Review: Tesla Effect is a long-awaited treat for Tex Murphy fans

Platforms: PC, OS X, Linux

Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure is the latest installment of the Tex Murphy series of adventure games, a series that hasn’t seen a new game since 1998. Thanks to Big Finish Games and a successful Kickstarter campaign, Tex Murphy is back and ready to solve a brand new mystery. Using its old formula with a more up-to-date look, Tesla Effect provides a welcome return for fans of the series.

The year is 2050, and you play as Tex Murphy, a Private Investigator working in the post-apocalyptic remains known as New San Francisco. Tex has a wicked case of amnesia, and trying to figure out what Tex has been up to since the last game is one of the main plot points of your adventure. The amnesia lets new players of the series feel a bit more welcome in the established world of Tex Murphy, and the developing mystery around Tex’s amnesia is interesting and creates a worthy premise for adventure.

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Fans of the series will once again find Tesla Effect using live action captured footage for the cutscenes. The 3D environments of New San Francisco you’ll be exploring throughout the game aren’t anything to write home about, but they at least are better looking than the earlier installments in the series. The acting is good, although a little goofy -- par for the course for this style of game -- and the sheer amount of captured footage and dialogue is impressive. Since this game is technically a sequel to the last Tex Murphy adventure, you can expect it to be filled with references to the previous games as well as the return of series characters. As in any sequel, this can leave newcomers feeling a little out of the loop. This isn’t a real problem for enjoying the story, but it does feel like a story a returning fan of the series would appreciate more than a brand new player.

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A Familiar Formula

The formula of Tesla Effect is fairly straightforward. You move around a 3D world, gathering clues in your case. You are joined by an artificial intelligence personal digital assistant known as Smart Alex (voiced by Kevin Murphy from Mystery Science Theater 3000), who will help with advice (often sarcastic) and inventory management. The clues to solving your case will be found by searching for physical evidence left at a crime scene or place of interest, or interacting with one of the many supporting characters in the game. You collect and use the items both as evidence to further your case and to solve puzzles in order to advance the plot. You’ll talk to many characters while gathering clues and you have the option of branching dialogue choices, which can change small aspects of your investigation and may alter the final outcome of the game.

The puzzles in Tesla Effect are mostly simple with a few more complicated challenges thrown into the mix. Many of the puzzles require simply finding a key or a certain clue tucked away in the environment. A few puzzles require more effort and observation, but most of the challenges are quite manageable. However, trying to find the last hidden item in a set can be frustrating, often since there are no indications as to where to look. Sometimes the item is just difficult to find in the 3D environment. Other times, you aren’t given much direction as to what or who you are meant to interact with next, and will inevitably spend some time running around in a desperate search.

As if expecting how problematic finding items would be, the game offers a more casual difficulty setting that will help players find items by giving them a glittering, highlighted appearance. There is also some relief when hunting down those elusive clues because of the interactive environment. Nearly everything can be examined and Tex has a pun, joke or observation always at the ready to describe it.

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A Sense of Humor

The humor in Tesla Effect is a great part of the game. Tex and the supporting cast of this adventure are witty and never hesitate to use their odd situations as a chance to joke. This creates a lighthearted atmosphere that keeps things entertaining as your move through your investigation. You can also expect plenty of references to things like Mystery Science Theater 3000, Indiana Jones, and The Lord of the Rings, to name just a few. The game has a quirky self-awareness and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which actually helps make this adventure funny and enjoyable.

There were some issues with the audio in the game. Some of the areas had repeating audio glitches, or the dialogue would drop out before the statement was completed. Luckily, this seems to only be a settings problem, and higher quality computers shouldn't encounter any issues. The cutscenes play a huge role in the game, and the audio plays fine during them. The little bits of ambient music that plays while exploring are well done and have that mysterious edge that creates a good aura for investigation.

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My View

Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Tesla Effect:

#1 Story: 8/10

Dealing with amnesia is a bit of a cliché, but the mystery around Tex’s memory loss has that essential quality for a good mystery story: it made me want to put the pieces together. Interacting with the other characters is fun, but some of the interactions include references to past games that can miss the mark if not experienced by players who have played other Tex Murphy adventures.

#2 Humor: 9/10

The humor is ever-present and enjoyable. Given the times I was stuck on a more difficult puzzle, the annoyance was alleviated somewhat by Tex cracking a joke. I was curious how a live-action captured game would handle in the modern era of gaming, and luckily the humor gave the whole game a not-so-serious feel that I appreciated. Occasionally it can be too much and a little cheesy, but for most of the game it is just right.

#3 Puzzles: 6/10

There are a few good challenges, but even an interactive environment can only go so far when searching the same room for the umpteenth time trying to find the last piece of a puzzle hidden away. I’m grateful that the option for easier searching is included, but disappointed in the lack of direction the game sometimes has with the investigation.

#4 Audio: 7/10

As mentioned, I experienced some audio problems with the dialogue while exploring the 3D environments. Better computers shouldn't encounter this, but if would be a shame to play this game and be unable to appreciate the work that went into the voice acting.

#5 Visuals: 7/10

The 3D environments look okay, but once you experience the frustration of being unable to find a clue or item because it blends into the background, you’ll wish it were better. The live action video is interesting and a fun throwback to an older era of gaming.

Overall Score: 7.4/10

I went into Tesla Effect having never before heard about Tex Murphy, and I’m happy to know him now. I really appreciated the humor in the game, and it made me interested in the characters enough to see the adventure out. Unfortunately, for much of the adventure I felt like I was looking at the story from a distance, like being left out of an inside joke. For instance, the potential impact of returning characters making a dramatic reemergence was lost to me, because they were all new characters as far as my experience went. For the fans that played this series and supported the Kickstarter, this won’t be a problem.

The familiar mechanics and themes of the game, combined with a better looking quality from its 90’s installments, makes Tesla Effect a game fans will be happy to play. Hopefully, the humor and fun atmosphere of the game will spark interest for newcomers to the series looking for an adventure.

GameCrate reviews represent the opinions of the GameCrate writer who wrote them, and not necessarily those of Newegg.