Martin Mystère



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    Artematica Entertainment

Publisher:    gmx media

Released:  2005

PC Requirements:   Pentium III 733 MHz, 128 Mb RAM, 16MB Graphics Card, Windows 98 / Windows 2000 / Windows ME / Windows XP, DirectX 9



Additional screenshots



by Becky

Martin Mystère

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 works.

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 engineering geeks.)

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 corpse.

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 wholly unanticipated.

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 first time:

There’s an eerie feeling in this place

The mountain is a big dark cavity

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 statues

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 going on.

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 selected.

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 environment.

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 experience.

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 Mystère. 

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 twists.

Final grade:  B+


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