You should have played… Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure (PC)
Tex Murphy’s reemergence will seem familiar to anyone that’s had their favorite franchise reappear in 2015. Chris Jones and Aaron Conners made numerous attempts to revive the Tex Murphy series, but it wasn’t until a successful Kickstarter campaign that they had the financial backing to make it happen. For better or for worse, Tesla Effect is very much a Tex Murphy game. If that’s what you were hoping for, that’s what you’ve got.
Having never played any other entries in the series, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a big fan of retro-futurism in games though, so Tesla Effect’s incongruous mix of futuristic computers and flying cars with records players and old, beaten-up, wood-paneled detectives offices was right up my street. A street filled with neon signs, broken bottles and seedy bars. Tesla Effect has a brilliant setting, combining Blade Runner with Raymond Chandler. Sure, some of the allusions can be a bit heavy handed (a literal Maltese Falcon model in your office next to a picture of Humphrey Bogart), but all of the set dressing in each scene is suitably evocative. Future/past noir murder mysteries aren’t in abundance right now, so I’ll take this one.
From the start, there’s certainly a lot of “watching” before the “playing” begins, but Tex is such a shifty and campy fun character that you don’t mind. Tesla Effect makes heavy use of FMV (another way that this game stays true to it’s retro roots), and the opening minutes really are a lot of fun. Chris Jones plays the role of Tex straight, but there’s a lot of inherent humour. I’m not sure how younger gamers will respond to the FMV, but for old farts like me it reminded me of my innocent youth when I thought the Mega CD was the future of videogames. Yeah, I was an idiot, but seeing this sort of FMV in a modern game is anachronistically thrilling. Without the nostalgia maybe it wouldn’t work though.
Outwith the FMV, your working with basic FPS controls with a point-and-click games fundamental gameplay and structure. Searching the environments to find clues and overcome obstacles is the name of the game. As such, when you can’t find some small item you need you can get pretty frustrated, but a hint system helps, and a torch which highlights important items is welcome too.
Tesla Effect is fiercely loyal to the conventions of a genre that doesn’t really exist any more. As such, it can seem a bit like a throwback. In the FPS sections (the parts you actually “play”) it’s not a great looking game, and the gameplay is pretty basic. Searching areas for items to proceed is really all you’ll be doing, bar the occasional dialogue sections where you can make choices.
For fans of this type of game though, this is a real love letter from a developer that has worked hard to recapture a style that we don’t see any more. Because it’s so faithful to those old games, it is by definition a little unambitious. But its also a curio – a game worth playing exactly because of those old fashioned gameplay elements. Combining items in the inventory system is clunky, but it’s clunky by design. And at a time when games are becoming more and more refined – with their edges smoothed off and sanded down so much that they all begin to seem the same – it’s nice to see a game that’s unwilling to compromise on its style. Tesla Effect isn’t a gritty reboot, it’s quite simply a new Tex Murphy game. It’s unashamed of its roots, and I’m glad of that.