Moebius: Empire Rising Review - Fallen Empire

Andy Chalk | 10 May 2014 09:00
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Some of the narrative shortcomings in Moebius can be attributed to the demands of the video game format, but that part of the equation is problematic as well. Much of it is simply a case of technical overreach; the game can be sluggish, with awkward pauses before animations or conversations begin, and the need to properly position characters sometimes leads to them walking away from a location, then turning around and walking back to it before undertaking a task. They stand and move awkwardly, and sometimes appear oddly out of proportion, with arms that don't bend quite as they should and torsos that often look uncomfortably contorted. I'm not sure if it's the uncanny valley or just a drainage ditch of ugly, but either way it's distracting, and the distinct difference between the style of the characters and the hand-painted backdrops only serves to emphasize the peculiarities.

The voice acting, at least, is decent, although Malachi's posh, upper-crust accent is the only one that really stands out. Some of the international accents are strangely faint, but more importantly, none of them are painfully overwrought and artificial. The music is good too, although it can be overbearing at times.

It's an uninspiring and, despite the promise of the concept, rather boring affair, until it's just about to wrap up, when it very suddenly switches gears into full-on infuriating. First comes an unskippable cipher puzzle that requires you to rip a man's office apart in search of clues before - surprise! - forcing you to drive across town to find a vital hint in a newspaper that's been conveniently left on your desk. (Yes, that's a spoiler, and you can thank me later.) The fact that Malachi carries the latest and greatest in smartphone technology makes it, and one or two other segments, patently silly, but such is the way of adventure games and in that sense it's tolerable, even though it feels wildly out of place. But shortly after that comes a maze, a long, stupid and utterly pointless maze that must be traversed first as Walker and then, from the other direction, as Malachi. It's pure and entirely unnecessary padding, an exercise in tedium that comes just as the game should be hitting its climax, and so when that climax finally does arrive it's really just a relief that the whole thing is finally over.

It's clear that Moebius: Empire Rising is intended to be the first of a series of Malachi Rector adventures, and there's certainly enough meat on the bone to build it into a franchise of high-level, Dan Brown-style conspiracy tales. But I'm not sure that anyone will care; Malachi Rector isn't dark, he's just a dick, and despite the super-secret cloak of mystery surrounding his activities, the underlying forces driving the whole thing forward turn out to be entirely banal. If part two isn't a serious improvement over part one, I doubt very much we'll see a part three.

Bottom Line: I had high hopes for Moebius: Empire Rising, but while it shows early promise it ultimately falls far short of living up to it. I suspect that Jane Jensen has a good story to tell, but this is definitely not the way to go about it.

Recommendation: Jensen is also working on the Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition. Cross your fingers and wait for that. (Or a really cheap Steam sale.)

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