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Tex Murphy returns in 'Tesla Effect'

It's been 16 long years since fans caught a glimpse of New San Fransisco
It's been 16 long years since fans caught a glimpse of New San Fransisco
Photo courtesy of Big Finish Games, used with permission

Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure (PC)

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It's been 16 long years since adventure game fans were treated to a new Tex Murphy game, with 1998's Overseer ending the series' run with a major cliffhanger and a daunting “to be continued” screen. A lot of things have changed for the gaming community since then, including the creation of Kickstarter, which helped make Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure possible. With the recent success of games like The Wolf Among Us and Broken Age, it's clear that there's a place for adventure games in modern gaming, but will current gamers welcome Murphy's return, or should the detective have stayed in his early retirement?

Tesla Effect features classic point-and-click adventure gameplay in its purest form, something that fans of the genre may have felt was lacking in other recent releases. Players are required to look around a set area for clues, pick up objects that are scattered about and combine pieces from their inventory to solve various puzzles. Close inspection of the player's surroundings is key, as it can be incredibly easy to miss important objects. Luckily, for players who lack observational finesse, the game features a “casual” mode. Selecting this activates in-game hints, causes key items to sparkle when observed under a flashlight and even allows players to skip certain puzzles that they may find particularly tricky. It wouldn't be entirely inaccurate to say that this mode allows players to downright cheat, but its inclusion is incredibly useful for those who are mainly interested in the game's characters and plot, rather than its test of moon logic mastery.

Speaking of logic, the game's puzzles range anywhere from simple and straightforward, to incredibly vague. Even so, even the strangest of puzzles are met with clues for more attentive players. Reasoning one's way through these riddles can be immensely satisfying. Still, there were a few sections that felt more like impromptu scavenger hunts, and quickly began to sway into monotony

Puzzles aside, most players will want to focus primarily on the game's story. Tesla Effect begins with Tex Murphy waking up in his office, unable to remember the last seven years of his life. It quickly becomes apparent that his amnesia stems from Overseer's cliffhanger ending. He sets off on a mission to reclaim his stolen time, as well as to discover what happened to Chelsee (his almost girlfriend), who was never found again and has been presumed dead. Giving Tex amnesia was a clever way of explaining the time gap, while giving the series a fresh start to welcome new fans. We had somehow managed to skip over these games during the 90's, but we never felt lost or overwhelmed when trying to understand the Tex Murphy universe. It also helped that numerous flashbacks were shown throughout the game, which served to clue new players into the plot while also acting as nostalgia fuel for veterans.

Old fans of the series will be glad to see familiar faces like Louie LaMintz and Rook Garner, respective owners of Chandler Avenue's diner and pawn shop. There are also several new characters, such as Holly Graham, a sentient hologram working at the Golden Gate Hotel. There's something remarkably fun about the cast of characters, that even we (without any sort of nostalgia for this series), could appreciate. Some of the game's more well-known actors include June Lockhart (Lassie) and Todd Bridges (Diff'rent Strokes). The full motion video acting, done entirely in front of green screen, has a sort of “local theater production” charm to it, and we certainly don't mean that as an insult. There's a sense of familiarity with the cast and characters of Tesla Effect, which made the entire experience incredibly endearing.

One character we could have done without was Smart Alex, played by Kevin Murphy (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame). This witty electronic sidekick acts as the player's menu, allowing them to access their inventory and hints. The main problem with this character was how unnecessary an addition it was. Smart Alex spoke rarely enough for us to forget his existence from time to time, but would occasionally go on tangents that felt incredibly out of place with the rest of the game's writing. There was also the matter of its repetitive dialogue, though perhaps we're just nitpicking.

For the most part, Tesla Effect was a smooth experience. The framerate was all over the place, but usually stayed around 60fps. It's also noteworthy that the FMV scenes were shot in 2K resolution, an impressive extra for those with monitors that can display it. We encountered one game breaking glitch early on, which actually forced us to load a different save. It happened when we first tested the fast travel system, attempting to take the Speeder back to Tex's office. There was also one particular puzzle that required us to assemble various pieces, something we had to do three or so times because the pieces would randomly pop out of existence. Besides the odd graphical hookup, these were the only major glitches we found. Cutscenes played smoothly, and load times were kept to a reasonable length.

Fans of Tex Murphy, or classic point-and-click adventure games in general, won't want to miss Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure, which is now available on Steam for $19.99. We wouldn't call it a perfect game, but possibly one of the most charming little experiences we've had for a while. It may not usher in a new era of full motion video games, but we do hope it will keep the series alive for another installment.

Pros:

+ Pure point-and-click nostalgia

+ A fun cast of colorful characters

+ Mostly satisfying puzzles

Cons:

- Scavenger puzzles slow pacing way down

- A couple of weird glitches

- Certain items are incredibly tough to spot

This review was made possible with a Steam code provided by Big Finish Games