Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray is a
point-and-click, third person mystery game, based on the graphic
novels by Alfredo Castelli. The reference to Dorian Gray in the
title alludes to two of the game’s unusual themes: the existence of
the soul and the search for immortality.
Is There Life After Marriage?
There’s a leisurely pace as the game begins. Martin slouches
around his apartment in his pajamas, commenting on various objects.
There are a lot of things here to see and ponder, and these musings
serve as links to Martin’s past and introduce the way his mind
Our hero has spent much of his life wandering the globe. During
his adventures, he has collected odd objects and even odder people.
He has an assistant named Java who is a Neanderthal -- someone
Martin dragged back to the “civilized” world of New York City. Java
fits right in to the NYC milieu. As for Mister Mystère (sorry,
couldn’t resist) his expertise covers ancient cultures, the
extraordinary, the paranormal, and the criminal. He is the sort of
person one calls after the cursed gold of the Incas has gone
missing, leaving behind a trail of dead curators and thieves.
Martin has recently married. You will spend a portion of the
game playing as his wife, Diana (you will also play as the enigmatic
Alfie). As Diana, you gain a completely different perspective on
Martin’s world. One unexpected element of Martin Mystère is
its lighthearted glimpse into the workings of the couple’s
marriage. For a story to maintain interest and romantic tension
after a couple is married is an incredibly difficult thing to
do, and Martin Mystère manages it well.
After an opening series of domestic challenges (including bribing
Java and finding his cell phone), Martin joins his colleague Travis
at the scene of a puzzling murder. The victim, Professor Eulemberg,
is a member of MIT, which is portrayed in the game as an
international association organizing scientific conferences – in
this case, conferences on archaeology. (My research has just
revealed that MIT does, in fact, have a small department of
archaeology -- who knew? Apparently there are a handful of
archaeologists there, striving for recognition among the hordes of
Alfie, Is it Just For The Moment We Live?
Before his untimely death, Professor Eulemberg was researching
the concept of death as an outgrowth of life, rather than as its
terminus. His thoughts are captured in a journal found near his
Since nothing has been stolen from the professor’s mansion, the
motive for his death remains unknown. Martin, of course, finds more
clues than the police, and these send him on a journey of discovery
to the ancient ruins of the Aztecs.
At this point in the game, Martin Mystère switches gears
from a standard, third person mystery adventure to something creepy
and strange. The plot winds through a series of hairpin turns – the
kind you can’t predict because you’re taking a ride in the dark.
You’ll witness unexpected transformations and revelations. The
gamer becomes a “player” in the actual mystery in a way that is
While the plot in the game left me occasionally flabbergasted, I
was also surprised by the writing. Dialog veers between the
unintelligible (basically everything Java says) and the poetic. For
example – Martin’s comments when viewing an ancient site for the
There’s an eerie
feeling in this place
The mountain is a big
All this dark humid fog
clinging to the walls
The life of the
ancients is sculpted in these rocks
Huge stone guards.
At the foot of these
An illuminated lake.
Martin does have a way with words. His comments are sometimes
comical and often, perhaps, more self-revealing than the typical
hero would wish.
Save Me from Distractions
There are several cutscenes and dialog sequences in the game that
contain plot exposition, and you will be mightily perplexed if you
miss these. I wasn’t paying sufficient attention during two. One I
missed because the setting is a strip club. I stumbled across this
as three young female relatives walked by the computer, and I was so
busy trying to get the stripper off the screen (to the accompaniment
of loud giggles) that I didn’t take in the details of the dialog.
It would be easier to recover missing plot exposition if you
could save your game frequently. Unfortunately, the game has only
eight save slots, so I had to replay large sections to get to the
sequences that I wanted to view again.
Bring Me the Bust of Alfredo Castelli
Gameplay is mostly inventory based, and it can be quite
challenging because the detail in each location is voluminous, and
almost everything you see is clickable. Left-clicking brings up a
description of each item in a dialog box without a voiceover. Voice
acting in Martin Mystère is reserved for descriptions of
items in inventory and for actual dialog -- I liked this because I
wasn’t constantly clicking to interrupt a voice giving descriptive
information that I can read in a fraction of the time.
Right-clicking on an item allows you to bring up a “hand” icon,
and then you can attempt to take the item and add it to your
inventory. Sometimes items can’t be taken until you have activated
a certain trigger in the game. There are also hotspots that bring
up a “close-up mode”. These close-ups are rather unusual, showing
picture panels that are reminiscent of a graphic novel, with the top
panel active and containing more things to click on.
New locations can be reached by clicking on the map in
inventory. Within each location, new areas are accessed by clicking
on a gold “door” icon. A notepad in inventory provides you with
goals for each segment of the game.
By game’s end I found that some of the inventory items had not
been used. Perhaps I missed something. (I was sooo looking
forward to finding a use for the Muppet.)
Speaking of missing things – inventory items are easy to miss
because there are so many hotspots. I searched some locations five
or six times, each time finding a small hotspot I’d previously
overlooked. Once in inventory, some of the items need to be
“processed” in unusual ways, which provides much of the game’s
challenge. That said, for the most part the challenges were
logical. And as you search among the hundreds of hotspots, Martin
(or Diana, or Alfie) does usually give you an idea of which items
are important enough to take.
Methinks These Errors Should “Vanquish”
One drawback to Martin Mystère is that the production
seems unpolished. There are spelling errors (for instance, no one
on the development staff knows the difference between vanish and
vanquish). There are items that are mislabeled – a closet labeled
as an armchair, a statue labeled as a police car. There’s a place
where the screen goes blank and you can hear the characters talking,
and you expect a cutscene but everything remains dark. There are
also places where, if you click on an object, your character walks
over to the next screen to comment on it, and the object is no
longer “hot” from that angle. So you have to walk your character
out of the screen, back to the original screen in order to try to
take the object.
A native New Yorker will find some details that don’t add up –
Martin claiming that: “From here you can see the road to Manhattan,”
when the map shows he already is in Manhattan. Our
hero also finds parking spaces right in front of all the buildings
he visits. As a former Manhattanite, I can assure you that this is
roughly equivalent to walking on water.
In terms of glitches, there’s one column in the top-down exterior
view of the Aztec ruins that repeatedly crashed the game when I
clicked on it.
Of course, if the game has drawn you in (and I was definitely
drawn in) these things become minor annoyances.
Never Mind the Villa, Just Give Me the Library
Environments in Martin Mystère are ornate and
imaginative. They are photorealistic, with a muted palette and
reflect a painter’s use of light and shadow. Most locations contain
movement – falling rain, drifting leaves, swirls of smoke. Some
locations feature rooms of spectacular size and detail. My favorite
spaces were the library in the Donovan Museum and the Aztec tomb in
Mexico. Each location obscures almost as much as it reveals, and
you have to penetrate beyond the surface to figure out what’s really
The player characters are a bit blocky in appearance.
Interestingly, Martin and Diana go through wardrobe changes, which
in my opinion adds “spice” to the characters (especially Diana’s).
Martin moves somewhat stiffly – Diana’s movements are more fluid (or
perhaps she is just more fun to watch). Alfie’s movements? Well,
let’s just say that stiffness suits him.
As in all third person games, you spend a lot of time watching
the player character walk across the screen (which is one reason
it’s nice to see them in a variety of costumes). When the
characters move, their shadows also move quite realistically. None
of the player characters can run, but by double-clicking on the exit
door icons, you can speed things up. The screen goes dark
momentarily, and your character promptly appears in the location you
Cutscenes occur mostly during transitions to new locations. You
see several picture panels containing scenes from the game (again,
harkening back to Martin Mystère’s graphic novel roots). The
cutscene plays out within one of the panels. These are eye-catching
but very brief.
Would That be Marching Music?
The music in Martin Mystère is much more like that of a
movie soundtrack than is typical in an adventure game. It has an
orchestral quality, uses many different instruments, and is a
distinctive presence throughout the game. The musical style is
varied, almost melodramatic in places, and is well matched to each
Ambient sounds are so subtle that they are frequently overwhelmed
by the “background” music. The most effective ambient sounds are
found in the final segment, where the crash of thunder combines with
the beating of a human heart.
The voice acting is lively. The characters do sound more as if
they are from London than from New York, but other than that, the
voices suit the characters well. Jenna Hate is played with
over-the-top gusto, but she’s also impossibly buxom, making her
something of a caricature from the start.
But I’ve Never Even Heard of this Guy
Most of the characters are well established early in the game, so
that you don’t need to be familiar with Alfredo Castelli’s graphic
novel series in order to enjoy the characters or the plot. Thus,
you can generally have a rip-roaring good time in Martin Mystère
even if you haven’t read one word of the graphic novels. I
certainly did. However, upon completion of the game, I felt that
knowing more about the graphic novels would have added to the
Fans of the graphic novels will more readily understand some of
the in-jokes (the phone conversation between Martin and Alfredo
Castelli, for instance). Also, late in the game you meet one
character and discover another’s true identity. While these make
sense if you have read some of the graphic novels, they come from
out of nowhere for the less informed gamer.
Nevertheless, overall, this is a game I would recommend to all
adventure gamers, even if they aren’t fans of the graphic novels.
The world of Martin Mystère is beautifully elaborated, the main
characters are memorable, the plot brings surprise after surprise,
and despite an occasional misspelling or inventory item frustration,
the gameplay is satisfying.
Let’s hope we’ll see future games featuring the appealing Mister
Quick List for Martin Mystère
Third person, point-and-click adventure in the traditional
style. Strong emphasis on the plot and characters, with many
surprises. Lots of character interaction and lots of reading.
Environments are detailed, colorful and (in places) monumental.
Music is dynamic and varied.
Plenty of inventory based challenges. No sliding tile puzzles,
no sound puzzles, no mazes. One puzzle that requires color
discrimination, no puzzles that require quick reflexes. Can you die
in the game? Well, no, not exactly.
One game-crashing hotspot. No problems with installation. Eight
save slots (I could have used fifty).
Martin Mystère is aimed at gamers who enjoy third person
mystery adventures with memorable characters and unexpected plot
Final grade: B+
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