Ray Ivey evaluates the latest adventure game from Jane Jensen/Pinkerton Road Studios
May 9, 2014
Jane Jensen/Pinkerton Road Studios
Phoenix Online Publishing
Whenever the venerable Jane Jensen creates a new game, attention must be paid.1 She’s famous for creating games that engage our brains even as they intrigue us with their stories.
Her new project is called Moebius: Empire Rising. As in some other Jensen games, your job is to uncover a startling conspiracy, one that’s steeped in history, and which has global ramifications.
The setup of the story is quite effective: Our new Jensen hero is named Malachi Rector. He’s a globe-trotting art and antiquities dealer with an attitude, as well as a Xanax addiction. The story of the game begins when his normal orderly life is turned upside down when he gets involved in events which could determine the leadership of the Free World.
However, it turns out the game is quite a mixed blessing. In fact, I feel like I have to present parts of this review in Good News / Bad News format. So here goes.
The Main Character:Malachi Rector
Malachi Rector is a brilliant guy, an authority in antiques and antiquities. His expertise in authenticating rare treasures has given him a worldwide reputation. His antiques business is based in Manhattan.
Rector is a cold, prissy martinet. He’s so uninterested in any human connection that it’s difficult to care about him.
He’s extremely handsome and is brought to life admirably through the vocal performance of Owen Thomas.
Despite his good looks, Malachi has a deeply weird, gangly body, especially from the back. While reasonably presentable from the front, when he’s walking he has this creepy Nosferatu posture. It’s quite off-putting.
As an expert on antiques, he sometimes provides entertainingly catty comments about inferior interior décor.2
He’s a complete sourpuss.
The Sidekick:David Walker
Also very good looking, theoretically well-built, action-hero type.
The graphics don’t fulfill this promise at all. He’s almost as awkward physically as Malachi.
Could be a dashing hero.
Hardly gets any chapters of his own (other than the tedious caves; more on that later), and when he does he’s dull as dishwater.
Potential for Interesting Stuff Between the Two Main Characters
Lead character’s sidekick is a devoted, attractive man. Hmm… Brokeback potential here?
Despite ample opportunities for the story to dip into this arena, even in discrete and teasing ways, it goes nowhere. Dr. Quest and Race Bannon had more fun together than this pair.
Sometimes the visuals are bright and snappy. A high point is the opening of the chapter set in Egypt, when the introduction is done with a series of floating comic-book panels. It looks great and gets the story going with energy and pizazz.
Sometimes the backgrounds are muddy and unattractive, particularly in the endless cave maze sequence.
Okay, I’ll stop torturing you with my Good/Bad flow chart.
I always look forward to the data-based puzzles in a Jane Jensen game. I enjoyed the historical research and analysis Malachi does as he works on the mystery. Most of these puzzles involve comparing historical figures with characters in the story. It’s an intriguing idea, and it plays out in entertaining ways.
On the other hand, the second type of puzzle in the game is the very traditional third-person inventory-based kind. These aren’t as much fun, for two reasons: First, they’re pretty pedestrian. Now, I know what Jane might think when she reads that previous sentence: We got all complainy about the overly obtuse inventory-based puzzles in Gabriel Knight 3 (anyone remember the cat moustache puzzle?) and now I’m complaining the puzzles are too simple?! There’s no satisfying me, is there?
Fair enough. But I’d be happier if the difficulty level of these puzzles landed somewhere in Happy Medium Land.
But there’s another problem with the inventory-based puzzles. You’re not able to pick up any item until your character realizes he needs it. This breaks a time-honored, grab-everything-that’s-not-nailed-down-and-toss-it-into-your-inventory-for-possible-future-use adventure game tradition. And not in a good way.
So you’re constantly coming across hotspots for interesting items (hmmm… scissors….) that you’re not allowed to pick up. Later, when you may be in a completely different place, you stumble across a puzzle that might need those scissors. You then must a) remember where you saw them, and b) backtrack to that location, find them again, and c) return to the location of the puzzle.
This would be one thing if you were just returning to a previous room. But the game takes it to truly absurd lengths. At one point you actually jump on a plane and fly from Washington, DC to New York to procure an item you could have easily gotten in a thousand places in Washington. It’s just laughable.
Sometimes the dialog is very good, particularly as delivered by the aforementioned Owen Thomas. Best line: “Excuse me, I’m just going to take one of these grenades."3
The Worst Thing….
...is an endless sequence which take place in an ugly cave maze near the end of the game. Mazes can be a real trap in adventure game design, because they can get boring very quickly. Remember how tedious the maze in Myst was until you figured out the secret? And let’s not forget the painful sewer mazes in Traitors Gate. And am I only one who suffered through the impenetrable maze in Dogs?
The cave maze in this game is just brutally tedious. It goes on forever, and then you have to do it AGAIN with another character! Bleh.
But is it FUN?
Yes. Really. The main setup is interesting and intriguing. Malachi is a fascinating, if distant, character. The research puzzles are entertaining. The settings are far-flung and enjoyable. The puzzles make sense.
I’d probably be easier on this game if it didn’t have such a sparkling pedigree. The game is certainly fun and playable, but if you’re like me, you’ll spend a lot of time just wishing it were better.
1Extra credit if you can source the phrase I just used!
2My two favorites: “Here’s a general rule. Nothing valuable ever comes in wicker.” And: “The Seven Wonders Hotel…the first wonder is that anyone stays here.”
3Why have I never had the opportunity to ask this question in real life?