Moebius: Empire Rising
First posted on 10 June 2014. Last updated on 10 June 2014.
If pedigree is what piques your interest about an adventure game, then Moebius: Empire Rising is the game for you. Developed in collaboration with Phoenix Online Studios, the game is the brainchild of veteran game designer Jane Jensen and composer Robert Holmes (who is also Jensen's husband) under their new studio Pinkerton Road. Jensen is best known as the creator of the Gabriel Knight series and Gray Matter. An accomplished novelist, she has also served as a story consultant for Phoenix Online Studios on Cognition: An Eric Reed Thriller. Holmes' previous works include the King's Quest series, the Gabriel Knight series, and Gray Matter, among others. Moebius: Empire Rising is the first adventure game released by their studio, after having received over $435,000 USD from a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter back in 2012.
The story of Moebius: Empire Rising centers on a fictional metaphysical theory called the Moebius Theory. It argues that certain recurring patterns appear throughout history, in which the outcomes of individuals and events in current times can be predicted from similar counterparts centuries ago. The theory posits that events ripple through the ages, causing identical or near identical repetitions in different eras. These similarities are more than pure coincidence. Thus, under this theory, certain individuals are destined to a predetermined station, wealth, or fate in their lives.
Upon starting the game after setting the initial configuration, you are presented with the Main Menu: Intro-E-Comic, Play Game, Load Game, Cutscenes, Settings, Credits, and Quit. Under Settings, you can change options for Gameplay, Audio, and Display. Selecting Gameplay allows you to turn on or off Hints, Subtitles, and Tutorials. The Intro-E-Comic introduces you to Malachi Rector, the protagonist of the game. From the comic, you learn about Malachi's childhood growing up in Africa and the death of his mother during his early age. You also learn that Malachi is a child prodigy with an extremely high intellect and a near photographic memory. Now grown up, Malachi works as an antiques dealer and is a renowned historian with a special interest in rare antiques. The comic concludes with Malachi confronting an art seller about a fake antique, after which he himself is confronted by a group of thugs and gets beat up for exposing the seller's unscrupulous scheme.
The game begins in Manhattan in New York City. At Rector's Antiques showroom, Malachi's shop manager Gretchen informs him of a new potential client named Amble Dexter. Soon, Malachi learns that his new client actually works for a highly secretive US government organization called FITA—Future Intelligence Technology Agency. After passing a screening test that demonstrates his unique powers or abilities, Malachi is told that the agency has been investigating the Moebius Theory, together with governments from other countries, as a means of planning and securing a stable global political future.
Malachi is also told of a brutal murder of young woman in Venice a week ago which the agency believes to be related. As Malachi, it is up to you to determine who Bianca Cardolo, the victim, really is. To do this, you must investigate the facts of her current life and try to discover the connection between her and an important historical figure. The investigation will take you from Venice to other exotic locales such as Cairo, Paris, and Qatar. Thwarted and betrayed at every turn, only you can uncover the mole and unearth a global conspiracy that threatens to destroy the world's political system.
Gameplay uses typical third-person point-and-click mechanics. The game supports a number of hotkeys: the spacebar to highlight all hotspots, the P key to access the smartphone, the M key to bring up any maps in use, and the Esc key to return to the system menus. The inventory is located on the right side of the screen, where objects can be viewed, magnified, and combined. A pullout tab is located at the top left corner of the screen, from where you can access the in-game menu, smartphone, maps, and hotspot finder. Clicking the hollow cursor anywhere on the screen will slowly walk Malachi to that spot, while double clicking it will immediately teleport Malachi there. The cursor will highlight and display a label whenever it is hovered over an object with which or a person with whom you can interact. Once selected, a rosette of icons will then appear detailing what types of interaction are available: an eye icon to identify or describe, a gear icon to do or operate, a talk icon to talk, an envelope icon to use from the inventory, a hand icon to take, and a brain icon to analyze. The game supports an unlimited number of save slots. No autosave is created whenever you exit the game.
The plot is best described as a mystery thriller. Clues can be gleaned at each step of your investigation, though it is not until the very end that you will know who the mole is behind the global conspiracy. The concept of the Moebius Theory is interesting, and the story goes to great lengths to try to explain it. Unfortunately, the portrayal of FITA is disappointingly generic—just yet another government shadow organization that secretly spies on its citizens under the guise of national security. Still, each country you visit during your investigation seems to open up a new can of worms that deepens this global conspiracy theory. The friendship between Malachi and David seem underplayed and at times ambiguous, though it is clear that David is both a loyal friend and a capable bodyguard to Malachi.
The blending of 2D and 3D graphics is well done, as are the pre-rendered cut scenes. The backgrounds are detailed and show off the different architecture and landmark of each country Malachi visits. Lip sync of the characters is decent. When speaking, the characters express appropriate facial expressions, emotions, and body language. The only disappointment is the character animation. All of the characters are stiff looking and walk with an awkward gait, including Malachi.
All of the character voiceovers are professionally done and sound excellent. The French and Italian accents are believable. Although sound effects are minimal, they are solid. The musical score by Holmes is superb, intensifying the atmosphere of the game in every scene.
Most of the puzzles in the game are about analyzing people and objects by leveraging Malachi's power of observation and deductive skill. Other puzzles include rewiring a broken light switch as well as decrypting and encrypting a cipher, among others. There are a couple of mazes in the game, including a maze near the end that can be somewhat frustrating to solve. There is no provision to skip any of the puzzles. However, a hint system exists that is relatively helpful if you are ever stuck.
In sum, Moebius: Empire Rising meets all my expectations for a superb adventure game. The game is surprisingly long and can take up to 20 hours to finish. The complexity and intrigue of the conspiracy plot is masterfully handled by Jensen, keeping you riveted throughout the game and leeching out enough clues to maintain your interest until the end. Young gamers may struggle a bit with this game, as some of the puzzles require meticulous attention to details. The game offers some 30 achievement awards for added replay value. I can envisage Malachi working on a new case in the future, using his encyclopedia knowledge and keen detective skill to save the world once again.