The good folks at Phoenix Online Studios were kind enough to send us a copy of their latest game, Moebius: Empire Rising. Like the previous game of theirs that we covered, it is an adventure game that has been tweaked to add a few new mechanics. Let’s see how it stacks up.
Like Cognition, Moebius is a game with 3D items and characters against a 2D rendered background. The character models are good, though they aren’t approaching photo-realism or even attempting to. Here and there I noticed some quirks to the graphical style and execution, but most were minor and could be explained away largely as matters of taste. At times it seems like a character’s head is jutting forward a very slightly unusual angle, and our main character Malachi seems to have some serious shoulder pads in that suit jacket. The backgrounds, at least in the graphics settings I used, were a shade low resolution for my tastes as well (at least for some settings).
Those observations aside, the developers did their homework and had some fun with the visuals. References to previous games from the studio abound, from previously vital quest items sitting on a curio shelf to posters and ads specifically referencing Cognition, as though it exists in this universe either as a game or a movie.
I would call Moebius a modified and enhanced adventure game. It differs from the traditional formula in a few ways, some of them hits and some of them misses. Let’s start with the additions that I feel strengthened the game. Throughout the game you’ll encounter people and items that the main character can analyze. You could determine that a man with a phone glued to his ear and glitter on his pants, for example, is self-obsessed and sex-addicted. This info is handy for manipulating him. Such an analysis is done via multiple choice, and like any multiple choice situation, at least one choice always seems to be obviously incorrect just to give you a hint. Another sub-game involves collecting information about individuals and then comparing them to similar figures throughout history. This is a deeper logic puzzle, requiring you to cross off figures that don’t match up with the present facts until you’ve narrowed the field to just three, at which point you must choose the best. I like both of these puzzle types, as they require deep thought and comparison, and can be a bit of a break from the constant backtracking that can result from the other major tweak to the formula.
You are playing the game as a very intelligent and very professional character, and thus some of the usual behaviors of an adventure game character would appear incredibly out of place in this context. A guy walking around in a fancy suit, globe-trotting and doing freelance work for powerful political and corporate figures, probably wouldn’t pick up every odd piece of junk he finds in the street. Thus, the game doesn’t let you take an item until there is a puzzle that specifically calls for it. Any attempt to collect the item before that will get you a message indicating he has no use for said item right now. On one hand, this makes sense, and can even help keep you focused on a particular puzzle rather than getting lost in the item hunting and trial and error guesswork involved with traditional adventure games. On the other hand, it produces this scenario, repeated ad infinitum: You find an item (a wire hanger, for example) and can’t pick it up. Then you find something that, logically, might be solved with a coat hanger. You go back, but he still won’t take it. You move on to another hangar-appropriate puzzle. Backtrack, nope. Basically, rather than eliminating the “try everything in the inventory to solve a puzzle” aspect of adventure, it replaced it with “go back to every item in the game a dozen times to see if it is involved in the puzzle yet.” Realism doesn’t always make for a more enjoyable game.
That aside, the puzzles that make up the body of the game are generally enjoyable and well designed. A few of them delve into the realm of “in what world is that the logical conclusion I was supposed to draw,” though. In one case a web search turns up some information, but I’m not able to actually act upon it until I see it in the form of a poster elsewhere in the chapter. I got stuck once or twice, and in those occasions the built-in hint system gave me a check list of things I may have forgotten to do, eventually guiding me to the piece I was missing. All things considered, it is a decent take on the adventure formula.
The phrase “cinematic” comes to mind when I think of the audio from this game. The intro of the game is certainly something you would expect to see as the opening of a film. The voice performances are likewise well done, with none of the all-too-common “we’ll just get the receptionist to record a few lines” feel that plagues many adventure games. The music, with the exception of the music performed for the intro, is moody but a bit generic. As you may have read from me many times, as long as it sets the proper atmosphere and doesn’t get in the way, I’ll give the music in a game my seal of approval. Such is the case here.
The plot of Moebius is built upon a very interesting premise, though the gradual and subtle way in which the story is told makes it difficult to discuss without spoiling. Let’s just say that you play the game as a brilliant antiques appraiser named Malachi Rector. His acerbic and blunt attitude have a way of getting under the skin of most people he encounters (myself included, to be honest) but his eye for detail and encyclopedic knowledge of history and society make him uniquely suited for certain tasks. A mysterious organization called FITA calls upon him to put his eye for appraisal to work analyzing people rather than items, and he quickly become entrenched in a web of intrigue that is equal parts politics and fate. It has a deep, supernatural conspiracy vibe that I think makes for a fun and intriguing story.
Moebius is an above average game. For every instance where it falls short it finds another way to raise the bar. The graphics could be better, but are head and shoulders above even recent games by the same studio. Likewise the “only carry necessary items” mechanic adds realism at the expense of convenience, while at the same time reducing complexity by limiting the guesswork for each section of the game. The greatest strengths, in my opinion, are the story and the logic puzzles, both of which add a depth and novelty to the genre.
7.8 / 10: Along with a strong story, Moebius: Empire Rising freshens up the adventure formula with some tweaks for realism and some intriguing mini-puzzles, though it doesn’t always hit the mark.