THE DREAM MACHINE BUNDLE
My experience of reviewing The Dream Machine was perfectly augmented by a verbally abusive walkthrough I found on Steam. The writer of the guide called me “a ‘fluffing’ idiot” at one point and yelled at me, “IT’S A PUZZLE GAME,” at another. Yet, I kept coming back for more hints. Why? This is a very difficult adventure game. The guide writer seemed perfectly sincere with their insults, which I found hilarious. The only thing more funny was that I got so stuck, so often, that I kept using the guide. And, I desperately wanted to see what happened next.
How did I get myself into this ridiculous predicament? Believe it or not, this game was not on my radar at all. Their PR found me in time for the release of a sixth, and final, episode. It wasn’t until I was on a cruise ship, in my pregnant wife’s dream, with none of the (at least) eightythree other mes letting me speak to her until I’d investigated whether one of the mes made another me “disappear,” that I realised I was absolutely hooked. I do apologise for that last sentence. It does make sense. Maybe you’d like to read it again.
The Dream Machine’s creators aren’t afraid to explore horror to its outer limits. Whether it’s a million dead selfs, the creepy janitor spying on my bedroom, or moments that get so much worse, you should steel yourself for significant squeamishness. At the outset, you move into a new apartment with your wife, boxes of baby clothes coming with you, and it quickly becomes clear that something is very wrong with this place. The presentation, with characters and sets made from clay, doesn’t detract from how gory things can get.
I remember exploring Claymation techniques with an art class, when I was teaching high school. It took those kids a year just to film a guy walking across the room. The attention to detail, and commitment to making every set in The Dream Machine absolutely perfect, is mind boggling. This also sometimes makes pixel hunting tricky. So, you need to look at every bottle, not just the group of bottles, as some are irrelevant. And, the music is very sparse, but clever use of harmonic overtones lends many of the settings a sense of inordinate space.
Every level is meticulously created for the sole purpose of setting a truly outlandish story, much of which plays out in surreal dreamscapes. The opening unfolds feverishly through puzzles, even without a clear goal in mind. And, the dialogue is simple, but very effective. You will banter with your wife, repress what you really want to say and confront questionable evils. One moment that moved me was in saying goodbye to a dying man. I’d previously not felt anything but disgust for the guy, but then things got complicated.
The Dream Machine is a game I couldn’t stop playing. With all six levels now released, beware of the “boss puzzles” if you’re playing it as one game. I didn’t play this incrementally, but it would be fun to do so, because each episode is structured to provide cumulative challenge, cliff hangers and such. Perhaps releasing relatively short episodes prompted the designers to make the puzzles incredibly difficult. This is not to say they are too difficult, just that they require time and attention to process. And if you use a hint guide, apparently, you’re a fluffing idiot.