A throwback in more ways than one.
Kickstarter certainly has its flaws, but one of the major advantages of the service is the life it has given to past game franchises. Deciding to reboot (or make a squeal to) 10-20 year old games is a hard sell for publishers, who question whether such a title still has an audience. The crowd funding model allows game fans to enable the creation of games that would otherwise never see the light of day, by essentially proving upfront with their money that a certain game has enough appeal to justify its creation. Tesla Effect was born on Kickstarter, and features the return of Tex Murphy, who starred in a series of games in the 1990s. True to its roots, the game is built for the people who backed it, and series fans will enjoy the familiar game play, characters and locales.
Tesla Effect is a first person adventure game. Using the keyboard and mouse the player moves Tex around, finding clues and items, and solving puzzles. The real throwback feel comes from the character interactions, which are all done in FMV. Based on the items I had collected and information I had, I could question characters to gain more information on certain subjects. The game also features branching dialog, so I could attempt to steer conversations in a certain direction, for example being kind to someone or intimidating them.
I will be completely honest and say that after seeing the trailer for the game I was not particularly optimistic. In addition to FMV being an incredibly dated mechanic, the acting seemed really cheesy. Tesla Effect surprised me though; the game video looks great and is well done, and manages to not be overused. Even more surprising than the video was the content itself – most of the performances are good, and Tex in particular is well acted. It is worth noting though that it’s not all great, and a few characters are just terrible.
In general Tesla Effect delivers what it promises. I spent my time exploring areas and finding items, which I could use or combine with other items to complete objectives. In addition to seeing locations and characters from the earlier games, I also found several items that would remind Tex of previous cases, and actually play a snippet of video from the associated game, which will be a treat for fans of the series. The puzzles are pretty standard, with some being straightforward and others requiring a hint for me to even know what I was trying to accomplish.
Investigation and puzzles both play into a points system, which is murky at best. Various actions earn points, which add to Tex’s detective rating. In the game’s casual mode, points can be spent getting hints on what to do next, or even skipping difficult puzzles. None of those numbers are visible though, so when making decisions players can’t put a real value on things. Knowing that I had X points and getting a hint would cost Y points would have helped me make informed decisions.
The points play into a larger issue though, which is earning them in the first place. At some point, all character interactions boiled down to a series of topics I could ask them about. Each topic I asked about awarded me points, because I was doing a more thorough investigation. The problem is, if I wanted the best detective rating I had to ask characters about things I knew they had nothing to tell me about, simply to earn points.
Every new piece of information I learned created a new topic to ask characters about, and sometimes progress seemed to be blocked until I had asked everyone everything. This led to instances where I was asking a character about the location of an item I had already found, or a problem I had already solved. The conversation topics list appears to be universal, which really becomes a drag. At one point I met a new character and had 19 topics to ask them about. If I wanted all the points I had to sit through all of them, over half of which were some answered with some variation of “I don’t know”.
Tesla Effect is a game made for the people who backed it. It has the familiar faces and places known to fans of the series, and updates the look with sharp, HD FMV. As someone without an existing tie to the series it was a good time, although there are certainly some rough spots in the game play. For Tex Murphy veterans it’s like finding an old photo album full of happy memories, and for outsiders it’s a solid, if occasionally frustrating, adventure game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.