Tex Murphy is back! After 16 long years, the sardonic P.I. designed and played by Chris Jones has returned, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign for what was then referred to as ‘Project Fedora’. Big Finish Games – comprised of many of the series’ original developers from the now defunct Access Software – received over $150,000 more (including PayPal donations) than they requested, with the anachronistic, but flawed throwback Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure being the result. Microsoft kept turning the creators down when Access Software was acquired by the software giant in 1998, so it’s been a long time coming for Chris Jones and co. Put your detective hat on and revel in all the FMV glory!
It’s been seven years since the events of Tex Murphy: Overseer, when Tex and his love interest Chelsee were picked up after needing a ride, and then shot shortly after by their ‘white knight’. Never hitch-hike folks. It’s now 2050, and upon arriving back at his office with a briefcase in hand, we fade out, making a time-jump to five hours later. An apparent kidnapping is overheard on street-level, with Tex awakening to the gunshots on the floor of his apartment. He has taken a knock to the head, and soon notices a suspicious mark on his forearm, with no memory of events that have taken place over the past seven years. Tex sets out to find out why he can’t remember said period, Chelsee’s fate and the importance of the coincidental kidnapping. In doing so, the player will take one of three different paths, leading to one of five possible endings. Not being familiar with the prior entries in the series, I was afraid that many of the inevitable references and fan-service moments would fly over my head, so to speak, but Big Finish Games did a fantastic job with exposition through brief dialogue and the inclusion of clips from Under a Killing Moon (1994), The Pandora Directive (1996) and Tex Murphy: Overseer (1998).
The jokes throughout are intentionally hokey, such as when Tex reads a ‘Past Due’ notice and a says “You’re late, ya bum!” before a fist manifests from the paper and punches him in the nose. But, that doesn’t mean you should be expecting a dodgy story. The acting, on the other hand, is hit-and-miss. Jones has seemingly learned the art of subtlety since his last outing in front of a camera… or at least ‘Subtlety 101’. The legendary June Lockhart (Lassie, Lost in Space) – who still stays busy to this day at the age of 89 – brings some serious experience to the role of Margaret Leonard, and Seinfeld fans will freak out over the ‘Soup Nazi’ himself, Larry Thomas, playing Lt. Danwicz. And Scottish actor, magician and musician Steve Valentine plays the villainous Johansson to perfection. In fact, there are many solid performances, but almost as many in the cast were overacting terribly, or appearing flat-out uncomfortable on-screen.
Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure utilises a first-person perspective in a fully-realised 3D world just like the trilogy before it. A lot of the clumsy U.I. elements commonly found in games from the 90’s have been tucked away in your ‘Smart Alex’; a talking PDA that can be pulled up at any time with a click of the right mouse button. Within, you have access to the locations list, where you can travel between key environments; your inventory, where objects can be further examined, combined and utilised; flashlight; clues, which will be greyed out dependent on difficult level; and the ‘observe’ and ‘use’ functionality, which is practically pointless. The myriad puzzles encountered are basic in nature, from ‘Simon’ and ‘Sliding’ puzzles to ‘Number Pyramids’ and more. They might take some time to complete with trial-and-error, but the bigger challenge comes from finding well-hidden objects needed to progress, open a safe, etc.
In regards to the aforementioned multiple story paths, that all depends on your conversational decisions. Thankfully, the current path is always noted in the pause menu and the game can be replayed from any chapter. However, it’s not made crystal clear which dialogue choices are influencers, as the choices themselves are presented in somewhat vague terms. For example, when Tex first sees his old buddy Louie LaMintz – who has since last recollection become a mutant – instead of an option stating “What happened to you?!” we get “Shock and ohhh!”. In a way, they read like Tex’s inner thoughts, which is fine thematically, but detrimental to any clarity in decision-making when it comes to the dialogue tree. For completionist, the replay-ability of the title means that you can try out the various options and discover their effect the hard way, whilst searching for that missing Mike & Ike Hammer candy comic; yes, there are collectibles. I love collectibles… especially the edible kind.
Visuals & Audio
Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure is not a pretty game; textures look low-res, flat and are lacking true detail. Rarely is depth even faked using normal mapping. But what is effective – though not necessarily advanced – is the lighting and tone of the game on a whole. Tonally, it is extremely consistent, with an ever-present orange hue grounding the world in its own signature blend of post-apocalyptic future, where the skies have permanently turned red, and the 20’s-30’s ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction-inspired aesthetic. In terms of compositing, the FMV integration is actually quite well done for the most part, as you can probably see with the images featured in this review.
The audio mix is very uneven, with volumes of certain sound effects spiking above all others. Positional sound implementation also seemed overreaching, with sounds from another room being far too loud considering their distance, both on horizontal and vertical planes. Musically, the mix of 80’s electronic drums with more modern instrumentation, along with saxophone and other horns, effectively reflects the visual and narrative tone of the game. Around 2 hours of great, original music was composed for the game, with the intro track in particular sounding epic and being reminiscent of something like a cross between Mass Effect and Batman Begins.
Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure is obviously a labour of love. With the character debuting way back in 1989 before being a part of the FMV craze in the mid-90s, it’s a victory that so many people backed the project and helped get a sequel made in 2014. Though there are many rejoiceful aspects of the game that harken back to that 80-90s era of adventure titles, the blocky geometry/level design, and muddy textures are exactly what we shouldn’t be celebrating. But, alas, Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure is an outdated game in that respect, and not in the purposely nostalgic sense…
Then again, FMV is still an expensive technique, and considering the comparatively smaller budget to that of Under a Killing Moon and that the game was developed by only 14 individuals, there is a lot of leeway to give, the justification for which is further aided by its innate charm and ridiculously campy sense of humour. If you can get over the rudimentary design and old graphics, and have the capacity to appreciate such camp for what it is, you’ll discover a good puzzle-adventure title in Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure.
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