Moebius: Empire Rising Review
As a big point-and-click adventure fan, I was excited to see Jane Jensen, creator of the famed Gabriel Knight series, back with a new project. Moebius has an intriguing premise, with hero Malachi Rector watching historical patterns repeat themselves, uncovering conspiracies, and piecing together a connection between history and present events. Unfortunately, the lackluster gameplay and disappointing story didn't pull me in at all.
Let's get the biggest issue out of the way first. Moebius is campy. Everything plays out so ham-handedly that I couldn't get invested in the world and characters, which is a persistent problem. Did Jensen intend for it to be kitschy? After all, plenty of media pokes fun using a B-movie style; Little Shop of Horrors and Ron Gilbert's Maniac Mansion dabble in it successfully, but Moebius' problem is how it positions itself as a serious drama. Unfortunately, the wooden animations and unrealistic scenarios - like luring a guard into a cell only to take him out with a karate chop - had me rolling my eyes at the absurdity.
A good adventure game has a gripping world and characters, but Moebius' cast and story are simply subpar. Malachi Rector is a savant antiques appraiser. He's extremely logical, but he doesn't handle people or emotions well. He tells it to people straight, which gets him into trouble. He reminds me of characters like Temperance Brennan from Bones or Dr. House, except they have redeeming moments and remain likeable despite their flaws. Malachi, on the other hand, isn't likeable or compelling. This doesn't help the story, which lacks momentum and has laughable plot twists. Malachi begins on a mission to appraise antiques, but soon gets involved in a murder investigation, leading to a larger conspiracy involving government officials.
Because of the increasing danger, Malachi hires a bodyguard named David. Throughout the game, it's teased that David and Malachi might have more-than-friendly feelings for one another. Despite plenty of hints, it never goes further than lip service. I'm fine with a few unanswered questions, but these hints are dangled in front of the player so constantly that the lack of resolution feels like a major oversight.
What I did enjoy was Moebius' Carmen Sandiego vibe. You travel around locations like France, Italy, and Egypt examining relics, meeting people, and learning about history. The investigations, however, are basic match puzzles. A chest may have a symbol on it, and you just choose from a few images to find the one that resembles the symbol. As you talk to people, you also need to analyze them. Are a person's ripped clothes a fashion statement or do they speak to their financial status? If sweat is dripping on a forehead, does that mean the person is hiding something or is the room just hot? These scenarios feel like guesswork, and can be solved by trial-and-error.
Moebius also has plenty of the basic point-and-click puzzles, where you must find objects and use them in the right ways. Most, however, use weird adventure-game logic. Maybe you find a pole to try to retrieve a potential clue at the bottom of a river - but you also need to combine it with something sticky, and that item might be innocuous. Or you might spot something that feels like it's merely decoration, but then it becomes part of an elaborate puzzle. I also didn't care for some of the backtracking required. I would often see an object and know it would be useful in a potential puzzle, but couldn't pick it up until the puzzle presented itself.
While some puzzles were enjoyable and challenged me to use my resources, others were merely tedious roadblocks. At one point, you're investigating a government figure with a knack for cryptography, but entering the solution is a time-consuming chore. Some puzzle sequences also go on too long, like trying to find a way out of an abandoned cave with various dead ends, then backtracking through it two more times. This isn't fun or challenging - it's busywork.
Moebius is missing a spark — something that makes you want to keep playing. It has a few shining moments with some standout humorous lines, but they're buried in bad dialogue, empty characters, and a dry mystery. Sadly, I don't think people will be talking about Malachi Rector with the esteem they do Gabriel Knight.