Often a visual theme can only carry a game so far. It's enough to catch your attention, or even to build an atmosphere to keep you invested as you gradually delve into the mechanics, and The Automatician is no exception in this regard. However, what makes it stand out is how DreamPunks takes the semi-stitchpunk Victorian look as far as it can possibly go, working it into everything from the lore to the basic mechanics. It becomes far more than merely a skin layered over a few tried and true mechanics, and gives the The Automatician infinitely more personality than much of its competition.
The game has you stepping into the shoes of Emma - someone given the opportunity to resolve a number of bizarre puzzles a Victorian manor known as the Absolon Estate. Populated by bizarre cloth creatures – Whodos – your task is to open up more of the rooms as life goes on about you, and uncover the secrets to the place in order to become the Automatician.
So what you have here is a first-person puzzle game with a distinct narrative and hyping its beautiful environments. Those who played Dear Esther likely have a chill running down their spine for all the wrong reasons at that sentence, but worry not, the game isn't afraid of actually letting you take control. Besides the variety of odd and interesting characters to converse with, the environments themselves feature a fair number of surprisingly interactive elements and clever moments of foreshadowing the future.
The actual puzzles themselves are divided between rooms and are critical to opening up more of the house. Each is as much an engineering task as a puzzle, as you build a Rube Goldberg machine out of various bits and pieces to accomplish its role. These bits can range from miniature cannons to Ferris wheels and motors, and your task is as much about fitting them in the right order as the right place, angle, position and power. The game reworks its basic format several times over in order to add layers of complexity, and as a result it avoids the sort of complacency or repetition which can hinder other game.
However, there are definite problems here, especially in regards to the puzzles themselves. While there's no denying the satisfaction in watching a finished machine rumbling into life, actually getting there can often be infuriating. Because you cannot zoom in with the camera on the puzzles it can be very difficult to pick out what exactly each piece is, and you can spend minutes at a time scratching your head over a basic mistake. Besides this, the content itself is also relatively light. You have a few general puzzles of the same overall design to help you move from room to room, but little to break up the experience outside the lore. As such, anyone more mechanically inclined might be disappointed by this outing.
Furthermore, there is no denying that the experience The Automatician offers is a very short one with little in the way of replay value. While it has a price tag to match this, it lacks the sort of staying power you might desire from a puzzle game, and by the end it seems as if it’s more of a test run for a much bigger experience.
Still, while The Automatician might lack the complexity or greater substance of other puzzle games, the themes, execution and simple charm of the experience makes it well worth a look. This is a fleeting if charming and very engaging experience, and even when the puzzles fall short the mystery and scenery is enough to keep you going.
THE AUTOMATICIAN / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: DREAMPUNKS / PLATFORMS: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW