The Machine turns the humble factory production line into an engaging puzzler.
Regardless of whether you work in an office, a restaurant or a factory, it can often feel like you’re just part of an endless production line, churning out stuff for some invisible overlord. While this is a pretty dispiriting concept, The Machine manages to turn such a task into one of the most enjoyable download games of recent weeks.
You’re the chief engineer at a pretty abstract, grid-based production factory that seems to specialise in colored (and uncolored) blocks. What they do and who they’re for is really no concern of yours – especially as arranging the machines that produce each batch is such an enjoyable and gently taxing process.
Having been given an order by your goateed manager (who, while polite, can’t spell “us”), which invariably comprises of blocks of assorted sizes and colours, you set about constructing your one-shot production line. This involves placing each piece of equipment – from splitters (for producing smaller blocks) to conveyor belts and paint-spraying machines – on the unique section of floor space you’ve been granted.
This can be a fairly regular open-plan set-up, an awkward, twisting set of pathways that split apart and meet again en route to the completion bin, or a stacked up multi-level affair that requires numerous lifting mechanisms to transport each block.
The controls are as simple and as familiar as you’d hope, with the mouse handling block placement (selecting items through a concise menu system along the top of the screen) and camera control assigned to the arrow or WASD keys. Both key set-ups have zoom in and out commands within easy reach, although it would have been nice to have had the function assigned to your mouse-wheel too.
The sparse, functional nature of the controls is reflected in the game’s visuals, which use bold, chunky 3D graphics that are relatively light on detail. The backgrounds are pure white, while the grid-like levels themselves are similarly plain with thick marker pen-like outlines. The Machine isn’t a looker, then, but it possesses a well-calculated style that never detracts from the gameplay.
The focus is very much on the game’s puzzle design, which is largely excellent. However, The Machine perhaps takes a little too long to get past the hand-holding stage and onto the truly meaty stuff. While the drip-feed of new equipment keeps things interesting, new items tend to be accompanied by overly simplistic introductory levels that can feel like a waste of time in amongst the more involved examples.
This is especially noticeable given the limited number of puzzles on offer – a mere 33 in the main Puzzle mode. There is a Free Mode on offer, but I didn’t see the fun or value in building a sprawling contraption with no ultimate goal.
Fortunately, added value is provided by the game’s community aspect. There’s a level designer included, and the game’s simple Lego-block style means that even the most cack-handed, impatient sort (like me) will be able to knock something playable together with minimal effort. You can then share your creations with other users and play theirs through the Community Levels section. This is where the game’s true value lies, with the developer simply providing a bunch of simple, fun-to-use building blocks for us to create our own fun with.
The Machine may be lacking in fine detail and offline content, but its social features provide a solid foundation for a potentially lengthy and engrossing puzzler. It’s anything but workmanlike.