I want to like Moebius: Empire Rising, because it has some interesting things going for it. Malachi Rector is an interesting mix of Indiana Jones, Nicolas Cage’s character in National Treasure and Sherlock Holmes. I want to see him on the big screen played by Robert Downey, Jr. or depicted in a comic book, in which low-quality models and animation won’t trample on the atmosphere. And most of all, I want to experience the story and hear Rector’s internal thoughts, without having to sit through an underwhelming set of mechanics to do it.
Adventure games typically live and die by their narratives, and I wish that held true here, but Moebius looks dated from the get-go and plays doggedly to boot. The action is regularly interrupted while the game struggles to remember what to do next. It’s not uncommon to see the main character walk to interact with an item and then just stand there for a little while, before the game decides it’s time to play some audio or launch into the phone interface.
These hitches are all the more unforgivable after you’ve just watched people awkwardly move from place to place, or have their head slowly sink into their neck like some sort of odd human-tortoise hybrid only to “pick up” an item that is mysteriously levitating in front of them. Graphically, Moebius would be better suited by even older visuals. Pixels are all the rage nowadays, and honestly? I’m already playing an adventure game; I don’t need photorealistic graphics. What I want is for things to move at a reasonable clip and not look awful while they do it.
Traditional puzzles are overly simple, thanks to hotspot labeling and simple design. When there are only a handful of screens to move through in each chapter, it’s not hard to stumble upon the right answer, and as he is a genius, Malachi can always tell you exactly what an item is for. I wonder why, when I look at the flowers, there is a hotspot on the florist’s putty? I wonder why I can hear a bit about the collapsible antique boat pole? Gosh, I must need to obtain and combine these things to get that key in the bottom of the canal that the police inexplicably missed!
Phone cases are a bit more involved. Malachi will regularly need to examine people and Sherlock his way into knowing that the old lady can’t afford the upkeep on her house, used to play the harp and had to hock her necklace in order to make ends meet. It’s an interesting way to deliver characterization to the player, and it goes toward establishing Malachi as a great reader of people with a keen eye for detail, but when the choices for “hair in a bun” are “hides drugs in there,” “thinks buns are fashionable” and “used to be a teacher,” it’s not a great leap to choose the third option.
An extension of this system is used to equate characters to historical figures, and while the system is interesting, it’s hard to know how close is close enough to form a correlation. If the party being investigated had a child at 19, is 21 close enough to be similar? 23? 25?
We’re in something of an adventure game renaissance, and a few years ago Moebius would have been welcomed by genre fans, but today there is a glut of great adventure games available. Between mundane gameplay and numerous technical issues, it’s hard to recommend Moebius: Empire Rising. And that makes me sad, because the story presented is interesting and moves at a good pace; it’s just a chore to play.
Pros: Interesting story, pretty backgrounds, hotspot highlighting
Cons: Off-putting models and animations, too-easy puzzles, story and character better suited to different medium