Review | Machinarium
Format: PC | Genre: Adventure | Publisher: Amanita Design | Developer: Amanita Design | Release date: 16/10/09 | RRP: $20
By Lewis Denby
When I finished Machinarium, I actually applauded.
I don’t think it’s just me being easily impressed, either, because that’s never happened before. I’ve applauded after films, once at a book, and obviously at concerts and theatre performances. But after a game? This is the first time.
Machinarium is the first full-length project from Amanita Design. You might have played their work before, in the guise of the excellent Samorost web games. You’ve possibly even seen the educational release they crafted for the BBC, or their promotional material for abstract ambient group The Polyphonic Spree. In the relevant circles, they’ve established an enviable reputation for their distinctive art style and playful, experimental game mechanics.
In other words, you expect a level of quality from Amanita Design. But in attempting to transform these inspired ideas from half-hour freebies into a full-length, commercial release, you might not expect this level of quality.
Yet Machinarium delivers, effortlessly, on almost every count. It’s a stylish, polished, fascinating point-and-click adventure that takes Amanita’s previous work and reshuffles, refines and expands beyond belief. It’s comfortably my favourite adventure game of the year. That might sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but in a year where Telltale have released an abundance of excellent titles, with indie greats such as Time Gentlemen, Please sitting neatly alongside, it starts to sound like a bigger claim. It’s deserved.
//I mean, just look at it
In a game that does so many things so absolutely right, it might sound crude to tackle its looks first. With Machinarium, you make an exception.
The screenshots conveyed that much. Exquisite, hand-drawn, sketchy backgrounds with impossibly charming metallic characters layered over the top have been circling the net for a long time now, and the various trailers and videos have gone some way to explaining how it all works in motion. Yet nothing prepares you for the utterly absorbing nature of the game proper. It’s beyond belief.
If I were feeling particularly enthusiastic, I’d go out on a limb and call Machinarium the most beautiful game in the world. It might not have the polygonal splendour of major modern releases, but Amanita’s glorious universe is proof that some games simply don’t need it. Its visual flair may well be a product of its own technical limitations, but each screen is impossibly lavish, with the sort of attention to detail that is just lost in most high-powered 3D games. Whether it’s vast, open cityscapes, or the individual cracks on a cellar wall, every inch of Machinarium oozes the sort of absolute beauty that sends shivers up and down your spine.
And the animation… oh, the animation. The fluidity with which each and every character moves is nothing short of astonishing. Again, it’s all in the attention to detail. Each new robot exudes a tangible personality, conveyed effortlessly through the sort of incidental movement that so few artists would think to include. It’s seamless, instantaneous and staggeringly natural throughout. Only a handful of minor glitches – and I do mean both ‘handful’ and ‘minor’ – let it down, and to criticise it for those fleeting moments would be the most implausible nonsense.
Then, as if its tremendous, stylised visuals weren’t enough, Amanita only went and gave Machinarium the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard in a game.