Moebius: Empire Rising Review

Note: Review based on pre-release copy. Issues encountered might not be in the retail version.

Moebius is a Point & Click Adventure game by Pinkerton Road Studio in collaboration with Phoenix Online Studios. The Game follows antique appraiser and historian Malachi Rector as he travels around the globe using his analytical skills to uncover a conspiracy threatening to ruin the world.

The Good

  • Strong plot, mixing supernatural, historical and political elements
  • Interesting group of characters
  • Malachi and David’s relationship feels forced, but in an intriguing way
  • Old-School Design: Player Score and Death
  • Analysis puzzles are fun and clever
  • Fantastic soundtrack
  • Amazing voice acting
  • Beautifully drawn and highly detailed locations.

The Bad

  • Chapter 2 is too short
  • Shallow exploration makes the game feel like the first in a series.
  • Cursor speed never remains constant
  • Uneven reaction-time

Moebius is the first Pinkerton Road game after their successful Kickstarter campaign. It was designed by Adventure Game Legend Jane Jensen and Developed by Phoenix Online Studios, responsible for 2013’s Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, on which Jensen worked as a story consultant.

Before you even start the game, it already has a fantastic backstory in the form a comic, which you can find online or within the game, accessible from the menu, detailing Malachi’s origins and the immediate events before the start of the game; a business deal in Spain that ends with Rector fighting a group of thugs and needing some medical attention.

The Moebius comic tells you all you need to know about Malachi before you start!

The Moebius comic tells you all you need to know about Malachi before you start the game!

The game itself opens up with Malachi returning to his antique shop in Manhattan after the comic’s events and getting the latest news from his assistant, Gretchen. She informs him a man with the strange name of Amble Dexter was trying to contact him. Meeting this man afterwards results in Malachi taking a job from them, to ascertain the historical ties of a recently murdered Venice Socialite. And they don’t mean ancestry when they talk about historical ties, but something much more interesting, and tied to the eponymous Moebius theory.

Characterization is top-notch and all characters are at least interesting, from Malachi and David to secondary characters like Gretchen and Mr. Barozzi, a one-off antique dealer in Venice who’s more interesting than some main characters in many modern games. For the protagonists, whose motivations and evolution is more apparent, they feel real and believable, especially Malachi, who starts out almost unlikable and slowly becomes someone much more relatable…even if he’s still a bit of an ass, but the kind of ass you like to get behind, like Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House. The relationship between Malachi and David does feel a bit forced, but it’s presented in a way that opens exploration of this theme in future games, as if they couldn’t help it, as if they had no other choice but become close.

I want a PA like Gretchen, she's awesome!

I want a PA like Gretchen, she’s awesome!

It’s not just characters however, but the entire writing that’s fantastic, from the plot to dialogues. The game’s story is a mix of supernatural elements (that I can’t go into in details with, as they’d ruin the surprise), the strong historical elements that have become Jensen’s trademark, and a politico-economic aspect so well developed it surprised me. On the historical side, Jensen’s gone overboard this time, in a very good way, on not only the abundance of historical figures but also art pieces, all tied together in story and gameplay. As for the politico-economic part, I was surprised because I expected a heavier reliance on the supernatural and historic elements for the plot, the political only used to set the stage, but instead it’s the political and economic conspiracy taking center-stage, with the others backing it up. It was a pleasant surprise to be honest.

I have only two complaints with the story. The first is the overall chapter length. While most chapters offer the same overall length, Chapter 2, the one released with the Demo, is the shortest of them by far and gave the feeling of being added for the sole purpose of having Malachi and David meet, without adding much to the story beyond that.The second is that much like the new novel in a series, characters, motivations and concepts give the impression of being just presented, without going into them at length or depth, as this is what future instalments would be for; and there are enough instances in the game to support this theory, with the last Maze puzzle in the game and Amble Dexter’s mysterious nature being just two of them.

Loved the art style!

Loved the art style!

Visually, the style is reminiscent of Phoenix Online’s Cognition in that it’s 2.5D, though the actual art style departs from Cognition’s comic-influenced cel-shading. The backgrounds are beautifully hand-drawn and the locations are peppered with detailed representations of art pieces. Malachi’s office is one of such places, the detailed environment giving it a true antique-shop feel; and the same with Mr. Barozzi’s, his feels like an antique shop you’d actually find in Venice. But it’s not just the antique dealerships, but also the bars, offices, apartments, the houses of the rich and famous. Every locale feels real and alive, as if you could actually visit and live in them.

On the gameplay side of things, Moebius uses a Cognition-styled cursor, displaying an action wheel showing all available actions for a given hotspot, though the actual cursor’s speed seemed to change from scene to scene, sometimes moving at the speed that I wanted it to and other times dragging behind.

The action wheel displays all actions available for a given hotspot!

The action wheel displays all actions available for a given hotspot!

Another issue I ran into while playing the game was uneven reaction speed, as in the time it took from me clicking an action in the wheel and the character actually performing it. Sometimes, they reacted almost immediately, but on other occasions, there was a noticeable delay before the character performed the action.

Much like Cognition, Malachi’s cellphone plays a big role too, not only holding contact information and messages, but also serving as the game’s search engine and the Project hub, where the historical analysis puzzles happen once you have all the relevant data points, which you uncover through conversations and other puzzles. Aside from the projects, you can use Malachi’s analytical abilities to study people you meet and create a profile on them, studying physical characteristics to determine what kind of a person they are, opening new conversation options and actions. Puzzles, analytical or inventory based are all very clever, and require you to pay close attention to the background, as you can’t collect items unless you’ve already tried to solve the puzzle without them.

Early analyses are simple, but they get much harder later on!

Early analyses are simple, but they get much harder later on!

You can tell an old-school designer was behind this game, as Moebius features a Player Score, with every item collected, important conversation point triggered and puzzle solved increasing your total. New players and even Jensen-game veterans will most likely not attain a full score on their first playthrough (mine was 654/676, but I’m fully aware of what I missed), increasing the game’s replay value. Another proof of old school-design is that you can die, having to reload an earlier save if you made a very bad mistake, something that in general has been missing from adventure games for a long time, and which I personally think enhances the experience if not abused.

On the sound side of things, voice acting is fantastic and there is not a single bad actor or bad delivery in this game, with Malachi’s voice acting being the high point in my opinion, as the dryness of its delivery completely matches the character’s brutal honesty and condescending attitude.

Robert Holmes composed the entire score, from the opening song performed by the Raleigh Holmes to the background music on every locale, and every piece is beautiful, memorable and best of all, helps the immersion, making you feel like you’re in the locale, from the streets of Cairo to a neon-light-bathed club in Manhattan.

Mr. Barozzi, a fantastic secondary character in a pretty cool store!

Mr. Barozzi, a fantastic secondary character in a pretty cool store!

Moebius is a very good adventure game, with high levels of quality on all areas, delivering a title worthy of Jensen’s fame and surpassing the already high expectations. There are some issues, but they are merely hiccups in what is otherwise a must-have game.

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Overpaying! Jane Jensen and Robert Holmes are back at what they do best: deliver a game that will define the standard all games to come, just like Gabriel Knight did in its day.

This is the highest score attainable in The Mental Attic. For more information on our review system, click here.

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3 responses to “Moebius: Empire Rising Review

  1. Pingback: Moebius Review Roundup « Phoenix Online Studios·

  2. Pingback: Moebius: Empire Rising – Full Score Attempt #1 | The Mental Attic·

  3. Pingback: Preview: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition | The Mental Attic·

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