Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure
Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure is the sixth game in the Tex Murphy adventure game series, following in the footsteps of Mean Streets (1989), Martian Memorandum (1991), Under a Killing Moon (1994), The Pandora Directive (1996), and Overseer (1998). The game is a collaboration between Chris Jones and Aaron Conners of Big Finish Games, who either together or separately worked on the five earlier titles. Tesla Effect is also another crowdfunding success story, as game players everywhere have made it clear that they want old school adventure game creators to get back to work.
The Tex Murphy games all take place in a futuristic version of San Francisco, where B movie science fiction projects and mutants run wild. As Tesla Effect opens up, Tex is hit on the head (which seems to happen to him a lot), causing him to forget everything that has happened during the last seven years (the game time since Overseer ended). But soon enough, Tex learns that a cult is hunting for the fabled Tesla Cache so they can do something evil with it, and he sets out to stop them — unless, that is, he’s actually working for them and just doesn’t remember it.
Tesla Effect is played using a smooth scrolling first person perspective, where the images you see on screen represent what Tex Murphy is looking at. You move Tex using the WASD keys, you look around using the mouse, and you interact with the world via a targeting cursor in the center of the screen. The targeting cursor is context sensitive, so you only need to left click with it to complete the game. Tex also has a “Smart Alex” personal assistant, which organizes his inventory and his maps, and also keeps a flashlight available for him — which is a good thing since every location is dark.
You can play Tesla Effect using one of two modes. In “casual” mode, the game puts sparkles around inventory objects when you shine your flashlight on them, there is a hint system available, and you can skip some puzzles. In “gamer” mode, there aren’t any helpful crutches for you to lean on; you’re just on your own. I’m guessing most people who buy adventure games will pick gamer mode, which is what I played. Unfortunately, once you pick a mode, you’re stuck with it for the entire game, and this can cause problems. Most notably, the final puzzle of the game is timed and requires a certain amount of manual dexterity, and if you’re in gamer mode and you’re unable to solve it, then your only option is to play through the entire game again in casual mode, which is something less than optimal. I would have preferred to see toggleable options that you’re allowed to adjust at any time.
The puzzles in Tesla Effect come in two varieties: inventory puzzles, where you have to pick up inventory objects and use them in the right way, and mechanical puzzles, where you have to push buttons, drag tiles, or guess codes. In general, the puzzles are pretty easy. Tex is way too helpful in his comments, often giving away solutions or telling you what you need to do next, even when he shouldn’t know. For example, when you pick up a can of the Red Bolt energy drink, Tex says, “This stuff is so powerful, it could strip rust right off of metal.” Well, take a wild guess what you use it for.
Another issue with the puzzles is that many of them are “famous.” You have to deal with a river crossing puzzle, a magic square puzzle, a slider puzzle, an eight queens puzzle, and more, and if you’ve seen examples of these puzzles before, then they’re not much of a challenge to complete in the game. Really, about the only difficulty with the puzzles is finding the necessary inventory objects. Because the game uses a first person perspective, there is a lot more ground to cover than in most adventures (including about four square blocks around Tex’s office), and Big Finish Games takes advantage of this at times, hiding objects in unlikely places.
The writing in Tesla Effect is good if not great. The tone of the game is quirky noir, where Tex plays a version of Philip Marlowe who does silly things and delivers numerous one-liners. I found the content to be consistently amusing, but never laugh out loud funny. When you talk to other characters in the game, you’re often given a trio of dialogue options. Most of the time, these options just give Tex three different jokes to try out, and they don’t change anything. But at a couple of key points, you get to make a choice that causes the game to branch in a minor way. These branches don’t alter anything about the case Tex is working on, but they reveal different bits of background information, and they change how the game ends (mostly in picking out which woman Tex ends up with).
The graphics and sound are also decent. The graphics for the locations aren’t anything special (and often repeat textures all over the place), but the frequent full motion video sequences are extremely well done, at least technically, and they’re integrated into the game seamlessly. Meanwhile, the acting and voice work leave a lot to be desired — think local community theater, where half the people can’t act, and the other half overact to make up for it — but the actors all display a lot of enthusiasm for their work, and they seem like they’re having a good time, and that makes the videos fun to watch.
Overall, I found Tesla Effect to be entertaining enough to recommend. It’s just good goofy fun, and the writing and the acting help to carry it along and make up for the so-so puzzles and environments. Plus, Tesla Effect is only $20, and that’s not bad for a 15-hour adventure crammed to the brim with full motion video sequences, where there is also a decent amount of replay value if you want to see all of the endings and jokes.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
This review is based on a digital copy of Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure for the PC provided by Atlus.