Wait, what year is this?
Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure, an adventure game that sticks to its roots around every corner, exists in a time warp where the past 20 years never happened. If you’re one of the few who longingly remembers the days when Full Motion Video was wrongly billed as the “future” of our hobby and Mark Hamill managed to maintain a steady paycheck via his work in the Wing Commander series, then you’re in luck, because Tex Murphy’s latest adventure has been directly tailored to your needs.
Private investigator and perennial underdog Tex Murphy starred in a series of point-and-click adventure games that ran from the late-'80s to late-'90s that garnered a modicum of success and a loyal fanbase. That fanbase helped propel the Kickstarter for Tesla Effect past its goal and it is those fans that will lap this game up for its loyalty to its humble beginnings. But what about everyone else?
Tesla Effect places the player in the worn-out shoes of Tex Murphy, who wakes up in his office with no knowledge of the past seven years of life. It is then up to the player to learn of what happened to Tex and his memory, the whereabouts of his missing girlfriend, and a whole bunch of other mysteries that serve to make the plot as complicated as possible. From the get-go Tesla Effect is a head-scratcher, frequently introducing new characters while providing them with little backstory and refusing to escort the player helpfully through its many plot twists and turns. Perhaps the Tex Murphy loyalist will not require an introduction to this world, but considering Tesla Effect’s plot continues off the cliffhanger that concluded Tex’s last adventure way back in 1998’s Overseer, newcomers to the series will likely find themselves feeling excluded.
But while its plot may be overly-complicated, the real heart of Tesla Effect’s narrative lies in its sense of humor. Chris Jones, who created the series along with portraying the titular character in every game, does an excellent job of delivering his lines in a completely deadpan manner, no matter how groan-inducing they may be. As was the case with its predecessors, Tesla Effect is full to the brim with puns, and your appreciation of the experience will live and die by how much of this style of humor you can withstand. I found it to be somewhat hit-and-miss, but considering the game clocks in at around the 20-hour mark, this was to be expected.
Unfortunately, some of the jokes fail to be effective due to how dated they are. Much in the same way that Tesla Effect stays true to its roots with its narrative, its dialogue also often feels as though it’s been lifted from a bygone decade. Considering that it is set in a post-World War III San Francisco, a Brady Bunch reference in the game is laughable, and not in the good way. Similarly, Tex cracking wise about iPods and iPhones feels like it was penned by someone whose last experience with an Apple product was an old Macintosh.
Although Tesla Effect’s datedness stands to make its world and story alienating in many respects, its FMV-inspired cutscenes are where the game really shines. Placing real actors in front of a backdrop of computer-generated environments has a nostalgic effect that makes the game stand-out among its point-and-click contemporaries. Though some of the actors notably lack talent, the cast members generally do a good job with the material they’re given which, considering the relatively small Kickstarter budget they had to work with, is an impressive feat.
However, the amount of budget put into these cutscenes seems to have come at the expense of playability. The majority of Tesla Effect is spent in a first-person view with the player exploring various environments for clues and solving puzzles. While the puzzles are of a suitable difficulty level and the game remains a tough cookie throughout its playtime, the visuals are incredibly old-fashioned to the point where it looks like a sub-par HD remake of an old game, rather than a brand new one. At best they’re functional and at worst they’re downright ugly, with environmental textures in the outdoor areas consisting solely of muddy browns and bleak grays.
Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure has been designed solely to please its Kickstarter backers, and in this respect it will no doubt succeed. It isn’t so much a throwback to Tex’s previous outings as it is a direct sequel to its late-'90s predecessor, with its narrative providing closure for those still left in the lurch by Overseer’s cliffhanger finale. However, if it was Chris Jones’ and the rest of the team at Big Finish Games’ intention to bring the series into the 21st century and have the Tex Murphy legacy continue into the future, then Tesla Effect is unfortunately far too unaccommodating to newcomers. Tex Murphy fans will lap it up, but everyone else will likely consider this a case not worth solving.