By Adam Riley 29.12.2016
The last time Tex Murphy was on the scene was back in 1998 when the now defunct Access Software was still independent and had just dropped the eagerly anticipated first-person adventure, Overseer, following on from massive success with both 1994's Under a Killing Moon and 1996's The Pandora Directive. Then everything went to pot, with Microsoft snapping up the team but not allowing for new Tex Murphy quests to come to light. Several years later, with ownership of the team changing hands before eventually being disbanded, Big Finish Games was finally formed, rising from the ashes, and along with it came the reacquisition of the rights to its most popular creation. The legendary Private Investigator was set to return. No longer was it a matter of "if," but more a case of "when" would he return, and come 2014, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure was borne unto the world. After all that time, did the fedora-wearing gumshoe have the same allure? Cubed3 heads back to the hotly-tipped release to investigate…
FMV-filled adventures can sometimes work very well indeed (Wing Commander III, The 7th Guest, or, more recently, Her Story), but there is a reason why the concept is not used so often - sadly, they can also be more miss than hit. The Bunker was a recent attempt at resurrecting the FMV adventure, but totally missed the mark. Whilst it clearly had a decent-sized budget and superb presentation - to the point of looking like an actual TV production - its story was weak and the whole affair was almost completely bereft of interaction. The team behind that should have played through Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure beforehand to get a better understanding of how to balance things correctly.
Time to set the scene: the year was 2043 and Tex Murphy, P.I. had struck it lucky, solving the biggest case faced so far, and getting the girl of his dreams…until him and his lady were kidnapped at gunpoint, and then he was knocked unconscious. That is how the previous entry, Tex Murphy: Overseer ended, and Tesla Effect picks up not long after, with Tex finally coming to, unsure of what happened and how he got back to his room at the Ritz Hotel.
It only takes a short time to realise some aspects of the room (that doubles as his office) are not how he remembers them to be, and upon further investigation and talking with familiar faces, who themselves are acting a tad different than before, it comes to light that it is now in fact 2050. Seven years have gone by, with Tex having no recollection of them! How could that be? Who did it, and why?
At its heart, Tesla Effect is a standard point-and-click adventure, with a film noir vibe, but the team at Big Finish Games has perfected its twist on the theme, with everything playing out from a first-person perspective, seeing events through the eyes of Tex, with various full-motion video cut-scenes used for key moments of story progression, along with live actors for the non-playable character conversations. The Bunker's strong point was the acting, whereas here it is more about getting the theme and atmosphere spot on, with the actual mystery and puzzles complementing the ambience. That is not to say the acting is poor, but it certainly does vary in quality considerably, from the purposely cheesy, to the ham-fisted, and then back to the magnificent. Fortunately, the best performances are kept for the major roles, and the tension of events at hand is conveyed with aplomb.
Core themes associated with point-and-click titles are all present and correct, with interrogation of people being required numerous times to extract very tiny piece of pertinent information, there is a need for collecting various objects either for direct use with other items or to be mixed-and-matched for creating useful tools in order to crack conundrums, and then there is usual exploration of every nook-and-cranny in the areas visited, which is not a mere necessity, but an actual joy to carry out thanks to the dry-witted comments from Tex himself whenever something is clicked on. It feels 'classic' throughout, which some may mistake as being a flaw, but it is expertly crafted to maintain an old school feel that appeals to long-term fans, whilst using newer technology to make the ride the smoothest one possible. Running around the different locations, sticking your nose into anything you can, using the keyboard for walking and mouse for moving the field of vision is simplicity itself. For those less hardcore out there, an option to take an easier route and have key objects highlighted is there for the choosing.
Trying to find out why his memories were wiped, and by whom, and then stumbling onto something he really wishes he had avoided, becoming embroiled in a twisting and turning thriller, Tex is taken on a journey like no other, and it is a real roller coaster of emotions en route to the unveiling of the meaning behind game's title, Tesla Effect. The lead's charm and wit are enchanting, his cutting sarcasm and off-the-cuff comments endearingly amusing, whilst his downright likeable nature added in helps to make for a thoroughly enjoyable romp through run-down, sci-fi setting of New San Francisco.
The puzzles on offer vary from logical processes being followed, to certain numbers of items being recovered and deciphered, dangers needing to be carefully avoided, as well as some good ol' daisy-chain missions where objects must be collected and passed along to others, and should Tex meet his demise, points are docked from his overall total P.I. rating - something only revealed at the very end of the adventure. There is more than enough variety in play to keep entertainment levels high. This is also augmented by the branching conversational paths that affect how the tale plays out. Certain characters will react differently in Tex's presence, dependent on how he chooses to respond, which also leads to different endings. Throw in hidden collectibles that unlock a special post-credits extra, and there is plenty to watch out for and come back to if missed first time round.
Some of the early back and forth sections between the handful of people located in the first scene of Chandler Avenue, home to the Ritz, may seem like basic grunt work, but it actually plays out just like being a real detective, having to hit the streets asking the same people about new shreds of evidence uncovered. Then, just as that element starts to wear thin, the timing from the developer is impeccable, as it all kicks off in a tangent, with the following chapters taking Tex to all manner of places filled with more beguiling shenanigans. Masterful upon release in 2014, and untouched since then, Tesla Effect is one of those must-buys and currently down to a ridiculously cheap £2.99 over on Steam!
There are not enough adjectives to describe what a pleasure it is to experience Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure. From the smart acting and intriguing story, to the clever puzzles included and great locations to explore, everything in Big Finish Games' project is a resounding success. Adventure fans have been waiting a long time for this, and it is pleasing to see that the wait was indeed more than worth it. Tex Murphy is back, and hopefully there is much more to come, especially with the officially-supported fan remake of Overseer, The Poisoned Pawn well underway.