Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure review: You might not want to crack this case
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"—the opening line to my new novel, A Tale of Two Tesla Effects.
Is it a hackneyed joke? Well then it'd fit in perfectly in the Tesla Effect universe. And, believe it or not, the silly humor is not the downfall of Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure.
Have we reached a point in our society when we can acknowledge the benefits of unbridled dumb? Where I can stop feeling ashamed of my crippling karaoke habits or my love of awful B-movies? I sure hope so, because I want about a dozen more games like Tesla Effect immediately... only more polished.
Tesla Effect marks the return of the Tex Murphy franchise—a hilariously cheesy set of cult-classic, full-motion video (FMV) games from the nineties. And yes, I mean FMV in that there are actual, live actors playing out scenes. It's like an unholy combination of a bad B-movie and a point-and-click adventure game, and oh it's so refreshing to have a brand new FMV game to play.
Tex Murphy is a man out of time. He's a hard-boiled, film noir private investigator, just as likely to lead off a conversation with an overly serious monologue as he is to lead with a pun. A bad pun, for that matter. He's the luckiest bumbling idiot in New San Francisco, the remnants of the city post-nuclear war.
This time Murphy's awoken in the midst of an abduction, and soon finds out he's got amnesia. He's forgotten everything that's happened in the seven years between his last case (1998's Tex Murphy: Overseer) and the present. Which is good, since his friends tell him he became a grade-A jerk in the intervening years.
All Murphy has to work with is a few clues in an alleyway, and then it's off to solve a crime that involves everything from a sleazy rival PI to famed inventor Nikola Tesla.
The plot is pulp-noir, full of double-crosses and potential double-crosses and people who seem just a little too shady. Except, of course, this is more Naked Gun than The Maltese Falcon. Everything is tongue in cheek; Tesla Effect is saturated with jokes, some hilarious and a lot groan-worthy.
And that's totally fine with me.
The FMV sequences are rendered in gorgeous HD, and numerous actors from the original series make a comeback here. It's everything that fans of the game could want!
Stapled onto a wet diaper
Tesla Effect is basically two different games, as I said. There are the FMV sections, where you're questioning friends and suspects in pursuit of clues, flirting, telling dumb jokes, and trying to uncover details of the last seven years. The interface is a bit clumsy, but otherwise the FMV areas are a joy to play.
Bolted onto this is a 3D-environment adventure game where you wander around, pick up objects, and solve some light puzzles. This aspect of the game will test your patience, whether you're a big Tex Murphy fan or not.
The first half of the game isn't too bad. I always had an idea where I was going, what I should be doing, and what object I was scouting for. There are a few awkward points where the game halts progress until you to go talk to everyone you've met about a topic, but I enjoyed exploring the game's recreation of Chandler Avenue, Tex's home, and the puzzles were decent.
Things start to go bad when you hit one too many "find all the pieces of this object scattered around this environment" puzzles. There are two difficulties in Tesla Effect: Casual and Gamer. Gamer mode turns off hints and stops highlighting objects, making these puzzles a tedious nuisance. There's also no way to change difficulty once you've started the game, so if you get tired of hunting for MacGuffins and want to simply cheat you're forced to go outside the game for help.
And then the game stops being a pure adventure game and brings in enemies. I was baffled. After having a fairly fun time running around by myself and solving puzzles, the game turns into a weird stealth-puzzler, except without any of the technical prowess of a true stealth game. Getting caught by enemies automatically ends the game, and you'll get caught over and over again, helplessly watching your hard-earned score drop because you can't figure out what you're supposed to be doing.
Combine this with some lazy puzzles and a fair number of cheap, pixel-hunt item hides in the back half, and Tesla Effect becomes a chore to play.
It's a damn shame, because the first half of the game is one of my favorite titles so far this year. I hated the second half, though. So much that I didn't want to finish it.
I kept laughing at the dad-joke humor and admiring the FMV throughout, but it was increasingly the strained, animalistic laugh of a person under duress. I want to see more Tex Murphy and more FMV games in general—I really do. It's one of my favorite genres. I just hope our next outing doesn't require me to grind half my teeth down to nubs to reach the end.