There are four steps you need to accomplish prior to finishing this article:
1) Read Keenan’s Machinarium review.
2) Buy Machinarium.
3) Play Machinarium immediately.
4) Weep in its brilliance.
It’s okay, don’t worry – I’ll wait here patiently for you. Seriously, go get crackin’. I’ll grab a ham sandwich or something.
Back already? Hmmm. Well, I’ll take your word for it. You wouldn’t lie to me would you? Because if you haven’t interacted with Machinarium yet, you’re not just missing out on the game of the year, you’re also missing out on the best game of the last five years.
Bold words? Audacious assertion? Fanboyish dogmatic claim? Not really. In fact, I’d be surprised if anyone who’s actively engaged this game would even have the guts to argue otherwise. See: it’s like my old half-balding gruffly-bearded college literature instructor used to say, “Sometimes folks, when you open up a book, start to turn the pages, you begin to feel the weight of it. The importance of the novel becomes heavy in your fingers. This is rare. And yet we all know it when it happens. You begin to realize the book that you’re holding is far more than a simple collection of bound papers; it’s a force. It has gravity. Its weight becomes paramount.”
To quote Marty McFly, “This is getting heavy.”
If weight is indeed a measure of a projected medium’s sheer significance, then it’d take an industrial 10-ton forklift to hold Machinarium steady. This isn’t just a game dear readers, it’s a bona-fide phenomenon. Machinarium does more within the supposed confines of a 2D semi-animated adventure than most 3D games even dream of. Put starkly: Machinarium is the stuff that gaming revolutions are made of.
First case in point- there’s no spoken or written dialogue. That’s right: none. Zip. Zero. Machinarium does enjoy a musical orchestral score and numerous sound effects, but other than that, you’ll never hear or read a coherent recognizable word from any of the characters. And yet, Machinarium elicits a sentimental passionate response almost instantly via its visual storytelling. How? Through the exact lens that every other PC game developer seems to somehow ignore: imaginative expressionism. But that’s over-simplifying. Perhaps more accurately, Machinarium encapsulates your eyes and ears simultaneously through a daft and precise manipulation of an expertly comprised artistic style. It does this so well, you’ll start to question whether or not conversation and literature truly are the best forms of articulate communication.
This foreign robot has more personality and emotional depth than 10 Batmans put together.
Here’s just a minor example: your robotic protagonist encounters a fellow mechanized automaton with his back resting against a rusted metallic house’s twisted siding. In his hands rests a pair of makeshift twisted drum sticks, but the actual drum is absent between his legs. His face, although riveted, cold, and plain, expresses a noticeable frown. You’re naturally inquisitive by now. Where’s the drum? Who took it? Did he lose the drum?
You click the character, and a mid-sized bubble opens up above him. Inside the bubble, a duo of hand-scribbled black and white ruffians approach our once happily drumming robot. One of the bullies grabs the drum and smashes it over his compatriot’s head. He lets out a hearty metallurgic chuckle as he surveys his destructive handiwork. The drummer’s eyes begin to wilt as he witnesses this, his mouth quivers. His arms continue their drumming motions, albeit more out of shattered hope than actual intention.
The secondary brow-beater removes the punctured instrument from his own noggin and, in cruel reciprocation, shoves the percussion oval down his chuckling buddy’s throat, the drum landing inside the oily bloated depths of his leaden stomach. The two buffoons then throw back their heads and chortle together, marching out of the bubble’s view frame. The motorized yet sentient drummer taps his drum sticks a few more times on the concrete, slower and slower, until both cease movement altogether. His eyes drift to the floor. He hangs his head and sighs lowly. The background music accentuates the action, peaking and spiking at just the right intervals, a perfect complement to the brief snippet’s subtle narrative complexities.
Inside this single screen, there’s enough narrative acuity to fill an entire chapter of a written novel.
And that’s the real difference here: Machinarium shows you, it doesn’t tell you. No clunky dialogue trees, no repetitive voice actors’ monotone phoned-in dribble, no in-your-face obnoxious cut scenes. Just pure fluidic correlation of situational allegory at its most majestically fabricated forms. An entire cohesive narration is successfully conveyed to the player without ever leaving the confines of the game’s established “limited” parameters. Machinarium takes Half Life’s attempt at immersion and beats it to death with its own crowbar.
During Game Central’s interview with Big Finish Games, we discussed the possibilities and potential realities of creating visceral emotional responses from stories in games. I voiced my longings to be so totally overwhelmed by an invested attachment that I’d bear tears of joy and sorrow from the choices and actions partaken onscreen. A mere day later, my wishes were answered. Turns out, Machinarium was the genie.
There’s just no way around it; as the years trickle by, Machinarium will be studied and dissected as an absolute masterpiece of PC gaming; a keystone of the arch. And rightfully so.
Do you really want to admit that you never had the chance to partake of this digital miracle during its initial public inception? Get out there and play it guys and gals, and realize that Machinarium rests so damn far above its respective peers, it deserves a shelf all to itself.