Review: Brink of Consciousness: Dorian Gray Syndrome Collector’s Edition (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on January 19, 2012

Brink of Consciousness: Dorian Gray Syndrome Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: MagicIndie Softworks
Genre: Adventure/Hidden Object
Release Date: 12/26/2011

So as you can tell, I’m starting to add a new niche under my belt. I’m already known as the handheld guy, the Naruto guy, and the licensed game guy. Why not add point and click adventure games guy to that? In fact, if even a small portion of the games bring me as much enjoyment as Dorian Gray has, it will have been well worth it.

I love the horror genre, but I rarely get into horror video games. This is because I generally can’t find one that jibes with what I want from a horror experience. I can’t stand Resident Evil in any of its incarnations, and Silent Hill is something I’ll only watch other people play. So, I was very interested in this game after hearing about it’s villain. I like the hidden object/adventure genre enough that a good horror story would be just the ticket.

Now let’s see if this causal game has the right stuff.

Story

This game starts off basic enough. You play as a reporter whose just written a column that link the disappearance of several people to a potential serial killer. Shortly afterward, you discover that said killer has kidnapped your girlfriend, and he intends to kill her if you don’t come to his lair alone. This isn’t the most fascinating of starts, but it gets better when you meet Oscar.

Oscar is the killer in question, a man obsessed with age and vanity. His psychosis has grown to the point where he no longer sees people as people, but as potential centerpieces for his “art”. I’m not going to spoil how he goes about accomplishing this, but his masterpieces are strewn about his mansion and waiting for you to discover them. Each new find brings a new sense of horror, especially as he has your girlfriend and is threatening to do the same to her at any time.

What really sets this game apart is that Oscar is a constant presence. He’s placed a speaker and a camera in every room of the mansion, so that he may watch you and taunt you with each step. As you stumble around the mansion looking for a figurine that will unlock a door, he clues you in to his art, mocks your slow progress, and even brings the girlfriend in on the fun to keep you scared out of your mind. The dialogue for him is well written, and he’s simply a great villain.

In the collector’s edition, you get the true ending, and Oscar’s final moments on screen are a great bit of work that feel fitting to his character and make for a fun finale. If you don’t have the CE, then you still get an interesting ending, but not one that ties it all up.

I’ve played four of these games this month, and this is by far the most engrossing story of the bunch. I was interested from the get go and the game never let me down.

Graphics

This game has a pretty great art design. Goldvale mansion is a fully realized place with all of the proper amenities. Better yet, there is a strong sense of consistency, while still maintaining diversity. As such, you move through hallways, kitchens, bedrooms, and pretty much every kind of room that you’d find in a game of Clue. Plus, there are a few outside areas that look great as well. As this is an adventure game, there is plenty of detail to each environment, much of it interactive. Some of the best touches include areas that react to your movement. In one section, you need to reach a high window. If you click on the window without putting up a ladder, the game plays it as if you used a nearby shelf to step on. This causes a couple of shelves to break and scatters debris on the floor. That’s more detail than I’ve gotten with any of these games so far.

The character models are hit and miss. They basically look like Barbie dolls come to life, especially the faces. Oscar in an exception due to the mask he wears. This isn’t a great look, but not not bad for the genre. I will add that the animation is pretty decent, and miles above the stuff I saw in Mountain Crime.

While it won’t set the world on fire in terms of technical prowess, Dorian Gray manages to impress with a strong art style and a fantastic attention to detail. For a casual/budget game, this is way above the norm.

Audio

Whoever does the voice acting for Oscar deserves a gold star. His voice carries the heart of the game and delivers a brilliant performance. Well mannered with a sinister edge, Oscar is the perfect serial killer. When he switches his tone to one of anger, you take notice. I found myself heading into my journal to re-listen to many of his speeches, and there is a degree of realism and believability to everything he says. You just don’t get that in most games. He could give Jigsaw a run for his money.

The other voices aren’t nearly as strong, but thankfully, they aren’t utilized very often. There are poor attempts at British accents, and the sole female voice is devoid on any life or personality. Oddly enough, that ends up working for her for reasons I won’t spoil. These voices tarnish the audio quality a bit, but the sheer greatness of Oscar trumps them.

The music is very fitting, full of slow melodic tunes for most of the game. When it needs to ratchet up the tension, the pace quickens and the music becomes more eerie. It isn’t great stuff, but it works quite well. It definitely helps to keep you into what you’re doing, which is more than enough for the likes of me.

The sound effects are another strong point. Anything you interact with in the game has its own sound, and even the sound of heavy breathing is done fantastically. Normally, that kind of thing would be annoying, but it works here. There’s that satisfying click as you put a puzzle piece into play, the terrifying sound of a giant saw blade, and many other great sounds that add to the atmosphere.

There are a few hiccups, but this is otherwise a great sounding game.

Gameplay

I feel like a broken record, but there’s only so much you can talk about when it comes to point and click games.

The game is a straight up adventure title. You explore your environment and look for items to add to your inventory as well as areas of interest. If you want to add an item, all you need to is click on it. Bringing the item back up is a simple as placing the cursor over the inventory bar and clicking it. You’ll perform all sorts of actions, from breaking down dry wall with a sledge hammer to dumping gasoline in a generator. All of these actions serve to advance your progress in the game, either by revealing new items or opening new locations. As always, it’s fun to figure out what to do with each item you pick up.

There are plenty of traditional puzzles as well. Some of these can be a bit tricky, and involve revolving pieces to using logic to figure out where things should go. Puzzle fans will definitely enjoy the number and variety present in this game. They’re also more challenging than I’m used to seeing, which is a good thing.

Finally, there are some hidden object sections as well. From time to time, you’ll need to examine a location and find all the items on a provided list. Some items are hidden and need you to solve a mini puzzle in order to grab them. For example, you need to find a miniature bicycle, but first you need to find and attach the wheels. This makes these sections much more interesting.

Like I said, there’s only so much I can say about these mechanics. They’re solid, fun, and work like they do in pretty much every other game in this genre. This game does get some bonus points for the puzzle variety, however.

Replayability

For how much I enjoyed this game, it kind of fails on the whole replay value thing. It will take around four hours to play through the whole thing, with another hour or so added by the bonus case found in the CE. This is typical for the genre, but it’s still far from ideal.

Worse off, if you want to play through the game again, you need to create a new profile. I can’t think of any reason why that should be the case, but it is. Even still, I can see myself playing through this again come next Halloween. I enjoyed it that much. As such, I’ll give it a slightly better than worthless score here.

Balance

There are a ton of challenging puzzles here to work through. A lot of them would be home in a tougher version of Professor Layton. Also, the hint system only gives you clues if you’re in the right location, so it’s far from the crutch I’m used to.

However, the CE comes with a strategy guide that you can bring up on the fly. If you ever truly get stuck, you can bring this bad boy up and find whatever you need. Oh, and all of those challenging puzzles? You can skip them after a minute. In many cases, I was told I could skip a puzzle while I was still working it out. It was tempting.

If you can avoid abusing these systems, you’ll find a challenging game from top to bottom. However, the tools to skip past the hard parts are readily available. While this does add a degree of accessibility to the game, it also adds a temptation to rely on them. If you have self control (which I don’t), then it won’t be a problem.

Originality

Mechanically, this game offers nothing new to the genre. That’s to be expected though. These games are sold on their story, not their originality. Still, one has to wonder how many of these things I can play in a month before I get burned out. Granted, if they all reach the level of this game, I think I’ll be OK.

In regards to the story, there isn’t anything original here either. It’s the kind of subject matter you’ll find in tons of horror films. The big difference here is that Dorian Gray is actually, you know, good. I find that original enough to give it a few points here.

Addictiveness

I played through this game in one sitting. That includes the bonus chapter. I just couldn’t stop. Like all point and click adventure titles, this game is addicting as hell. However, add an interesting and ever present story to the mix, and you have video game crack. I’m almost thankful that the game wasn’t too long, otherwise I could have developed some serious health issues while playing.

The only other games I’ve found this addicting were awesome puzzle titles like Picross or Tetris. That puts this game in some fantastic company. It just goes to show you how far a great story can take a game like this. I only hope this doesn’t give me high expectations that can’t possibly be met.

Appeal Factor

Here’s another section for the broken record club. These games don’t have the biggest fanbase. However, the accessibility makes this a game anyone can play. I’ve said this all before, and it remains true for Dorian Gray. Fans of the genre will eat this game up because it’s higher quality than the average title. Nonfans may be intrigued by the killer story and low barrier to entry.

All told, I’m giving this game a slightly higher score than usual. Good stories tend to deserve such rewards.

Miscellaneous

The CE comes with a number of goodies. I’ll list them here.

Firstly, there’s the bonus chapter. This offers the game’s true ending and lets you play through a whole new location. I didn’t find it as engaging as the main story, but that’s for reasons I can’t get into without spoilers. Sill, the ending was a great payoff and there are plenty of great puzzles here as well.

Next, you can play any song from the game’s soundtrack on demand as well. It’s a small touch, but one that not enough games do.

There are plenty of bonus images as well. There is concept art, some pretty good wallpapers, and comics. The comics are amusing drawings of Oscar in various cartoonish situations. These were chuckle worthy.

Finally, you get a an interview with the developer. It’s in another language, but there are subtitles. I also love when games include this kind of bonus, and this is no exception. I love how they created the villain. They basically ran through a list of mental ailments until they found one they wanted to work with. It’s genius I tell you.

Of the four adventure titles I’ve reviewed this month, this has the best bonuses by far.

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Enjoyable
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Awful
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

While it has the same problems as most games in its genre, Dorian Gray steps it up in all the right places. It is easily one of the most compelling casual adventure games I’ve ever played. The story, presentation, and bonuses are well above the norm for the genre. If you’re a fan of these kinds of games, don’t let Dorian Gray pass you by. It’s at the top of the class.



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