By Marty Mulrooney
The Dream Machine is a point-and-click adventure game handcrafted from materials such as clay, cardboard, broccoli and condoms by Cockroach Inc., a two-man independent Swedish game development studio. Following on from Chapters 1-3 (“enchanting and surreal”), Chapter 4 (“the writing is brilliant”) and Chapter 5 (“quite unlike anything else the genre has to offer”), this final chapter finds Victor trapped inside the dream of his unborn child.
As with all previous episodes, the beginning of Chapter 6 can be a little bit disorientating at first. The Dream Machine has been in development for 8 years and the gaps between episodes have often been substantial. Thankfully, this final chapter does a great job of diving right back into the thick of things without becoming too confusing. At the end of the penultimate episode it was revealed that Victor had one more dream world to explore and conquer: that of his unborn child. This is where Chapter 6 begins, despite hints towards the contrary.
Somewhat surprisingly, Chapter 6 takes a very story-driven approach at first. Puzzles are kept to a minimum while Victor tries to escape the infinite void he finds himself falling into. It takes making a deal with his mirror image to escape the nothingness and enter a crumbling dreamscape that mashes together the dreams of the previous episodes. This reuse of assets may irritate some players, but rest assured each reoccurring location is approached in a clever new way.
It is only when Victor reaches the centre of the dreamscape that the real puzzle solving begins. Victor appears to be operating in a loop where many Victors before him have tried and failed in their quest to destroy the dream machine. We get the opportunity to gain some real insight into Victor’s psyche, who he was and who he could become. There are Victors of several different ages and each one will require something from you. All of this takes place in a giant psychedelic maze that seems to be constantly shifting.
This maze will eventually tie into the final chapter’s ‘big’ puzzle (which is rather good) but it can certainly prove frustrating at times. Mazes were used in the early adventure games of the ’80s and ’90s to artificially lengthen playtime and they haven’t become any more enjoyable in the interim. This final chapter just about gets away with using one because it makes sense from a storytelling perspective, but it will continually test your patience.
Which is a shame, as there is a lot here to like. The handmade graphics are as charming as ever and the writing remains strong, with the music helping to create an atmosphere that is both wondrous and ominous. The difficulty remains relatively high (online help is difficult to find outside of spoiler-filled YouTube playthroughs) but once everything starts pointing and clicking into place there’s a tangible sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Yet the overall enjoyment of this final episode is going to hinge on how individual players react to the ending. For this reviewer, not only were the final scenes too sudden and brief, they resulted in unmistakable feelings of discomfort, sadness and faint dissatisfaction. The touching scene where Victor hugged his wife at the end of Chapter 3 is a distant memory by now and this closing chapter’s controversial ending will no doubt make such moments of hope seem even more distant. Those wishing for a happy ending will be left feeling disappointed.
Please don’t let the negative aspects mentioned above put you off too much. When taken as a whole, The Dream Machine is still an adventure well worth playing. It’s a thought-provoking, beautifully weird, truly unforgettable experience. Chapter 6 is destined to become divisive, precisely because Victor spent the last 8 years trying to conquer a monster that had absolutely no right existing in the first place. He deserves a happy ending and I hope he gets one in the future. Besides, who said there can never be a sequel?
7 OUT OF 10