Gray Matter by Jane Jensen

So the North American release date for Gray Matter (the first adventure game from Jane Jensen since Gabriel Knight III) is still February, 2011. Fair enough, and I think that’s the Xbox 360 and PC release date, both.

But…the game is out in Germany (and I suppose the rest of the EU) as of last week. And, if you’re willing to pay fifty bucks, you can get the download version of the PC game at a German Digital Downloads site called Gamer Unlimited: (This is a legit company, it’s Metaboli’s German property for digital game purchases.)

This digital version includes both German and English localizations.

Well and so. As someone who considers himself a total Jane Jensen fanboi, I had to bite. And so now I’m in Chapter 3 of the game, and I have some impressions of it.

This game makes a lousy first impression. In the tutorial section, I found the animations for the first character you control, Samantha, to be horribly overdone. The voice acting for Sam in that tutorial is pretty bad, too, and the fact that they insist on showing a close-up of her face on the side panel (hard to describe…remember how in the first Gabriel Knight game they’d show a close up of Gabe’s face and the face of the person he was talking to? They do something similar here) heightens the bad impression, because at least in English the lip movement doesn’t match well at all with the dialogue.

That was on Saturday. I was bitterly disappointed at having pissed away $55 on a game that I wasn’t sure I wanted to ever boot up again…but I decided to give it a go again on Sunday night. As I wound my way through the first chapter, damned if Jane Jensen didn’t start weaving some of that magic spell she’s got over me, and damned if this game didn’t start to get really good.

It is standard adventure game fare, so if you’re not a fan of the genre, this game won’t make you one. But, if you dig the old school point-and-click adventure game, this is heaven. The game engine itself is something I’ve heard Jensen describe as “2 1/2D”. If you’ve played games like “The Longest Journey” or “Still Life”, you’ll recognize it–basically 2d backgrounds with the character given perspective to move from foreground to background. The nice thing is that they’ve poured a lot of detail into the “diorama” settings, so you see clouds move in the sky, and smoke come out of chimneys. When you journey to Oxford University, you see people you can’t interact with walking through the scene to create the idea that, hey, you’re in the town square in Oxford, and people hang out here.

What I really like about the engine is that you can toggle the interactive “hotspots” on and off with the spacebar…no mo’ pixel hunt. It probably makes the game a little easier than Jane intended it to be, but for me it made the challenges feel like they were fair. Another cool thing is that the game shows you your progress through each chapter of the game. There are “points” of a sort awarded, and for completists you’ll want them all, and the game makes it very easy to see where you’re lacking here. It also has bonus points, and there’s a cool side-story game involving solving a series of magic riddles that so far seems ancillary to the main plot (but we’ll have to see, won’t we?)

Another nice thing is that the animations for Sam are a lot less “busy” after the tutorial. For one thing, the camera is pulled out to a greater distance, and the character 3d modeling looks a lot better like this. Even better than that, either I got used to the mediocre voice acting, or the girl doing Sam’s voice gets tons better after the tutorial. Most of the other characters (game is fully voiced, of course) have very good voice acting, so that’s a plus, too. (There are a couple of exceptions, but nothing game-breaking.)

I guess the best illustration of how pulled into the game I am so far is that the subject matter–which is experimental neuro-biology by a scientist who may or may not be mad and malevolent…or is perhaps just misunderstood, hard to tell yet–just really didn’t interest me much when reading previews of the game, but I’m totally drawn into the story now, completely absorbed. The game oozes spooky atmosphere even though nothing too spooky has happened, and I’m finding I care about the characters and what happens to them and am wildly, almost insatiably curious to see where we’re going here.

Really glad to know that there’s a decent game in there – I’ve had this on my radar since I heard about it maybe a couple of years ago, and I’ll always give Jane Jensen’s games a fair shake just on the strength of the GK games.

I absolutely loved the Gabriel Knight games (and their stories). The subject matter of this game is also something that I’ve played in toher games that I’ve always found immersive.

I hope it does well so she can continue making games like this. She was the star of Sierra to me in my younger days.

Good to hear, trigger. I’ve been waiting a long time for a new Jane Jensen game. Though I still want to know what happens to Grace and Gabriel in Scotland :(

Me too Anders, me too. Love to see some entity grab the GK IP and hire Jane on to do that Haunted Castle in Scotland idea she had for a GK4.

Another thing worth mentioning: while I love adventure games, I’m something of an adventure game weenie: I almost always have to resort to a walkthrough on the toughest puzzles in a game.

So far, no walkthru (which is good, since I’m not sure one exists!) The puzzles seem challenging, but not stupid. There’s no cat hair and syrup mustache puzzle here, at least not so far! The puzzles don’t feel “tacked on” either. They’re woven and completely naturally integrated into the story.

Finding out that it was both good and released in Germany, I thought maybe it was out in all of Europe but apparently it isn’t. What on earth is going on with its release?

Really looking forward to this so your continued impressions are much appreciated, trigger.

And I, too, am an adventure game weenie lover. Or something like that.

Good spot, trigger. I didn’t realise it was out in Germany and your impressions make it sound very tempting.


Good Lord. I can’t believe this actually finally exists.

Add me to the chorus of incredulous voices – after the troubled history GM had, I sort of kind of assumed it’d be swallowed up in some argument about who owned the publishing rights or something. Heck, I can’t even remember who it was originally slated to be published by. Sierra, followed by WizarBox? Or was that just the developer?

Anyway, great to see some impressions on it, and looking forward to hearing more.

Hooray :) I was a big shattenjagger fan. I’m finding a lot of European releases are slow to struggle their way across the Atlantic.

I’m nearly done with Chapter 2 of the game and I’m pretty hooked by now.

It’s definitely an old fashioned point’n’click adventure in many ways. You wander around from location to location, talk to people, find hotspots, apply inventory items and solve puzzles. And that’s no bad thing as I used to love those.

The graphics are not mind blowing, but they are more than functional. Some character models have obviously received more care than others. Regularly, you will feel like you are playing an older game. However, like triggercut said, there is also plenty of attention to detail. As for the cut scenes, I really like their art style. They set the mood very effectively.

Gray Matter is not all about its graphics though, but about the little things that add to the game.

The main character has got a hobby she puts to very good use in the game. It breaks up the pointing and clicking and it’s satisfying when your preparations lead to a cool trick.

The progress bars are a cool idea which push you to try and find everything in a level.

And, last but not least, the story is really intriguing. I’ve just started learning a bit more about some of the characters and now I can’t wait to wade deeper and learn even more.

If you played the GK games, you will recognise the Jane Jensen hand behind this one too.

So far so good. Let’s hope it keeps going like that.


The project has changed studios in the middle of the dev cycle, and the graphics received at least one complete overhaul to get them to an acceptable level.
The first review I’ve seen is very positive. Pretty good game and JJ’s excellent writing.

Officially the English release was delayed for further polishing. But since the German publisher (dtp) is actually the one who pays for everything, it’s quite obvious that’s just an excuse. It’s easy to speculate that the true reason is avoiding grey imports. Many German adventure fans prefer to play in English. The German version apparently delivers that (unusual for an adventure!) and cheap UK imports (30-50% cheaper, including shipping & taxes) are not available yet.

Wendelius, I just finished chapter 3, and all I can say is shit just got real, yo.

I honestly thought I knew where this story was headed. Now I do not. I thought I knew who the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) were. Now…huh. Kudos to Ms. Jensen, at least so far. She’s got her hooks in me deep.

Ok I bought the game, now how do I download it?

edit: figured it out

I used my nephew, who is fluent in Deutsch with two different accents. ;) Alternatively, you could use firefox with the google toolbar that translates for you. Pretty easy to either download the game in the four parts as a direct download, or use Metaboli’s german download manager.

One sucky thing: dl rate for me in the US was about 400kb/sec. Guess I’m a good distance from their servers…

Maybe they’re adding Nazis.

Whoa, read this as Jane Goodall for a second. That would be pretty cool.

Huh, it’s asking for a serial number and I didn’t get one (didn’t get an email)

How do I get the serial number?

I got a lovely email in German (actually two–one confirming my registration as a customer, then another with my purchase details). Check your spam filter, but you should have both emails.

One thing: It wouldn’t let me do the “internet activation”–probably some sort of IP address range block on me because I’m stateside. The “I don’t have an internet connection” worked fine. It gives you a huge hex code to cut and paste and then it activated just fine.

As trigger said, you should have an email titled “Bestätigung Ihrer Bestellung Nr. xxxx” from [email protected].

Inside, you will find:

Die folgenden Schlüssel (Keys) benötigen Sie zur Installation oder Bonusinhalte freizuschalten :
Aktivierungscode : <activation key is here>

I didn’t have any trouble completing the internet activation from UK. But it might indeed be location related.

Now I can’t wait to get to Chapter 3. Thanks for the update triggercut.