At the end of Chapter 5, Victor finally traces the final tentacle to his unborn child and places the helmets on his head and Alicia’s abdomen. While previous dreams have reflected the inner desires and thoughts of each character, can a fetus possess such complex emotional cognizance and have it manifest within the dreamscape?
Instead of a completely different dreamscape as occurs with other characters, Victor wakes up in his own apartment with Alicia missing. Surprisingly, Mr. Morton shows up at the door to explain that he somehow survived his unfortunate demise and that Alicia is waiting for Victor in his office. Victor makes his way down to the office to meet Alicia, but she seems a little off…
Unexpectedly, the final chapter focuses almost entirely on Victor’s inner contemplations. The dreamscape runs Victor through his past experiences and potential futures, each exposing his prior traumas and anxieties. He even confronts various versions of himself: ones who have given up, forged different paths, or ran away from responsibility—thoughts that many grapple with in the transition to adulthood. As such, Victor is both the willing and unwilling hero of this story. Ultimately, the Victor the user controls stands steadfast in his convictions of what should be done, but the dreamscape is littered with many “failed” Victors. When Victor ends up back on the ship among the pile of discarded Victors that Alicia cast away in Chapter 3, they taunt him endlessly: “Do you think you are better than us?” Does doing the “right” thing make one any better than others? Or are there no “wrong” decisions if you do what you think is “right?” In the end, each Victor, including the one the user controls, only does what he thinks is right.
There is so much more that can be unpacked from this chapter and the game as a whole, but to hold back spoilers and let players draw their own conclusions, I shall refrain from sharing more. However, I found the ending rather abrupt and wanting. While it ties up all loose ends and brings about a satisfying outcome in retrospect, I think the developers could have drawn it out a little more for more comprehensive closure. Furthermore, compared to previous chapters, there are fewer puzzles in this one due to its experiential quality, though the standard of the puzzles stays just as engaging and thoughtful. It’s a shame there just weren’t more.
Graphically, Chapter 6 takes all that worked in previous chapters and improves on it. While past scenes remained as they ever were, the new ones are at times breathtaking in their innovation. In one particular scene, Victor’s act seemed so brutally realistic in a dreamlike way (as is everything in the game) that I had to turn away in perturbation. Altogether, The Dream Machine’s cardboard and clay roots encompass the perfect medium to express the fine line between reality and dreams that the game explores. It’s clear that an exorbitant amount of work was put into creating the set for the game, and it pays off beautifully. Accompanying the unnerving environment are simple musical pieces that sit among the backdrop, quietly oozing sometimes ominous and sometimes depressing notes. The score, along with the appropriate sound effects, tops off the atmosphere in the game and enhances the entire experience.
There is much I can speculate on regarding the ending and all its implications—I’m thankful to have played The Dream Machine and to have the opportunity to contemplate the questions it poses with regards to the genre, video games, art, choices, and life. What more can I say? If you like a good story, questioning things, and well-crafted puzzles, this is definitely for you. I certainly hope this isn’t the first and last game from Cockroach Inc.