The Dream Machine took a while to fully mature, evolving from an amateurish framework into a full-fledged adventure game.
One of the game's main faults is arguably the egregious absence of animation throughout. Stiff characters stand perfectly still most of the time, with very little scenic animation support, if any, outside ambiant particles such as smoke or fireflies. Coupled with the lack of voice overs, this lends the game a remarkably static impression.
Despite the charming visuals, all rooms in initial chapters share the same square angles and overly basic layout, as if every simple scene was designed to fit in a tiny shoe box.
Over the extensive 7 years of development, the game's creators clearly gained experience in their craft and finally mastered the style in the last half of the game. This also means that the first 3 chapters are consequently rather dull in comparison.
Chapter 1 serves as a basic introduction to the game's settings, main character Victor and classic gameplay mechanics.
Chapter 2 suddenly becomes freaky as the game slowly begins to reveal its plot and the meaning behind its title. These first too chapters felt unspectacular to me.
Chapter 3 suffers from a bad case of picking up anything in sight for no valid reason other than it might come in handy later. Victor performs mundane errands for numerous clones nearly the entire time, including some straining puzzles, though nothing illogical. The story still isn't very compelling so far, gameplay is entirely linear.
Chapter 4 is where the game finally takes form and turns genuinely good. With more interesting puzzles, it now feels like an authentic adventure game. This chapter presents original ideas, such as a special wall in the dream section where players can rearrange the order of rooms.
Chapter 5 wastes little time in the real world and sends players directly to the good bits. Unfortunately half of it is a dry sci-fi world that features a clever but overused character scaling mechanic. The second and arguably much bigger "half" is great, however. The player is now handling multiple quests simultaneously, centered around a larger environment and more detailed characters.
From hereon the game also proposes a much needed diversity of textures and materials in the scene compositions, more dynamic camera angles and better lighting. Looks great!
Chapter 6 turns into a very imaginative introspective exploration, and feels nothing like the previous five chapters. It lets you revisit most of the previous locations, though not many of them turn out to be really useful. This chapter also makes astute reuse of previously introduced mechanics or solutions.
Chapter 7 proposes a short epilogue to the latter chapter. It presents potential for an extremely difficult choice but offers none to make, ending the game in a disappointingly passive situation that feels somewhat unresolved.
Some intriguing dialogues and story beats
Original art style and premise
Significantly improves over every chapter
Creepy looking characters (good or bad, depending on taste)
Some straining puzzles, though nothing illogical
Not a family-friendly adventure (some unexpected moments of relatively intense gore and sexual matters)
No voice overs
Lack of animations
Buggy Flash-based engine produces frequent freezes at startup
Dull first half of the game
Clunky old school UI (no continue option when returning to the game, must manually load save)
Annoying scream during dream transitions disrupts the mood
Disappointingly evasive game ending
As an avid dreamer and adventure gamer, I expected this game to be a perfect match for my taste. Instead I met a slowly evolving budget production that only partially fulfilled my curiosity and felt like a student project for the first half. I still recommend it bittersweetly to fans of the genre as the game does improve significantly.