Moebius: Empire Rising review: A point-and-click 'adventure' against the game itself
At a Glance
A dastardly conspiracy? Historical guess-who? Shadowy government agency?
Don't worry! Malachi Rector is on the case. Who's Malachi Rector? Why, he's a world-renowned antiques appraiser of course—a career I can only assume he was saddled with the same day his parents gave him that awful name.
You know, before his mother was eaten by a lion.
This is Moebius: Empire Rising.
Don't get too excited
I'm afraid with that sort of intro, I've already oversold this game. "Holy $!&@, his mother is eaten by a lion? Is this a so-bad-it's-good masterpiece?" Unfortunately not. See, while Moebius does have a certain pulp, dime-novel quality to its story, it's just not very good.
Moebius is the latest point-and-click adventure game from Jane Jensen, creator of the famed Gabriel Knight series of yesteryear. For a Kickstarter-funded game, there's a pedigree behind Moebius that should be exciting--which, frankly, is why it's so surprising the game is an utter chore to play.
You're the aforementioned Mr. Rector (geddit?), a man with a personality as lively as a dead peacock. Rector jets around the world telling people the expensive antiques they're about to buy are actually forgeries. In return he makes a lot of money.
Except one day there's a new client: an undercover government agency known as FITA. The agency wants Rector to investigate the murder of an Italian socialite. Turns out history repeats itself in certain patterns, and Rector's actions could help usher in a period of unprecedented prosperity for the United States. You know, after Obama wrecked the entire country, or whatever the subtext is here.
There's basic point-and-click action here. You explore environments, interact with objects, and talk to people. There's also a half-baked logic puzzle where you match people up with their historical counterparts, but it feels less like you're a genius when you solve them and more like you just ran down a list of checkmarks.
You'll also occasionally make judgments about people you encounter, which you'd think would play into how Rector approaches his conversations with that person. Not really—as far as I could tell, these judgments were for score purposes only and had no real effects in-game. There's also an awkward amount of condescension implied in most of them—a woman wearing a bright-colored shirt is, at one point, labeled "sexually frustrated" for no apparent reason.
The story's not great, by any means. As you've probably gathered, it's jam-packed with cliché and outright silly situations, plus an awful sexual tension between Rector and his sidekick that feels outright forced. But for all that, it was enjoyable enough. By about the third or fourth chapter I was hooked, and at least wanted to see it through to the end.
But oh wow, actually playing Moebius. The bad comes in two forms: baffling design choices and bugs.
Parts of Moebius just feel dated and/or confusing. For instance, the game has an honest-to-god maze. And it's unskippable. And it's right at the climax of the story. Mazes weren't fun in 1994, let alone 2014. We can let mazes die forever. It's allowed.
Rector also has this obnoxious trait where he won't pick up any item that he doesn't specifically need yet. Collapsible boat pole hanging on the wall? "Well, if I need one at least I know where to find it," says Rector. The result is an obnoxious amount of back-tracking through environments, each of which takes a few seconds to fade up from black.
It's also frustrating when you've already figured out the solution to a puzzle, but haven't triggered something in the environment yet to allow you to pick up the objects for the solution. I was stuck for half an hour in Chapter One because I knew exactly what I needed to do next, but could not pick up the two objects I needed for the solution. Turned out I hadn't clicked on a totally extraneous environmental trigger yet so Rector would say "Oh, that's what I need to do next." I, the player, knew what to do, but apparently Rector was too stupid to get it.
Throwing this type of roadblock in front of the player is unacceptable, and destroys the pacing of the game. You eventually resort to clicking each item every time you re-enter a room, just in case circumstances have changed and you need it now. It's more realistic, sure—why would you pick up the boat pole if you didn't know you needed it in real life? But as a game mechanic, it's a hurdle.
And then there's the technical side of things. Listen, it's Kickstarter. I'm not expecting the game to look like Crysis. But if it does look like a game from six years ago, it damn well better run smoothly on my machine. Cursor disappearances, sluggish animations, stuttering, unresponsive character or environment triggers that leave you wondering whether the game locked up, and quite possibly the slowest walk of any character in any game ever make Moebius an absolute mess.
I'm a history fan and the underlying core of Moebius really appealed to me even with the two-dimensional, archetypal characters and pulpy story.
However, Moebius doesn't let you experience the story. The charm of point-and-clicks is that the mechanics get out of the way. You solve a few puzzles, but by-and-large you get to enjoy the story. Moebius, you're constantly fighting the mechanics up through the end. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself with whatever Jensen and Co. release next.