REVIEW / Tesla Effect (PC)

 

Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure is the new addition to an old adventure game series – developed by Big Finish Games and published by Atlus – that was funded mainly through a Kickstarter campaign back in June of 2012.  The story opens with a dazed and disoriented Tex Murphy regaining consciousness on the fire escape outside his office on the top floor of the Ritz Hotel.  You might think that this is par for the course for the world’s last old-school detective but you would be wrong.  What initially begins as the result of a night of heavy partying quickly becomes a career defining case for Tex.  Someone or something has erased the last seven years of his memory and he needs to get to the bottom of this mystery before it is too late.  In order to do this, Tex must retrace his movements and be drawn into a world of unsolved murders, hidden agendas and a cache of lost technologies invented by Nikola Tesla.  Motivated solely by revenge and the loss of someone very close to him, Tex can only get the answers that he seeks by solving the mysteries of his past to hopefully regain his memory and to put a stop to what will ultimately bring on a terrifying future.

 

The infamous Tex Murphy Investigations office.

 

In pure adventure game fashion, Tesla Effect has the gamer taking on the role of Tex Murphy himself as you try to solve puzzles and interrogate the myriad characters found throughout the game world.  Tex is able to move from location to location and can interact with just about everything on screen.  The player is able to investigate clues and bits of information through Tex’s trusty “Smart Alex” interface.  The Smart Alex is an autonomous AI assistant that will alert Tex to elements in the environment that may contain a clue to help Tex continue to move forward in his investigations.  It will also keep track of items that Tex has found that may be useful for helping him to advance in the storyline.  In addition, the Smart Alex interface allows Tex to combine items together to create completely new items to help him solve puzzles.

The Smart Alex is a very handy tool that will also provide hints if you are having trouble solving a particularly sticky puzzle.  Additionally, you can get the complete solution if you find that you have been banging your head on a puzzle and just want to keep the story moving along.  Puzzles can range from very easy to down right brain-scrambling. But with a little patience and perseverance, they can be solved without the help of the Smart Alex if you are looking for a really good challenge.  You will need this patience and perseverance because sometimes it’s not quite clear just how to go about solving a particular puzzle and in a game like this, the whole point is to solve the puzzle in order to progress in the game.  Often I found myself just walking around and clicking on everything because it wasn’t apparent that I even needed to start solving a puzzle in order to proceed.

 

Picking from a list of topics gets to be a little monotonous.

 

There is also a dialogue system that gives you the option to respond to the other characters in the game with a particular attitude.  You can be sincere, a smart ass or incredulous depending on the direction that you want to take with the conversation.  You will have the choice of three options to choose from and the person that you are talking to will answer in response to the type of attitude that you take with them.  There is also a time where you will have to investigate the situation and interrogate your person of interest more to get at the information that you need to solve this case.  The game simply gives you a list of topics and you click on the ones that you want answers to and the character will respond with the scripted response.  This technique got to be kind of boring as you are just clicking on topics and watching the video of the character giving you their answer.  This method of getting information out of your target should have been better integrated with the other conversation system so that it felt more organic.

The graphics in Tesla Effect are really quite stunning and complement the noir style detective story very well.  While the characters are all real people in full motion video, the backgrounds and different elements in the game are all CG graphics.  You might think that the contrast of the two different mediums would be jarring but they really do combine to create an atmosphere that lends very well to the detective story genre and helps to make the game feel like a place where anything can happen at any time.  Bright lights will cast shadows and darkened corners will require the use of a flashlight to see exactly what clues are hiding there while the space age flying cars look authentic and juxtapose perfectly with the characters costumes, the dark city streets and the dilapidated buildings that comprise the neighborhood in New San Francisco where Tex’s office is located.  All of these elements combined together create a world that feels possible and allows you to immerse yourself into the sometimes zany and oftentimes mysterious environments.

 

A view of the neighborhood where Tex's office is located.

 

The sounds in Tesla Effect were clearly crafted to create a mood that would lend perfectly with the noir detective storyline.  What little there is of a musical score is very reminiscent of what you would hear in the old black and white Hollywood crime thrillers.  At times it is dark and moody while at other times it is upbeat and suspenseful.  The sound effects that you hear while investigating the environments such as creaking doors, the engine roar of Tex’s flying car and the crackle of a burning torch are all perfectly crafted to contribute to drawing you into the story while also being used to help you zero in on clues and other elements that you need to notice in order to proceed in the story.  The only thing that could have made this better would be the inclusion of more of an actual soundtrack.  There are only a few songs in the game and they only ever play at the intro screen and sometimes during cut scenes.  Having to just listen to ambient noises while examining an area for clues could have been made even more interesting and fun had some theme appropriate music been used to add to the sense of urgency and mystery.

Overall, my time spent in New San Francisco in the year 2050 was more enjoyable that I initially thought it would be.  I found myself really trying not to cheat and look at the puzzle hints so that I could honestly say that I found the answers without the help of the Smart Alex.  I have to admit, however, that there were a couple puzzles that I just gave up on and looked at the hints.  It didn’t take anything away from my adventure and it let me continue the story without being stuck for an inordinate amount of time on one puzzle.  Taking on the role of the world’s last old-school detective was a thrilling journey through a futuristic landscape that contains various interesting and larger than life characters and I can’t wait until Tex Murphy is back with another of his crazy investigations.

 

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