Jane Jensen is a name that any fan of point-and-click adventure games will instantly recognize. Despite earning the title of most infamous puzzle, the Gabriel Knight series had a fascinating supernatural plot line that captivated many players. While Jane Jensen has done other work, until 2010’s Grey Matter, there wasn’t much for the general adventure game audience. Now, she’s back with Moebius: Empire Rising, an all new point-and-click adventure game that offers a full-length experience unlike so many of the new titles on the market, but can it recapture the magic of the ‘90s?
Moebius tells the story of Malachi Rector, an antiquities dealer who has made a name for himself by being able to analyze people, places and objects, and determine their inner details just from looking. His brain is essentially wikipedia for historical knowledge and behaviors. It has put him at the top of his field and attracted the eye of a mysterious government agency that wants him to analyze certain people to determine what historical figures their lives appear to mimic. In taking this job, Malachi is thrust into a wide reaching conspiracy that threatens to upset the balance of the world and span multiple games, if Empire Rising sells well enough, that is.
Moebius: Empire Rising [PC [Reviewed], OSX)
Developer: Phoenix Online Studios
Publisher: Phoenix Online Publishing
Release: April 15, 2014
As the gameplay of point-and-click adventure games has remained relatively unchanged in 20 years, you can bet that analyzing people and objects as Malachi comes with a new gameplay mechanic to mix up the classic formula. When analyzing people for behaviors or objects for authenticity you’ll select predetermined focal points and choose between multiple options what fits better. When matching people to historical figures you’ll look at a long list of characteristics for the person and the historical figures and determine what is a closer fit. It’s a somewhat clever mechanic that falls apart when you realize that failure only means you try again and again until you get it right. There’s no consequence and without that, there’s no reason to get it right the first time.
The puzzle mechanics feel pretty tried and true in general. While that isn’t a bad thing for the genre, it also means you’ll come across puzzles better left in the past, like the awful cave puzzle in the last chapter that you have to play as two characters. If that was the extent of Moebius’s problems, I would be happy. Instead we are forced to discover that while Jane Jensen is excellent at crafting captivating narratives, her characters are one-dimensional tools that spout cringe-worthy dialog and exist solely to move the plot along.
It’s a shame too, since the actual plot these characters are trying to move along is quite interesting. The moebius theory it postulates presents an interesting world to tell further stories in and puts a different twist on destiny. In spite of the poorly written characters, the plot actually holds together for the roughly 10 hour duration of the game. It also manages to stay relatively grounded, despite being a globe trotting adventure. I enjoyed the overarching plot enough that I would play another Moebius game in spite of the bad dialog and the fact that I despised looking at the game most of the time.
That’s where Moebius’s biggest flaw is, the visuals. I’ve always felt that visuals weren’t that important to a game, but even I can’t deny that the visuals of Moebius didn’t make me question whether or not I could keep playing. The backgrounds of Moebius look fantastic, the problem lies in the character models. These models feel like something you would see in a low-rent banner ad for some terrible free-to-play game and they animate accordingly. There is no justification for how bad these models and animations are when so many of the fantastic point-and-click adventure games on the market accomplish their visual goals with the tried and true 2D style. Even something like The Journey Down or any of the Pendulo games can get away with 3D character models because they stylize them. This is just a glaring example of why you should consider your budget and talent before devoting resources in a visual medium that you can’t pull off.
Moebius: Empire Rising should be a far better game than it ended up being. When you have someone like Jane Jensen behind your game, you expect more than this. While Moebius is a game I can recommend to fans of point-and-click adventure games, there is no way I could suggest it in spite of its flaws at the $30 price point it currently resides. The poor dialog and awful character models detract from what could have been a fantastic game. If it somehow manages to make enough money to continue the obviously planned franchise, I can only hope that it does so with the intention to fix these glaring flaws.