The Average Gamer

Gray Matter Demo Impressions (PC)

Stop whatever you’re playing; Jane Jensen, designer of the incredible Gabriel Knight series, has a new supernatural-themed game coming out in the UK on 25th February – Gray Matter. This time she’s dealing with ghosts and spirituality by delving into the brain and psionic powers.

Actually, no. Go back to whatever you were playing. I’ve just played through the PC demo of the game and it’s well and truly awful. This is actually making me re-think that my childhood – perhaps wandering around a virtual Neuschwanstein Castle was a misspent youth after all. Did I really enjoy walking from room to room clicking on absolutely every item after each plot development in the hopes that some invisible change had taken place in the game world, praying for one of the objects that I’ve already examined a hundred times to become newly interactive?

Yes, apparently I did. Well it’s fucking annoying now. If something is going to be useful, let me pick it up the first time around instead of making me trawl through the entire bloody world to hunt down a detail that AT THE TIME was completely insignificant.

To be fair, the team at Wizarbox have mode some improvements to the traditional point-and-click experience. There’s an option to flag up everything that you can interact with, which nicely works around pixel-hunting. They’ve also… um… er… nope, that’s it. The rest of the interface design feels like a dumbed-down version of a 90s adventure. Depending on what you’re supposed to do with an object, the cursor changes to indicate your action. If there’s nothing, you can only look. If you can pick it up, you only get a grab icon. If you’re expected to use an inventory object on it, the cursor shows an empty hand to tell you that.

I realise that some people like this kind of hand-holding and use-every-object-on-every-other-object solutions are deservedly hated by gamers. I, however, resent the loss of agency. The way to prevent that particular issue is integrate your clues in the game and story, not shout solutions through the cursor. This sort of design reduces a game to little more than an interactive movie and we know what I think of interactive movies. Gray Matter actually does quite a nice job of dropping hints but this is marred by those hints being hidden in unrepeatable blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cut-scenes.

The story is interesting enough – after the tragic loss of his wife, neurobiologist David Styles turns his mighty brain toward researching life after death. Hi-jinks ensue. The dialogue and voice-acting are superb, if a tad serious, and the game itself has some beautiful environments and artwork. I was disappointed by the gameplay but you may be able to overlook these things. Go try out the PC demo of Gray Matter (1.6GB) or get the console version from Xbox Live.

Curious about the verdict? Read our review policy.