In Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray, Alfredo Castelli's renowned comic book character has finally made the transformation from printed page to PC adventure game. How successful a transition was it? Meticulous care was clearly taken by the game's developer, Artematica, to include all the details that aficionados of the Martin Mystère series would appreciate. However, while the game is graphically pleasing, and the cast of characters keep things lively, there are a few problems that sadly negate a complete thumbs up to the overall game experience.
Upon opening the DVD slim-case (the game is a single CD) of the finished product, I was impressed by the game manual, of all things. Most are little more than a dry run through stats and installation instructions, but MM's has the layout of a newspaper with bold, black and white headlines and columns, creatively blending instruction and entertainment.
The game itself begins with an appropriately enigmatic cinematic and in-game sequence where Martin is awakened from slumber by a phone call requesting help in a murder case of a famous research scientist.
From here on, Martin is left to unravel a rather convoluted plot involving treachery, high art, archeology, and the history of civilization -- all revolving around particular implements of an ancient Aztec ritual, and breaking the seal to the secrets of eternal life! This plays out in a way that questions the moral and physical implications of the power of eternal youth. Martin is thrust into the middle of all this with some pretty heady plot twists that are executed nicely and not at all easy to predict.
The format of Martin Mystère is that of the typical third-person, point & click adventure. The game is played in widescreen mode, which is to say there are black bars across the top and bottom of your playing field. I've bemoaned the lack of full use of screen real estate in previous reviews, but I grudgingly admit that as with watching a DVD movie, after a while you simply don't notice. The bottom bar is where the inventory appears when accessed by clicking on the floating "i".
The default crosshair, when moved over an item, will bring up an interaction menu that is thankfully pared down to include only three icons: a "talk" bubble (for NPCs), a "view" magnifying glass (default), and a "use" hand (for active hotspots). Once your cursor is on an item or NPC, you can cycle through available actions by right clicking.
There are eight save slots you can use, presumably to match the eight "acts" of the game. I'm a big fan of unlimited saves, but eight worked well enough. The Options menu allows you to toggle subtitles off or on, and there's an Extra option where you can revisit cinematic scenes and various artworks.
Graphically, for therein lies first impressions, this game offers a plenum of eye candy. One of the finer attributes of adventure games that other genres often scrimp on (of course there are many notable exceptions), are diverse environments rich in detail. Never mind the cycling formulaic terrains of snow, forest, desert, and metropolis. Those are great, yes, but give me that small, eccentric study where books are falling off the shelves and motivations are stained in ink under sheaves of paper on a mahogany desk. In MM, there are plenty of said intricacies, and Artematica lets the player appreciate the finer details of these environments with an affluent and vibrant palette.
Your exploration will take you from the tidy rooms (laundry room notwithstanding) of Martin's estate to the mansion of our murdered scientist, and on through a museum and various jaunts that will require boarding a plane to villages and archeological digs across the ocean. Each of these scenes is meticulously pre-rendered, with our characters in fully-realized 3D.
Game characters include Martin himself, a rather blocky bloke with a chin that could crush walnuts, his lovely partner Diana (his "other half") who is also briefly playable, and his Neanderthal pal Java, who probably does crush walnuts on his chin. There is also a multiplicity of other NPCs with which to interact, and here's one area where this game shines. Each character attempts to keep the larger-than-life aspect of the comic book style intact.
It would have been nice if Martin had more than a single-gait walk. There are times when walking just doesn't seem appropriate, but thankfully few times where he has to traverse the entire screen.
The music in MM is thematic, always in keeping with the environment, and never under or overwhelming. Care seems to have been taken to prevent a swelling score from interrupting or drowning out important dialogue, which is an annoyance in some adventures games I've played.
In Martin's estate, you will enjoy light jazz, which is appropriate for our man-about-mystery's easygoing nature. The museum features a thoughtful musical prose, while Mexico has a samba-like refrain, and ancient caves have ambient symphonic riffs, to mention a few. Some of these themes will keep you lingering to appreciate them through another sound-cycle, and others will motivate you to hurry your character's puzzle musing. However, they are all cohesive and effective vehicles for mood setting, and the variety is appreciated.
The game's puzzle resolution is primarily inventory-driven, and while dialogue will often play a role in puzzle solving, there are no dialogue-based puzzles. Inventory items can be combined to achieve the necessary result, and this player recommends always viewing an item immediately after it has been added to inventory. Not only does this get Martin's verbalized take on it, but you'll want to file away the information for future use, as you'll find this is critical.Continued on the next page...