About 20 years ago, video game designer and writer Jane Jensen introduced the struggling author turned Schattenjäger Gabriel Knight to point and click adventure game fans in “Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.” Jane Jensen’s writing of the titular Gabriel Knight combined with the atmospheric New Orleans voodoo setting was a hit worthy of a 20th year anniversary remake. Until that remake actually comes to fruition, Jane Jensen fans can look forward to her new point and click adventure game from Phoenix Online Studios “Moebius: Empire Rising.”
“Moebius: Empire Rising” can be dubbed a spiritual successor to the “Gabriel Knight” games. Instead of a struggling author who stumbles into a voodoo themed criminal mafia organization, “Moebius” introduces antiques dealer Malachi Rector whose acceptance of a simple job requiring his knowledge of historical artifacts and figures will uncover a global conspiracy to control the direction of history. Like Gabriel Knight and most point and click adventure games, Malachi must use his observation skills; resourcefulness with found objects; and the player’s ability to obsessively rub said found objects against the background until the story moves along.
Creating characters is one of Jane Jensen’s strengths that she once again flexes with “Moebius: Empire Rising.” As a pill popping arrogant genius with a condescending attitude that quickly makes enemies, the protagonist Malachi Rector seems to be the love child of Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes. Like House and Sherlock, Malachi has a humorous charm in his snark and a dogged determination that wins over players. As the stakes rise for Malachi in “Moebius: Empire Rising,” players can feel the urgency of his struggles and share in his victory as he overcomes them. When Malachi’s triumph over the Big Bad of “Moebius: Empire Rising” causes me to cheer audibly enough for the coffee shop employee to ask if all is well, that’s a sign of some good writing.
With the help of Jane Jansen and her game studio Pinkerton Road, Phoenix Online Studios have put some good point and click adventure game play in “Moebius: Empire Rising.” This game doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it at least makes sure that this point and click adventure game is a smooth ride with an easy to use interface and a cellphone that keeps track of tasks and information. Each chapter features a few situational puzzles requiring Malachi to locate a thing to interact with another thing so that the story can continue. For the most part, the puzzles make sense and won't require crafting a mustache from cat hair.
Breaking from most point and click adventure game habits, players generally can't immediately pick up every potential inventory item that's not nailed to the floor. This does make Malachi's actions feel more rational as a character. He's an antiques dealer, not a hoarder of random objects such as an MP3 player, a pair of scissors, and a tube of superglue. Unfortunately, Malachi's refusal to hoard items tends to result in backtracking for the items he'll use to solve a puzzle (such as an MP3 player, a pair of scissors, and a tube of superglue). One particular sequence had me traveling to New York from Washington DC at least twice during the in-game day just because Malachi found something potentially useful but refused to pick it up because he didn't need it “at the moment.” Fortunately, these extended trips are few and far between.
In addition to inventory puzzles, “Moebius: Empire Rising” uses Malachi's mental library of history and observational skills to analyze various situations. Analyzing historical artifacts comes as part of his job as an antiques dealer and shows how Malachi thinks. Malachi can Sherlock Scan people he will interact with in order to better understand them so he can negotiate, bribe, or threaten them (depending on the Sherlock Scan) to get what he needs. And a major part of the plot involves matching various people to famous historical figures, which takes keen observation to find subtle details about said people.
The point and click adventure game may still have its inherent problem of being limited to what the writers and game designers could put inside the game, but “Moebius: Empire Rising” uses that iconic game play to weave an engaging story featuring characters to care about and look forward to seeing in additional volumes. The charm of the characters and the profound theory about history that I'm trying not to spoil won me over enough to see Malachi through to the end and then a couple more times to unlock the achievements I missed in the first run.
At the very least, “Moebius: Empire Rising” manages to portray the world of antiquing with excitement and adventure just as Indiana Jones did for archaeology.
"Moebius: Empire Rising" is available on PC and Mac starting April 15 and will be available for iPad, Linux,and Android later this year.