Crazy Machines, released in 2005, was a game which took the ideas of Jeff Tunnel’s PC game The Incredible Machine (1993), and pushed them to ridiculous limits. It’s all about building insane contraptions using ill-fitting parts to complete the simplest of tasks: It’s the digital version of a Rube Goldberg or W. Heath Robinson cartoon, only you have to assemble the parts, and you get to watch the resulting chaos humorously unfold. Over the course of two numbered sequels and at least one spin-off console game, with the adaption into a full 3D engine and advances in physics along the way, does this latest iteration bring enough originality to the table to justify a purchase?
The first thing long time fans of the series will be relieved to hear is that the core formula of the gameplay hasn’t really altered at all. With time paused, you add physical parts to a machine, then hit the play button and watch how those parts interact with one another. For those who want a little structure to their madness, progression comes in the form of a campaign mode, which features almost a hundred levels to puzzle your way through. Here you’re presented with a target objective, which could be anything from setting off a firework to shooting an apple with a high precision crossbow. To accomplish these tasks, you’re given a partly finished contraption of fixed and moving parts set up around the environment, and you have a limited supply of additional parts picked from a pool of hundreds, specifically tailored to completing that puzzle. The difficulty curve here is perfect, and the first few stages are all about learning how the objects and parts interact with each other in the physical environment. some objects are realistic, such as bowling balls, rope, planks of wood, toasters, balloons etc. Some of them are fantastical, allowing you to manipulate the weather and such, a feature first seen in the spin-off game ‘Crazy Machines: Elements’. Regardless, the actual physicality of these items is simulated with absolute precision. Sure, you can create lightning, but it reacts as you would expect it to, conducting through metals, burning woods and even charging dynamos. The materials are just as important as the accurate and expected simulation of the weight and buoyancy of items, and even veterans of the series will be amazed when something interacts in a way they didn’t predict, but in a way which makes total sense.
Away from the structured main puzzle campaign, you have a plethora of options and modes to keep you busy for years to come: There are mini games where you control different aspects to get high scores, there are challenges which use the FischerTechnik license – real world creative toys, similar to Meccano, which let you build little machines of your own – that have you creating digital contraptions using licensed parts. What you have so far is a complete package, a game which takes the brilliance of invention and the craziness of fantasy and combines them into a physical world, allowing you to create domino-like cause-and-effect machines which react in believable ways. With everything rendered in 3D and running at the highest spec, it looks utterly fantastic in motion, and you can zoom right in to get a close up look at every single part of your contraption. With grass blowing in the wind and clouds moving in the sky, and realistic depth of field and shadows accenting every edge, a decent rig can really bring the experience to life. It even has great music and accurate sound effects backing it all up, and an all important sandbox mode, which lets you build anything using everything without limits or goals, just for fun.
If that was all that Crazy Machines 3 did, it would be enough to justify a purchase for newcomers and veterans alike. But that isn’t all it does: There are two features I haven’t touched on yet, and those two remove any hesitation in my recognising this game as a masterpiece.
The first is a returning feature, brought back in a simplified yet more powerful form: The editor! Start with a blank slate, and create your very own puzzles for people to play through. You can use over 220 objects and over 500 single parts to build machines of insane complexity, and you’re able to change every aspect of the parts you use. Paint things different colours, for fun or to help you identify pieces, and use ‘chips’ to change the behaviour of every object in the game. The latter is seriously impressive stuff, and what you essentially have are the development tools the developers used to build the game in a visual environment. You can alter so many properties, size, shape, weight, buoyancy, durability, whether it’s affected by specific elements such as wind or rain, whether it can burn, melt, conduct… Somehow, the entire process manages to be both intuitive yet deep, and specifically people with a little knowledge of physics will ‘get it’ right out of the box.
But that isn’t even the best part. The best part is Steam Workshop integration. What would be the point of creating all of that wonderful stuff, if people had to go and dig through the internet in order to find it? How could you ensure compatibility?
With Crazy Machines 3 using Steam Workshop, you can save all of your created objects, contraptions, puzzles, campaigns, mini games and mods right from the game and put them right into the hands of other engineers. If you have no interest in investing the time to do that, fear not, because already hundreds of people are putting great stuff out there. You can go into the workshop from the main menu of the game, and search and filter through thousands of new things to build and use. There are brand new parts appearing daily which you can download and use in your own puzzles and sandbox. There are new themed levels and campaigns to play through, and you can filter by recommendations and number of downloads to weed out the stuff you’re not interested in. There are even templates which you can use as a starting point for those who are interested in building their own levels, but don’t know where to begin. Even the developer is adding new content, including parts, elements and environments, for free. In a world of season passes, DLC and micro-transactions, that’s a really big deal, and points to the difference between those in it purely for the money and those who love what they do.
I can recommend Crazy Machines 3 without hesitation. Do it justice by running it on a rig with the recommended specifications, and feel the childlike wonder surface as you build ridiculous contraptions and outlandish mechanisms. Use logic parts to recreate real world interactions, or just punch a unicorn in the face with a boxing glove on a spring. Do whatever you want to do. That’s the goal, and it works.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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