Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray / Crime Stories

Developer:  Artematica
Publisher:  GMX Media / The Adventure Company
Year Released:  2005

Review by Gordon Aplin (August, 2005)
Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian GrayInspired by Alfredo Castelli's comic book character of the same name, Martin Mystère is a third person graphic adventure game in the traditional style with lots of interaction and lots of items to pick up and pack away in your inventory.

Martin Mystère himself is a man of many talents: archaeologist, anthropologist, investigator of esoteric mysteries and, as the manual says, is incurably inquisitive. He can also be incredibly messy though his wife, Diana, has now got him relatively house-trained. At one point she is trying to find him and says, "Judging by the mess in this place Martin must be around here somewhere".

Yes, in one section of the game you play as Diana which adds a different perspective to the portrayal of the characters and shows she is far more capable than her appearance and penchant for gossip magazines would lead us to believe. You also get to play as Alfie, but I am getting ahead of myself here and you will just have to play the game to learn more about this bizarre twist.

A call for help
The story opens with Martin awakening from another of his nightmares when he receives a phone call from his friend, Travis, who is an inspector with the New York Police Department. Noted scientist, Professor Eulemberg, has been found shot to death in his magnificent villa and Travis wants Martin to help him investigate the crime.

This is just the start of a journey that will take you down a winding path that will lead to the revelation of a secret of the Aztecs that is hinted at in the game's title. But first Martin must get dressed, find his mobile phone and get his car back from the garage ... and you thought this was going to be an easy game. The light hearted nature of these opening puzzles sets the tone for the rest of the game and also gives you the opportunity to become familiar with the controls and the inventory before setting out on a journey that may just be your last.

Easy as you go
Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian GrayAs this is a point and click adventure the controls are intuitive and navigation is easy. Point to where you want Martin to go and left click to have him walk to that spot, unfortunately you can't get him to run. When the exit icon appears you can generally double click to jump to the next room which makes up for Martin's sluggish pace. A map of New York (once you find it) enables you to travel between locations and new places to investigate are added as you learn of them. In addition to New York locations you will also visit Mexico and an Aztec temple.

There are many objects in the game world that you can interact with. Left click on an item and Martin will give you a description or make a comment. This is not spoken but appears in text beneath the game screen.

Conversations, on the other hand, are fully voiced and the game is completely subtitled. When you address someone conversation choices appear in text below the picture window waiting for you to select which questions to ask. You can click through the conversation dialogue at any time and the same applies to the descriptive text.

To interact with the game environment just right click to scroll through the possible action icons such as look, take or talk. Though many items can be taken not all are useful. If you are really thorough in your searching you will end up with lots of red herrings. Anything you pick up is stored in your inventory which appears at the bottom of the screen once you click the 'i' icon or press the 'i' key on the keyboard. In your inventory you can get a further description (text and voice) of an item and some may be combined to make new or improved items. So if you are stuck don't forget to look at what you have picked up and think about how the items may be used or combined with something else.

The F1 key brings up the save, load and exit menu. I was disappointed that only eight save game slots are provided as I am an inveterate saver and I also like to go back to check things from earlier saves throughout the game. More save slots would have been better.

Intricate searching
Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian GrayMartin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray is an inventory based game so the puzzles largely revolve around searching each location thoroughly, finding items and using them appropriately. A lot of searching is necessary as there are so many intricate locations with items strewn around. As it is a light hearted game you also need to be imaginative to get out of some tricky situations. Martin's descriptions and comments may provide clues and he also has a journal where he writes the objectives for each section to keep you on the right track. I highly recommend that you read the brief journal notes periodically as there will come a time when you'll be completely stuck unless you do so. Long time adventure players may be reminded here of the copy protection used in some older games. Sneaky!

Most of the puzzles are logical within the context of the game though one or two may stretch the bounds of credibility. Remember this is a humorous game so not all the puzzles will have a mundane solution. Perhaps I am more forgiving than most when it comes to this style of gameplay but I enjoy creative challenges and some of them do require you to think laterally. The puzzles are of easy to medium difficulty so a bit of thought and careful observation will get you through. From this perspective I can recommend the game for both new and experienced players though the pole dancing scene in the night club may make it unsuitable for younger players despite the 7+ rating on the box.

Comic book story
The story draws upon its comic book inspiration to present an idea both fascinating and bizarre while at the same time not taking itself seriously. The true ramification of this recently rediscovered ancient Aztec knowledge is brought home to Martin in the most personal way imaginable leading inevitably to a race against time. Artematica are to be congratulated for creating a game that manages to convey a sense of urgency during the climax without inflicting a timed sequence on us, and this is due in no small part to the atmospheric music accompanied by a pounding heartbeat.

Overall the music is very good and suitably dramatic when the situation calls for it. The graphics are excellent, and one location in particular perfectly captures a depressed, abandoned area at night with thunder and lightning and raindrops spattering in shallow puddles. Each location is finely detailed which adds a lot to the experience and helps with the characterisation. For instance there is no mistaking Martin's penchant for all things odd and mysterious, his home is full to the brim with knickknacks from every corner of the earth. The characters are likeable and generally well voice-acted though the very British accents tend to dispel the notion that Martin is an American living in New York. Perhaps he was educated at Oxford. Diana, too, sounds a lot like Doralice from Lost in Time. Java, Martin's Neanderthal-like companion, grunts just fine though. I couldn't place the accent.

Unfortunately, the production values were let down by numerous spelling errors in the text descriptions and conversation subtitles. One character, Professor Alexander Uben being variously called Professor Uben and Professor Alexander, and in one scene playing as Diana, if you try to leave the Aztec temple area before completing her tasks it is Martin's voice telling you I can't leave yet. Occasionally too, the hotspots are misnamed and some non-essential inventory items disappear, though I didn't know they were non essential at the time so I spent some time restoring save games to find out what happened. A corrupted saved game at one point didn't help matters. These are all small things but they are sure to irritate some players and the game deserved better attention to detail.

Despite these few criticisms I had a lot of fun playing Martin Mystère. The story develops nicely as your investigation proceeds and the puzzles provide the right amount of challenge to keep you actively engaged without blocking your progress for too long. There was a satisfying ending and the suggestion of a possible sequel that I hope will eventuate. As Rosemary said in her preview it is a welcome return to the classic style of graphic adventure.

Note: The Adventure Company released this game as Crime Stories in 2006. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2005. All rights reserved.