By Marty Mulrooney
The Dream Machine is a point-and-click adventure game handcrafted from clay and cardboard by Cockroach Inc., a two-man independent Swedish game development studio. Originally planned to be split into five chapters, the much delayed and highly anticipated fourth chapter grew so large than it had to be split in two, effectively creating an additional chapter (there will now be six in total). In August 2013, Victor returns in the quest to save his pregnant wife and defeat The Dream Machine, in an adventure that AMO described in 2012 (in our review of Chapters 1-3) as “not only a game about dreams, but a dream come true for adventure gamers.”
The Dream Machine: Chapter 4 delights with its ironically witty opening line – “That took longer than I thought…” – before immediately hitting a brick (clay?) wall of frustration. There is no recap video, no reminder of where we last left Victor and his wife. Instead, the player is thrown immediately back in the thick of it. Cue much pointing-and-clicking around previously visited, vaguely familiar locations while trying to remember what the hell is going on.
To backtrack slightly, this criticism perhaps isn’t entirely fair. The Dream Machine was always intended to be taken as a whole, despite the episodic format. Still, playing Chapter 4 in 2013 will undoubtedly throw players who last saw Victor and his wife in 2011 – one room in particular now contains a puzzle vital to progression that wasn’t previously possible to solve. It’s a sluggish start, compounded further by gameplay mechanics that aren’t always entirely clear – ripping pages out of a book is a great interactive puzzle element, but the fact that it’s possible just isn’t very well signposted.
Before AMO’s readers start to worry that the magic has disappeared altogether, fear not – once The Dream Machine gets into the swing of things and picks up steam, it’s as good as it ever was in previous episodes. In Chapter 4, Victor must delve into the dreams of his neighbour Edie, a kind old lady who likes to relax with her friends over a nice hot cup of tea.
This dream sequence is quite possibly the series’ most inventive and enjoyable yet. Victor must manipulate pictures on a wall to move the rooms of Edie’s house around so he can explore, solve puzzles and progress further. It’s simple in its execution yet powerful in a narrative and gameplay sense – Victor is now not only living through and experiencing other people’s dreams: he’s controlling them directly. It’s easy to forget that Victor is an expectant father. His quest is not only fuelled by his love for his wife, but also for his unborn child. Love is a powerful motivator!
This is the first time I have played The Dream Machine via Steam rather than within a web browser. The boost in graphical fidelity is very pleasing indeed – an already stunning handmade game now looks even more beautiful. The ambient music and sound effects are still suitably dreamy and the lack of voice acting doesn’t detract from the experience at all: the writing is brilliant. The Steam version tended to crash quite frequently upon release but thankfully, a patch has now been released and these issues appear to have been solved.
The Dream Machine: Chapter 4 is another enjoyable instalment of a wonderful game, let down only by its confusing start and rather brief length. It’s beautiful to look at and easy to control, but it has to be viewed in context. Just as the story starts to ramp up and the puzzles begin to flow, the credits roll. When a game’s main complaint is that it leaves you wanting more, it can only be a positive sign of things to come. AMO’s previous score for Chapters 1-3 still stands when the game is taken as a whole – hopefully the next chapter will arrive sooner rather than later!
7.5 OUT OF 10