Tesla Effect

Tesla Effect

Written by Dave Gamble on 6/3/2014 for PC  

I have had occasion to look at a few new point-and-click adventure games over the last couple of years which, while not a large number, has certainly been a sufficient quantity for me to develop a list of likes and dislikes in the genre. High among my likes are puzzles that make sense in the real world. Solving a problem by combining a moonbeam and a frog’s left foot to make an invisibility potion leaves me cold; it seems more luck than insightful thinking to come up with that combination. On the other hand, finding a gear that fits into a broken machine seems more logical to me, as well as being more fair to the player.

With Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy  Adventure, I had to take a chance. When looking at a brief synopsis of the game, it looked like it could go either way:

“Tex Murphy wakes up, disoriented and head pounding, on the fire escape outside his office atop the Ritz Hotel. Another typical morning for the last of the old-school detectives. Except it isn't. What starts out as the worst hangover in history becomes a baffling nightmare: something--or someone--has erased Tex's memory of the past seven years. Motivated by lost love, revenge and the world's strongest coffee blend, Tex must retrace his own steps into a maze of unsolved murders, hidden agendas and lost technologies of Nikola Tesla. Only by solving the mysteries of his past can Tex hope to regain his memory in time to restore what's been lost and stop a terrifying future.”

Not too concerning, but…

“Tex Murphy is the last of the hard-boiled gumshoe detectives living in dystopian post-World War III San Francisco in the 2040s.”

So yeah, that could go either way.

Also of concern was that Tesla Effect is the sixth in a series of games that have something of a cult-like following, and I would be coming in cold. Hopefully being able to follow the story wouldn’t be dependent on knowing the canon. Spoiler: that wasn’t a problem, but there were plenty of inside jokes that I almost certainly missed out on.

The defining factor for me, though, is that the most recent Tex Murphy titles are live action rather than hand drawn, at least when it comes to human-to-human (or holograph) interactions. Having never played an adventure game of that nature, I was enthusiastic about giving it a try.

When it comes to capturing the (sometimes sophomoric) wit of the dialog, the live-action scenes work well, for the most part. Chris Jones, game designer and the acting talent behind the acerbic and laconic Tex Murphy, brings a measure of believability to the show with his facial expressions and overall demeanor; far more that he could through simple voice acting. A typical interaction between two characters will offer a limited number of responses, but unlike some of the other adventure games where you pretty much work your way through the list of possible responses until there are no more to make, you only choose one. It is hard to tell if your choices make any difference in the way the story plays out, so I ended up simply trying to guess which one would be funniest.

There is a second style of conversation, though, which is much less, well, conversational. These are pure fact-finding sessions in that you are presented with a list of topics you can ask about and you get a single-sentence answer. These interactions suffer from being disjointed and not part of the flow of a lengthier discussion. They lose the feel of actually talking with the other character. It’s like the difference between ordering a drink from an affably talkative bartender and buying a can of soda from a machine.

The acting itself is good enough overall, although there are a few glowing exceptions where the performances came off as stilted or simply flat. This is somewhat unexpected since many of the actors are fairly well known. You almost wonder if they simply weren’t sufficiently motivated by working in "just a game."  It isn’t enough to detract a great deal from the experience, but it is noticeable.

At some point, though, you have to leave the live action and work your way through the adventure in the graphics mode. The quality of the graphics isn’t anywhere near as good as the video is, and in some places is actually not very good at all. The shift between live and graphics isn’t quite as jarring as you might expect, however, perhaps because even the non-live parts are in three dimensions, as opposed to many such games that simply provide sprites moving across a flat background. Because it can be burdensome to walk great distances, you are given the ability to navigate through shortcuts.

The puzzles themselves were mostly solvable simply by paying attention to the items that you find and collect, but there was one occasion when I was at a complete loss. Fortunately, there is help available through your thoroughly modern PDA, which goes by the very appropriate name Smart Alex. The voice behind Alex is performed by Kevin Murphy, who due to his experiences with the riotously funny Mystery Science Theatre 3000, was the perfect choice to give voice to the somewhat sarcastic Alex. At the easier difficulty level that I chose to play at, the hints were really more of a how-to guide, so I attempted to use them sparingly. On the occasion when I was completely stuck, though, they were a great help.

While I think Tesla Effect could be fairly categorized as being primarily an honorarium to the devoted Tex Murphy fans that helped finance its development through crowdfunding, it certainly stands on its own merits for those that are new to the series. After all, it doesn’t take a great deal of backstory to be entertained by some of the titles of the Mike & Ike Hammer comic books that are sprinkled around for you to find (The Tootsie Rolled, Citizen Candy Cane, etc.) and the witty repartee that brightens up the conversations that Tex has with the other characters even if you don’t always get the self-referential humor. It is a pretty long slog front to back, clocking in at something over 15 hours, but it’s an enjoyable journey.

Well worth the time of any Tex Murphy fan. Wven those that know nothing about the history of the protagonist will find something to like.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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