Moebius: Empire Rising Review

Introducing Quasimodo, jet-setting antiques dealer

  • Developer: Phoenix Online and Pinkerton Road
  • Publisher: Phoenix Online Publishing
  • Release Date: 15 April 2014
  • Time Played: 9 hours

Here it is, the second Kickstarter project by Sierra alumni to bear fruit. Last year it was Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded and this year, we have a new mystery point 'n' click adventure game by Jane Jensen, designer behind the classic Gabriel Knight series. As everyone knows, I'm a bit of a fan of old school point 'n' click adventure games, especially ones by Sierra so I pretty much jumped on every Kickstarter project with ex-Sierra developers involved such as Al Lowe, Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe, Lori Cole, Corey Cole, Jane Jensen and even Jim Walls (who we have sadly not heard from since the failed Precinct project). While Leisure Suit Larry was a great series, it wasn't my favourite back in my youth so when Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded was released last year I was more excited by the fact it was the first cab off the rank rather than its subject material. Moebius: Empire Rising however is a whole different story (no pun intended); I really enjoyed Jane Jensen's previous adventure games in the Gabriel Knight series and Gray Matter so I was expecting more of the same from Moebius: Empire Rising.

Plot (5/5)
Moebius: Empire Rising sees you mainly playing the role of Malachi Rector. Malachi is an antiques dealer that has the uncanny ability of correctly identifying legitimate antiques from fakes. He's also a bit of a profiler, able to deduct character traits by examining a few tells (a bit like Sherlock Holmes). In fact Malachi's character reminds me of Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes; they can both deduce the truth of an item or person with seemingly insignificant clues, yet they are also both socially awkward, not able to keep their mouths shut at the right time. Malachi comes off as a bit of a snob with severe trust issues which means he's not a very likeable character but things changes during the course of the game. Anyway, it isn't long before your services are recruited on a murder case by a mysterious organisation called F.I.T.A. and this is where the story begins.

One of the strengths I have found in games by Jane Jensen is that her games always have memorable characters, at least with respect to Malachi and another character later on called David Walker. In fact the duo reminds me of Sherlock Holmes and Watson quite a bit (you'll see why if you play the game) and being a fan of all things Sherlock Holmes, I approve; it probably helps that the characters have depth and aren't two-dimensional. They have their own flaws and quirks just like anybody else, and it's not just a simple case of good versus evil.

Even though the ending seems to hint towards a sequel it still left me satisfied that most things had come to a close. Moebius: Empire Rising's plot is definitely one of its strengths.

Gameplay (4/5)
Moebius: Empire Rising works like your traditional point 'n' click adventure game. You have an inventory where you stash any items you pick up, you can combine items in the inventory to make new items and you can use items in your inventory to interact with the environment. You're able to use the mouse to look and interact with your environment, and also walk around. Like previous Jane Jensen games, you're able to travel to different locations within a city although at some points it gets a bit ridiculous how far you have to travel to get an item (e.g. flying back to New York to pick up a bottle of alcohol).

In terms of puzzle difficulty, I think it's just about right. They're not challenging by any means for veteran adventure game players, but thankfully the puzzles are generally logical which means it's easier for a new generation of adventure game players to solve them (no washing horse carriages to cause it to rain for example). I didn't have to resort to any hints or walkthroughs while playing but for those who haven't played a Sierra adventure game before, be warned! You can die in this game! Admittedly, it's much harder to die in this game than the old Sierra adventure games but it does happen.

One aspect of the game that did annoy me sometimes was the profiling parts. These occur when you meet a person for the first time and try to judge their character by the expression on their face, what clothes they're wearing, whether they're fidgeting or not, etc. While most of the time it's pretty easy there are occasions where it doesn't seem so obvious (at least not to me) - so it turns into a game of process by elimination in guessing the combination of choices to proceed further in the game. Tedious and not much fun I can assure you.

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting is generally of a good quality with many of the voice actors having worked on Telltale games (e.g. The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead, etc.) including Malachi's voice actor, Owen Thomas, who also voices Omid in The Walking Dead game. The pronunciation is a bit off at times though: I'm pretty sure "Helene" is supposed to be pronounced "Hell-en" not "Hell-lean".

Music (5/5)
Another of this game's strengths has to be the fantastic music composed by Robert Holmes. Holmes is Jane Jensen's husband so it's no surprise he has also collaborated on her previous games, such as Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter. Both of those games had terrific soundtracks and this remains the case with Moebius: Empire Rising. I particularly like the credits song (which they play at the beginning for some reason - would've made an awesome ending song) which is called "The Wheel". It even has Raleigh Holmes, Jane and Robert's daughter, on vocals, which is fantastic considering she is in the midst of recovering from ovarian cancer (you wouldn't be able to tell listening to the track).

Graphics (2/5)
Guys, graphics doesn't maketh the game but it really helps. Especially in a point 'n' click adventure game.

Yes I know Jane Jensen has addressed the issue about the graphics, and yes I know the budget for the game was pretty small by modern standards at $435,316 (I did back the Kickstarter project after all) - so keep that in mind when I say this but: the graphics are abysmal. And I'm not talking about the entire game mind you, but mainly the poor animation and character models, especially for Malachi Rector. He looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and when he walks, it looks like he's going to trip over himself. Not only that but there are some scenes where the background images are very low res - a particularly bad one is when you're wandering the streets of Cairo.

The second wonder is why are we using low-resolution background images in Cairo

Replay (3/5)
Unlike some other point 'n' click adventures I'm actually quite tempted to give Moebius: Empire Rising another go. Maybe it's something about the memorable characters, jet-setting around the world, or simply hunting for more Steam achievements. Whatever the case, even if you only play the game once, the 9 hours of gameplay is a decent duration for a point 'n' click adventure game - probably of similar length to a whole season of The Walking Dead (the game of course).

Polish (4/5)
I heard of some reports of bugs but thankfully I didn't experience any personally. There were times where while attempting to skip conversations the game would appear to hang for a few seconds (making me think the game had crashed) but each time it was a false alarm and the game continued on as normal. I'm also not too big a fan of the inventory system - it seems more cumbersome than inventory systems used in point 'n' click adventure games of the 90s! Why do you need to use so many clicks to do stuff? Why must you equip an item in your inventory for use first before using it to interact with the environment? Why can't you just drag and drop directly from the inventory? Anyway, it's a minor quibble about the interface but it seems like a step backwards.

Score – 8/10

The story, music and puzzles are what hold this game together - it's just a shame about the poor animations and low resolution graphics. If you can overlook the graphical flaws you've got a pretty good mystery adventure game on your hands. And with Jane Jensen at the helm, why wouldn't it be?

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam, GOG or Phoenix Online's website.

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[ LINK: Official Moebius: Empire Rising Website ]