Welcome to Coverage Club, the weekly series where we shift our critical eye towards smaller games that deserve some attention. Each week, our review editors select two titles and provide honest first impressions in the same style as our full reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preferences, you’re sure to find something off the beaten path here. This week, our authors are feeling a little adventurous. Guest Coverage Clubber Courtney goes back to 2014 with Jane Jensen’s mind-altering Gray Matter. After that, Sam climbs up the fire escape and takes up the case in Hot Tin Roof: The Cat that Wore a Fedora.
Covered by Courtney Ehrenhofler
The name Jane Jensen will usually invoke a massive outpouring of nostalgia and support for her trilogy of cult classics, Gabriel Knight. What’s lesser known, but just as good, is her 2014 return to adventure gaming, Gray Matter.
Gray Matter follows Samantha Everett, a young street magician on her way to London. She ends up accidentally becoming the new research assistant of the reclusive Dr. David Styles in Oxford. Well, not so much by accident, but more by the effort of trying to find a place to stay for the night after getting lost. By morning, our heroine realizes the consequences of her actions. She has no choice but to go along with the deception or risk arrest.
Dr. Styles is eccentric, and Samantha finds that being his research assistant is no easy task. What type of research is he actually working on? Why do these almost supernatural things seem to keep happening? Samantha gets dragged into the mystery and has to use her street smarts and her bag of magic tricks in order to think on her feet and stay out of trouble. At the same time, she has her own problems trying to figure out how to get into the exclusive Daedalus Club of magicians.
It’s a well-crafted mystery narrative, with much the same vibe as Jensen’s previous Gabriel Knight games. The puzzles are fun, yet tricky, and using Sam’s magician skills is an interesting twist. They’re mostly riddles and inventory based, but Sam needs to perform tricks like palming cartridges, sleight of hand, and the “psychic telephone” trick to manipulate the people around her as she keeps up the ruse. Like any good adventure game, there’s a fair amount of snooping around and background research involved.
The other main characters are affectionately known as “The Lamb’s Club.” These are the students Sam tricked into participating in Styles’ research project. They’re quirky and weird in their own ways, but it keeps things interesting. The flirty Helena Beaugard was my favorite other than Sam, purely for the fact that she was unintentionally hilarious and also trying to hit on Dr. Styles. Also of note is Sam’s pet bunny, Houdini. True to his name, he frequently breaks out of his cage, which causes Styles much consternation.
The game also has sections that you play from Dr. Styles’ perspective, which give you an insight into what his research is aiming to do. Without giving too much away, it’s an interesting theory he has from the evidence that presents itself. Of course, by the end of the game, circumstances force Styles and Sam to work together in a rather unusual partnership to save themselves and the students.
Overall, Gray Matter is a fun game. It’s quirky and off-kilter, and the premise is definitely weird, but that’s what makes it memorable. Sam is a great protagonist, she’s someone who is capable and savvy, contrasting with Dr. Styles’ more reclusive and eccentric nature. The puzzles are fun, but the riddles are not for the faint of heart. If you’re looking to get into something with a supernatural flavor, Gray Matter is it.
Gray Matter was played on PC via Steam with a copy purchased by the writer.
Hot Tin Roof: The Cat that Wore a Fedora
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
I’d like to preface this by saying if I ever saw a cat in a fedora I’d probably take that cat to literally anywhere else to get some better fashion advice. However, if that cat is a detective in a noir-style detective game, then I guess it’s acceptable. Such is the case with Hot Tin Roof: The Cat that Wore a Fedora, a point and click adventure with some 2D platformer elements.
You play as Emma Jones, a new detective who works with her feline partner Franky. The two get their first case after a lull had caused them to slide into debt. All they have to do is find a hidden will for a rich lady. Easy, right? Yet when they investigate the penthouse apartment and find the hidden room the will should be in, they find the room broken into and the will missing. Thus begins an adventure of trying to figure out where the stolen will has ended up.
You’ll have to explore the city of Tin Roof, talking to people and discovering clues to help you solve the mystery. Of course, you need to actually reach these people you want to talk to, which means platforming. The controls aren’t overly complicated, with Emma having simple jumping abilities to get through various challenges.
The big thing is that Emma also has a revolver, which she can load with various kinds of ammo. Thud rounds break crates, bubble rounds reveal secret objects, grapple rounds work like grappling hooks, and more. You can swap what kind of rounds are in Emma’s gun, allowing her to use whatever the current situation requires, and even mix and match her revolver to alternate rounds between shots. Need to knock a crate out of the way then grapple up to a high point? Alternate thud and grapple rounds. It’s a clever mechanic that I could see getting some interesting use.
Of course, as a detective and adventure game, there’s a major draw in the puzzles and dialogue. As you talk to characters and explore areas you’ll find clues, which you can use as dialogue options with other characters to try and solve the mystery. Of course, there’s not just one mystery, as you also attempt to solve some side quests along the way. Why are the rats on strike? What is the police chief’s real name? What’s Franky’s secret history? You’ll find out if you explore!
I can see fans of adventure games getting some enjoyment out of Hot Tin Roof: The Cat that Wore a Fedora. Its clever comedic writing fits well with the tone, and the world easily drew me in. If you’re looking for an adventure game and want some platforming to go with it, then this should be a good choice for you.
Hot Tin Roof: The Cat that Wore a Fedora was played on PC via Steam using a copy purchased by the writer.
What do you think of this week’s Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another look? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow our Steam Curator to keep up to date with all our reviews.