Publisher: GMX Media
Release Date: Winter 2005
So this is what an "Austin Powers" video game would have been like … The comparison is inevitable, because Artematica's Martin Mystére: Operation Dorian Gray is swanky, decadent, and so darn retro that it's back in style again. There is actually a lot to like in this point-and-click adventure, and once some issues have been addressed, it should be a real treat for adventure gamers and anyone who is still recovering from the '60s.
Now, I haven't had the chance to read the comic books upon which Martin Mystére is based, but the title character is a broad-shouldered guy who is armed with a can-do attitude and a knack for investigating strange occurrences. When we first meet him, Martin's nightmare-filled slumber has just been interrupted by a phone call from his colleague, Travis. A professor has been murdered, and the circumstances are so unusual that Travis doesn't even want to discuss the details over the phone. Martin's assistance is needed on the double … but first, we need to figure out how to get out of the house. His car is also in the shop, and he can't remember the mechanic's phone number.
Although Martin looks like he can compete in a Mr. Olympia pageant, his wife Diana keeps him on a very short leash. She has locked his closet to prevent him from leaving the house because he needs to rest, and various items around the house cannot be tampered with because Diana would be displeased. I'm guessing that this husband-wife dynamic is faithful to the comic book, or else the script writer is working out some issues.
From a gameplay perspective, Martin Mystére is pretty standard fare. Your left mouse button controls most of the action, and hotspots cause the cursor to change to a magnifying glass, indicating further examination is needed. Your right mouse button changes the cursor to a hand if you want to "use" an item, or a dialogue balloon to initiate a conversation. The cursor switches to a yellow arrow when there is a doorway or hallway that you can use, but there is no such indicator when there are additional sections to explore outside of the screen area (for the longest time, I wondered where the front door was), so you'll need to walk up to the edge of the screen to see if it leads anywhere. Additionally, Martin doesn't speed up when you double-click on another spot on the screen, choosing to amble over at his own pace instead.
The interface is mostly intuitive; you can view your inventory by clicking on the small tile in the lower-left corner, labeled with an "i." From there, you can left-click to examine items, or right-click to "use" the article or combine it with another item in your inventory. Much fuss was made about collecting the car keys, so once I reached the car and was presented with the dashboard panel, I kept trying to "use" the car keys there, but there weren't any hotspots to be found. A single line has been reserved on the screen for subtitles, and the dialogue is broken up in order to fit into that small allotted space, causing longer sentences to read like a haiku poem.
Based on our preview build, the graphics are very lush and vibrant, but they could use a few minor adjustments. The environment is richly detailed, with bunches of geological artifacts strewn about, and it's evident that great attention was paid to lighting and shadows. As Martin walks around, his shadow dynamically changes, depending on the light source. Cut scenes and items which need further analysis are displayed as a montage of comic panels, and while it's not exactly groundbreaking, it certainly helps to show off the title's panache. However, when Martin answers the phone, he picks it up from the dresser, and the transition isn't smooth at all. The handset disappears from the dresser and reappears in his hand a few seconds later (try that, David Copperfield!). Doors also open while he is standing a good distance away from the doorknob and grabbing at thin air.
In the segment that I played, Martin is in the comforts of his own home, where he's clothed in a Hugh Hefner-esque velvet robe, and the blues-y/jazz background music helps to fortify this impression. There is a tiny detail which I found to be puzzling, though: we can't go into the bathroom because the water has been turned off to stem the flood in the basement … but the kitchen faucet is dripping. As far as voice acting goes, it's good, but again, the devil's in the details. This was a UK build, so hopefully, the dialogue will be regionalized before release because the British accent is simply distracting. Otherwise, it would seem that an entire group of jolly good chaps from the old country have decided to take up residence in New York City. There are a few dialect issues attributable to the European developer, such as Martin referring to the food processor as a "kitchen robot," his compliment to Java the housekeeper about being "in top form," and his comment about his wife's "green fingers" when praising her gardening abilities.
Martin Mystére: Operation Dorian Gray has enough flair and personality to spare, and it's sure to win over more fans as soon as the graphics issues have been smoothed out and the dialogue has been tidied up. Despite these setbacks, I'm intrigued by the prospect of investigating a crime that is too grisly for polite conversation, and I wanted to see more of Martin Mystére. Unfortunately, the preview build ended way too soon, cutting out just as we were speeding off to the scene of the crime. There are seven more segments to the game, and I'm hoping that they live up to the promise that's apparent in the beta.