Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tex Murphy in The Tesla Effect - A Spoiler-Free Game Review

The year is 2050 and the Earth is still reeling from the effects of World War III. The world is a harsher, crueler place and that suits Tex Murphy just fine. Once an idealistic private investigator, seven years of hard living have changed Tex Murphy from the kind of man you go to when you're in trouble to the kind of man you go to when you need to cause trouble.

That all changes one night when Tex wakes up on the floor of his office with a bump on his head, two injection marks in his arm and a suitcase full of money. A quick tour of the neighborhood reveals that Tex has lost seven years worth of his memories and most of his old friends want nothing to do with him.  Worse yet, one of his old enemies is now his business partner!

What happened to Tex that night? What happened to change him over the past seven years? Whatever happened to Tex's girlfriend Chelsea, who disappeared seven years ago? And what does any of this have to do with Tex's current case, which involves a missing neurologist, a mysterious cult and the lost research of Nikola Tesla?

You, as Tex Murphy, will have to figure it all out.... or die trying.

It's not a subject I've written about much in all my years of covering the gamut of geek culture, but I love adventure games. I spent more weekends than I care to think of in my formative years playing all the classic point-and-click adventures by Sierra On-Line and Lucasarts. But there's one series that holds a special place in my heart and indeed still holds a place on my computer desk's disc-shelf to this day - The Tex Murphy Adventures.

As such, I was both pleased and horrified to learn that after the better part of a decade and some change, the long-awaited Project Fedora finally saw light in the form of a new Tex Murphy game called The Tesla Effect. I was pleased to see that a new game in the series (which promised to resolve the cliff-hanger ending of the last game, Overseer) had finally come out and I was horrified that such a game had been brought to fruition without me being able to support the KickStarter that made it all possible!

For the first few hours, The Tesla Effect is the homecoming fans of the series have been waiting for. Everyone who fondly remembers games like Under a Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive will thrill to walk the streets of Chandler Avenue one more time.  They'll love talking to all the old gang once again, as they start putting together the pieces of just what happened to Tex and learn more and more horrifying details about the man he has become.

Then you'll get to the game's halfway point and it becomes clear that The Tesla Effect was rushed to completion.  Movie scenes become information dumps and the classic logic-driven object puzzles are replaced with mazes, sliding-tile puzzles, pixel-hunts in dark rooms and the sort of random deaths that made many old-school adventure games so frustrating to play.

Thankfully, The Tesla Effect offers a learning curve of sorts for those who are experiencing a classic adventure game for the first time.  There are two game modes - one of which offers harder puzzles for the veterans and another that offers in-game hints, a hot-spot highlighting flashlight and the ability to skip some puzzles in exchange for a loss of points for the newbies.

Another boon is that Tex is accompanied this time around by Smart Alex - a digital personal assistant (with the voice of Kevin Murphy, Tom Servo himself!) who will not-so-gently remind the player of your current objective throughout most of the game.  The game itself is also surprisingly forgiving compared to earlier entries, as it is completely impossible to find yourself in an area without the tools you need to accomplish your goals for that day.  Tex himself will often note that you still have things to do before leaving some areas you can't come back to easily at a later time.

I should note that despite the flaws (and there are more than a few, which I plan to detail in a later, spoiler-filled review) I still greatly enjoyed The Tesla Effect for non-nostalgic reasons.  The acting and direction of the movie sequences are top notch and everything is played with the right amount of the melodrama that the series is famous for. You just wish that they had time to let what seems like two-games worth of story unfold more naturally.  Still, whether you are a hardened P.I. or a green rookie, I'd suggest giving The Tesla Effect a try.

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