Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray

Posted by Davide Tomei.
First posted on 07 August 2013. Last updated on 30 August 2013.
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Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray
The game's visual style pays homage to its comic origin.
Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray
Martin is certainly well off for a globetrotting adventurer.
Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray
Professor Eulemberg's mansion is now a crime scene.
Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray
Martin and Java arrive at the Mayan temple.
Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray
Diana explores the local ruins.

The game is available at GamersGate.

Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray is a point-and-click adventure game based on the titular character from the popular Italian comic Martin Mystère created by Alfredo Castelli. Originally published by GMX Media and later republished by The Adventure Company as Crime Stories: From the Files of Martin Mystère, the game advertises itself to be "Martin Mystère's greatest adventure yet". Unfortunately, the adaptation ultimately fails to show or transmit the distinctive pathos and atmosphere of the comic, by flattening the characters out, in a futile attempt to please a wider audience rather than comic aficionados. The end result is an unremarkable adventure that may be mildly entertaining to diehard comic fanatics but is unlikely to thrill the general adventure game fans.

The story, which is loosely based on the 1987 Martin Mystère comic book "Operation Dorian Gray", begins with Martin receiving a call from the police informing him the death of MIT researcher Professor Eulemberg. Upon arriving at the crime scene, Martin begins to sense that there is more to the murder than meets the eye. After excluding a robbery gone wrong, Martin investigates and discovers a large secret to the professor's studies. He is helped by his trusty aid Java—a Neanderthal who only talks in grunts and whom Martin has befriended during a previous adventure in the Himalayas. Martin's fiancée, Diana, also lends him a hand in the investigation when needed. To solve the case, Martin must leave the civilized city of New York and explore ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico that are rumored to hold the secrets of eternal life...

The graphics are easily the best part of this game. The 2D backgrounds are well rendered, with vivid colors and great attention to details. Fans of Martin Mystére will recognize the faithful reproduction of the house and the many memorabilia from Martin's previous adventures. Unfortunately, the game does not take full advantages of these gags, as many of them are not interactive. By comparison, the 3D characters are rather poorly rendered. They lack in details and are blocky looking. For odd reasons, Martin always moves very slowly and takes a long time to walk to anywhere on screen. All of the cut scenes are rendered like a storyboard typical of comic books. They are well drawn and fit nicely with the visual style of the game. Alas, they provide only little information to explain what is going on in the story.

The sounds in this game are fair. Ambient music is catchy and bluesy, befitting the game's atmosphere, though also a bit repetitive. Sound effects are minimal but serve the game fine. The voice acting, however, is quite awful. Martin has a deep, monotonic, and flat voice, speaking without any dynamic or emotion. The same is for Diana. Ever heard of the automated recording on an airplane that describes the safety procedures? They sound just like that. Fortunately, the characters only talk when they are engaged in a conversation. When they are making observations on their own, only subtitles appear without any speech. It is a missed opportunity, as the poor voice acting spoils much of the efforts by the developer to make this game an immersive and fast paced experience.

The game is also negatively affected by the poorly written dialog. The dialog is overly elaborate and inappropriately silly. It also tries too hard to be funny. You will need to click frequently to skip through all the unnecessary parts and the frivolous descriptions. Although a lot of conversational topics appear each time Martin talks with another character, only a few of them are pertinent to the main story.

The game is played from a third-person perspective. You click the left mouse button to move the character and the right mouse button to interact with the environment or talk to another character. The interface is clean and minimal. Controls are hidden away from the screen except for an "M" icon that activates the menu and an "I" icon that summons the inventory.

Some parts of the game are a bit frustrating to play. There is a bit of pixel hunting. The biggest annoyance by far is the game's refusal to allow Martin to pick an object before the game progress demands it. This can cause confusion and unnecessarily slow down the game because some players may be led to incorrectly believe that a particular object is of no use when it cannot be picked up on the first try, though the same object is very much needed later on. Even so, the overall gameplay is surprisingly fluid and quite engaging. The puzzles are well made, coherent, and never too frustrating to solve. Most of the puzzles require you to interact with the immediate environment, such as finding a telephone number, opening an ancient door, or picking up clues in a crime scene. Only a few of the puzzles are inventory based. Sometimes, you need to take control of Diana and Java to accomplish some tasks.

The story needed to be made more coherent and less hasty. In fact, the frequent twists and turns in the story, meant to be "coup de théâtre", come across instead to be just confusing and forced. This is mainly because the game lacks the proper tension building plot devices. It may be true that the game has a decent underlying plotline with good dramatic moments, but all of the clues leading to them are missing. Thus, the most intricate mysteries waiting to be unfolded are never discovered gradually by the player but are instead revealed abruptly to the player. Perhaps this is done in order to shorten the story of a comic book enough to fit into a video game. Similarly, the ending to the game is rather anticlimactic. All the unsolved ties are simply explained to the player rather than discovered by the player.

In sum, Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Grey is a competent but not spectacular adaptation of the comic. Although the game deserves credits in trying to portray the Good Old Uncle Marty (as Martin likes to call himself) in another of his grand adventures, it falters in making good use of the source material to tell a good story and deliver an immersive experience. The less than acceptable voice acting also hurts the overall presentation. Except for diehard fans of the comic, this game is unlikely to appeal to adventure gamers who are seeking a good detective mystery with a supernatural twist.

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