up or interacted with are signified by the mouse turning into a pointy finger. Unlike some easier point and clicks, however, items that can be used do not stick out like a sore thumb from the background; they blend in with the environment. It can take some real brain power and an eagle eye to pick out relevant objects. In contrast, the game never asks you to horde items from other areas in the game to solve future puzzles; instead, it runs on a screen-to-screen basis. All the items required to solve a puzzle are generally found in the immediate vicinity, making each scene its own puzzle. Even later sections of the game that are spread out around the robot city are condensed so that you're only concentrating on a few goals at a time. That concentration is needed because some of the puzzles are fiendishly difficult and require a lot of logical thinking.
If you do get stuck, the game has a hints system. Clicking on a lightbulb at the top right of the screen produces a thought bubble that contains the hint of what you're supposed to be doing in that particular scene. If that's not enough, the game contains a full walk-through for each section that can be accessed at anytime. In an effort to discourage you from simply opening the walk-through each time you get stuck, it is locked by a short minigame where you have to guide a small pixellated key through a side-scrolling world while avoiding spiders and brick walls to reach a lock. If you manage to unlock the lock, a book opens up to reveal the solution to the puzzle via what looks to be the beautifully drawn original storyboard sketches.
It wouldn't be right to delve into this game without mentioning the graphics and artwork. They are really something to behold. Each scene in the game is hand drawn, with detail reaching ridiculous levels. Every nook and cranny in the robotic city has a distinct look with a dark macabre feel. While these backdrops would look mightily impressive even as static images, they're brought to life with great animation--cleaning robots go about their daily business on pipes, senile old robots rock around in wheelchairs, and bartender robots with lightbulb eyes wipe down oil bars. The buildings in the distance resemble pencil sketches in some places as the structures lose detail to melt into the smog of the city. The sound design is also great with robotic beeps and rusty movements melding beautifully with the electronic soundtrack.
We can't wait to get our hands on the finished game, and the combination of gorgeous graphics and well-designed puzzles have left us very excited about where the game will go. Machinarium is due out in October and will be published via Machinarium.com.