By Guy Rainey / May 2nd, 2014
|Title||Moebius: Empire Rising|
|Publisher||Phoenix Online Publishing|
|Release Date||April 15th, 2014|
|Platform||PC, iOS, Android|
Moebius: Empire Rising is a new adventure game from Phoenix Online Publishing and legendary adventure game designer Jane Jensen (creator of the Gabriel Knight trilogy, and Phoenix Online Publishing’s Cognition series). Unlike Cognition, this is a full game right out of the gate. The talent here is promising. Does the game live up to it, or fall flat on its face?
First, our protagonists. The character you will be controlling for most of the experience is Malachi Rector, antiques appraiser. That may not sound like a dangerous occupation, but our dear Mr. Rector has one nearly-fatal character flaw: he’s not particularly wise where people are concerned. He’s a genius appraiser, evaluating objects worth millions, with fees of twenty to thirty thousand dollars. If he catches someone trying to pass off a fake, he’ll tell his clients immediately, and bluntly, not caring that he might offend some dangerous people until it’s too late.
With an attitude like that, Mr. Rector gets into scrapes with unsavory characters quite often. Fortunately, he’s finally found a bodyguard. Meet David Walker, ex-Green Beret and all-around tough guy. Don’t let his look fool you: he’s not a dumb jock. He’s got a B.A. in Military History, and he’s just as capable of pulling together an adventure game solution as Mr. Rector. These men were hired by a mysterious group called FITA, who want them to investigate certain wealthy women around the world.
Jane Jensen has been designing adventure games for over 20 years now, so it’s no surprise that Moebius: Empire Rising is an old-school adventure game, through and through. You’ll visit an area, talk to inhabitants and solve some environmental puzzles to progress through the story. Fortunately, it has some modern conveniences and a new kind of puzzle solving.
The first modern convenience is a hint system. Now, actually, I don’t think they got it completely right with this one. I love hint systems in adventure games, since, sometimes, all you need to get moving is a little hint, and, besides, if you’re really stuck, you’re not playing an adventure game for the bizarre puzzles anyway. Putting the hint system in-game removes the need to head to the Internet to find the answers. Unfortunately, the hints don’t ever tell you how to solve a puzzle. They just tell you what you need to do. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that’s enough. But the hints are very frustrating if I can’t figure out what item to use or where to go. To be fair, though, I really only remember two bad puzzles. Most of the time, it’s pretty clear exactly what you need to do to solve the puzzles.
A much better-designed convenience is the ability to target things you can interact with. Knowing exactly what you can interact with and what you can’t removes frustrating pixel hunting. A puzzle becomes a lot less frustrating if you have all the elements to solve it. The game itself demonstrates just how useful this is when it takes that away from you at the end of the game (fortunately, it isn’t as necessary then).
One tool you’ll be using a lot: Rector’s smartphone. Seriously, what’s with Jane Jensen and smatphones? Rector now prefers his smartphone to a computer, and Cogntion’s heroine had a smartphone as an important part of her inventory, too. Anyway, Rector’s smartphone is where you’ll call and text people (which you will have to do often), do web searches (no internet connection required), access the hints and use the analysis function. Now, I don’t really mind using the smartphone, since it’s just another menu, but why do I have to look for a flashlight/lantern/adventure game light source, when it’s my understanding that most smartphones have a flashlight/lantern/adventure game light source built in?
On to the new kind of puzzle the game offers. Rector has the amazing talent to look at an object or a person, and immediately determine certain things about them. You’ll interact with this talent through the analyze function on Rector’s smartphone. It’s nothing more than a series of multiple choice questions, so, with enough trial and error, you should be able to solve them. Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoyed looking through the options and choosing the one I thought was right. A lot of times, I was right on the first try, which made me feel like I understood these characters and objects immediately. Like I said, it can be solved through trial and error, but it adds a simple puzzle that lets you learn more about the world as you use it.
The presentation is a mixed bag. It ranges from really good to passable. For instance, take a look at the screenshot above. That’s what the game looks like on the lowest graphics setting (there are only three).
That’s what the game looks like on the highest. I should also point out that that is a pre-rendered background. Since the background is pre-rendered, it doesn’t make sense that it should be lower quality. It would make more sense if the character models became lower quality, but that doesn’t seem to happen. The game doesn’t even run any faster on the lowest setting. Rector walks painfully slow, even during scenes when he’s supposed to be doing something quickly. Bugs are also somewhat prevalent. Nothing game-breaking (and probably nothing that can’t be fixed), but I found quite a few without trying.
But the rest of the presentation is really good. The voice acting is excellent. You’ll hear Rector’s voice throughout the game, but you’ll never get tired of hearing it. The rest of the cast plays their parts just as well. The music is top-notch, and sets the mood perfectly. Adding the introduction comic (which provides important plot details) into the game is a nice touch, too. It makes one line at the end make a lot more sense.
All in all, this isn’t a bad adventure game. It has some hitches, but the characters are likable, the puzzles are challenging without being too frustrating and it runs solidly on a modest PC. If you’re a fan of old-school adventure games with about 10 hours to kill, you should pick it up. You’ll enjoy it. For the rest of you, it may not be worth the $30 asking price. I still recommend it; just maybe wait for it to come down to $10-$15.
Review copy provided by publisher and based on the PC version.
Moebius: Empire Rising is available on Amazon:
Moebius: Empire RisingPhoenix Online Publishing