Oh, I have been waiting seven years to finally play this game. The Dream Machine is a point-and-click adventure that was released on an episodic basis, with its first episode coming out in 2010 and the conclusion finally just arriving in 2017. It features a fascinating plot about the physical exploration of dreams, but the really interesting thing about it is that not only were the characters and environments entirely made up of clay, cardboard, and some other assorted household items, but this was all done with just a two man design team and only using Adobe Flash.
This is another of those games where screenshots can’t even do it justice, because as nice as it looks in a static image, that’s nothing compared to how impressive it all looks in motion. The sound design is very impressive too, with so many little aural details that help breathe even more life into these already amazing environments. You can really tell why this ended up taking 7+ years to develop. The level of artistry on display here is breathtaking, really.
The writing is quite nice as well. You play the part of Victor Neff, who discovers strange goings-on in the new apartment building that he and his pregnant wife just moved into. The kind of strange goings-on that are soon found to be the result of the landlord’s strange experiments with a machine that allows people to enter and explore other people’s dreams. This is a bizarre enough premises as it is, but the further you get into The Dream Machine, the deeper it starts digging into some deeply personal and twisted aspects of the human psyche in some surprising and complex ways, to the point where it starts ever so slightly tipping over the line into psychological horror territory.
It almost never actually displays outright graphic content though. For the most part, it manages to create enough tension and unease through ideas and the outlandish dream environments (although…there were one or two little parts near the end that people will probably find a bit gross).
Speaking of those environments, again, they go far beyond being just pretty little pictures. The level and puzzle design also becomes increasingly surreal and complex in their design. You may find yourself in a dream world whose physical locations can be entirely re-ordered and altered by finding and placing photographs in different places on a wall, or a world that requires you to change to different sizes to enter and/or solve certain areas in it, and you might even have to find a way to cross over to one person’s dream from inside another’s.
It’s not as tricky as it sounds though. Sure, there will be a few parts that you’ll almost certainly end up having to look up help for, because it wouldn’t really be a point-and-click adventure game without at least a couple overly obscure puzzles. Most of the time the solutions feel very intuitive and natural though. It may start to feel a bit intimidating in the later chapters, which are noticeably larger and more complex than the previous ones, but their tasks are perfectly manageable with enough time, patience, and thoroughness.
Anyway, The Dream Machine is just a truly impressive feat of video game storytelling and design that somehow manages to be simultaneously charming, disturbing, and thought-provoking. It’s an absolutely top-notch adventure game that I would go so far as to call entirely essential for any fan of the old point-and-click genre, so…check it out!