Moebius: Empire Rising

Moebius: Empire Rising is the newest game from Jane Jenson, creator of the classic adventure game series, Gabriel Knight – one of my favourites. The game released on April 15th after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

As I backed this game on Kickstarter, I obviously really wanted to like it. Sadly… I didn’t.

In Moebius, you play Malachi Rector, a brilliant antiques appraiser whose social skills are lacking. Malachi is hired by a mysterious organization to do a mysterious job which takes him all over the world. As you get deeper into the story (minor spoilers alert) you find out what you’re actually doing. The group Malachi is working for believes in a “Moebius pattern” where the lives of people in history are being repeated in the present. They hire Malachi to find key historical figures who could bring about an era of stability and prosperity. Basically. Summarizing the plot to this game in a coherent manner was harder than expected.

The game does have some good things going for it. I did find the game occasionally enjoyable, especially at the beginning. The dialogue was decent, as was most of the voice acting. The background images were pretty and the music was good – very evocative of Gabriel Knight. There were also some unique kinds of puzzles. As your main objective in the game was to relate people to historical figures, one of the main puzzle types was matching up their characteristics. This was both interesting and educational, though once I had done it a couple of times, I figured out that just guessing was often quicker than reading though all the information.

My favourite feature of the game was a button that highlights all objects on the screen that could be interacted with. While using this could be considered easy-mode, I found it incredibly useful. Pixel-hunting for objects is not something I’m interested in doing, and this was totally prevented.

There were a few things that started out as positives, but turned into negatives. Adventure games are often far out there in terms of reality and physics. Adventurers often walk around with shovels, coffee tables and iron statues in their overcoats. Where do they put them? In this game, the protagonist often refused to pick things up until he saw a need for them. At first, I applauded that. Why would you walk around with a can of motor oil? But after a while, it got very frustrating. For example, at one point I needed to get into the VIP tent at a political rally. In order to lift a pass off someone I needed to go back to my apartment to pick up an mp3 player I hadn’t been able to pick up earlier. Once I used that to bribe someone to be a distraction I needed to go back to the apartment again to pick up some scissors. When I successfully stole the pass and had to go back to my office to get some superglue that I also was unable to pick up before. Then back to the rally to get into the tent. That’s a lot of back and forth that could have been avoided. Not picking up every single item in sight makes sense, but as it turns out, that kind of realism in video games is not a great idea. “How irritating” Malachi remarks. Tell me about it.

Items and inventory use wasn’t all bad though. I enjoyed that you were never overloaded with items and there weren’t any nonsensical item combination puzzles. No cat fur mustaches in this game.

Some of the puzzles fell flat. Malachi was able to analyze people to learn more about them. Sounds like a neat idea, but in practice it mostly involved guesswork and the process of eliminating the most ridiculous options.

The most unforgivable part of the game was an excruciating 50+ screen underground maze at the end. There’s only something to do/interact with on maybe 5 of the screens. The rest is just running through dark tunnels. Considering how the rest of the locations in the game (like France, Egypt, New York) have only a handful of screens, dedicating so many to this awful, dismal, repetitive place is almost insulting. Who could have possibly thought this was a good idea?

Moebius runs about 8 hours long. Though there were parts of the game I enjoyed and I’m glad I finished it (other than that awful maze), it was disappointing overall. The story was so-so, the characters were a bit flat and some of the animation work was downright bad. The game lacked the charm and historical detail of Gabriel Knight and really did nothing to advance the dying (dead?) point-and-click adventure genre, or even replicate it at its height.

Hopefully the other game projects I’ve backed (Tesla Effect – May 7!) will deliver more bang for my buck.

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