October 25, 2013 5:00 AM | Konstantinos Dimopoulos / Gnome
Having disgracefully not fully played through the last adventure game Jane Jensen designed and wrote (that would of course be Gray Matter), I was more than eager to find out what the Grand Dame of adventure gaming was up to with her forthcoming Moebius. Gracefully, graciously, quite happily and after a minimal amount of begging I was thus given access to an early preview copy of the first bits of the game and a chance to redeem myself.
And, you know what? Moebius is shaping up to become a great game. I'd call it brilliant, but I suppose it'd be wiser to wait for a more, uhm, final build of the thing before reaching such a verdict.
Those few hours I spent with Moebius though were more than enough to show me that, even among the vibrancy and quality of today's adventure gaming scene, it does stand out. The characters are obviously excellently written, the plot intriguing and, sacrilegious as such a thing could sound, everything feels on par with Gabriel Knight.
Come to think of it, the outrageously named Malachi Rector, the game's protagonist and a bona fide genius, is quite similar to Gabriel himslef, in the sense that he's neither completely likeable, not at first at least, nor your average good guy. He is an utterly intriguing and quite arrogant antique dealer instead, who's immensely proud of his photographic memory and impressive knowledge of history. Oh, and yes, besides being arrogant, Malachi seems rather rude and self-serving too, and if it weren't for the money, he'd never had taken the job the secretive (and quite frankly rather silly) F.I.S.T. organization had to offer him.
Then again, had he declined said job there wouldn't be much of a game to play... It is, after all, one of those missions that take protagonists around the world in a quest to look at everything, analyze and pick up things, solve puzzles, uncover mystical conspiracies and track personality traits throughout history. To make things more interesting there are certain mysterious, almost ritual, murders to look into too, as well as a few side-quests regarding the selling and estimating the value of antiques.
Despite what you might have been led to believe by yours truly, doing all this as Mr Rector is not a chore. He's not an unpleasant character to play as. Far from it. He's incredibly enjoyable, what with his immense intelligence, depth of knowledge, quality sarcasm and the fact that there apparently is much more to him than merely being a smart bastard.
There are even some very subtle clues about a love story; a love story that, should it actually come to fruition in our still pretty backwards medium of gaming, will be something truly important. A love story that has so far avoided any major sign-posting and could end up being something refreshingly different. Something taking place in the actual world.
The whole setting does feel extraordinarily real too and that despite the overtly stylized graphics and those grotesque upper bodies. Talking with an Italian shopkeeper, for example, sounds just right. The man says exactly what you'd expect a petit bourgeois in crisis struck Italy to say, whereas the sense of place, from New York, to Venice, to Cairo, is incredibly strong.
Now, as you may have noticed, adventure games, despite the prevailing belief that they are all about inventory management and using everything on everything, have always been filled with new concepts, special in-game interfaces and all sorts of amazing things. From Larry's poker and Codename Iceman's submarine simulator to Gabriel Knight 3's mapping software and the shooting sequences of Gemini Rue the genre has been filled with such unexpected and well integrated bits of gameplay.
Moebius, of course, is not afraid to introduce new mechanics of the sort. Malachi, not unlike Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes, has a way of scanning people for details that will reveal their secrets and aspects of their character to him; details that can later be used in conversations. Another system lets you find the similarities of contemporary people to historical figures and, one of its variants, allows for the archaeological classification of objects.
As for the puzzles not utilizing those new interfaces, they have made sense and were quite easy so far without ever getting boring or feeling out of context. They were varied and entertaining, even though typically adventure game-y. Of course it's still early and I have only seen the chapters meant to ease you into the game's logic, meaning that, should Moebius follow the traditional Jensen difficulty curve, things will get much more interesting further down the line.
Oh, and let me also inform you that, as one would expect, the game's soundtrack is of the highest quality.