Tesla Effect – The Demo

Tried out the Tesla Effect demo up on Steam (which weighs in at 2.8 GB) before the impending arrival on April 22nd of Tex Murphy’s latest adventure, and it brought back quite a few memories from the FMV-filled 90s.

Under a Killing Moon brought the character of Tex Murphy into a stunning new world mixing traditional CG with first-person environments blended in with real-life actors. It was really unlike any adventure game of its time when it came out in ’94 and was a ton of fun by adopting a first-person view for adventure games in the same way that CRPGs such as Ultima Underworld did to both engage the player’s imagination and create new ways in which to approach the game world.

Of course, twenty years ago, that was considered bleeding edge pushing even Intel’s shiny new Pentium PCs rolling out from vendors like Dell and Gateway. It’s kind of strange to think back on when having 100MHz was considered the equivalent of running an overclocked rig at 4.2GHz today.

Now thanks to a successful Kickstarter, the new game, Tesla Effect, is about to debut and the demo is a great slice of what players can expect. For fans that followed the series through two more sequels, The Pandora Directive and Overseer, it should feel like coming back to an old favorite.

First thing about the demo is that it really does feel like the originals down to the real-life actors, makeup, and CG effects. As Tex Murphy, you’ll get the chance to interact with others in a quest to discover the truth about why you disappeared for seven years. It’s now 2050 and the dystopian, post-WW3 future you’re living in doesn’t seem to have quite forgotten who Tex is even if he has no idea himself. But it isn’t a ravaged wasteland — civilization somehow survived and cities have risen back up out from the ashes, though the rads have also introduced a race of mutants into the gene pool that are currently struggling to scrape by.

Tex might walk blindly into danger, but his heart's in the right place.

Tex might walk blindly into danger, but his heart’s in the right place.

What might seem cheesy to some players is actually kind of charming today. Series designer, Chris Jones, is back as the down-and-out Tex Murphy complete with his one-liners and spoken thoughts on what the player clicks on. In the demo, he still does a great job with the role without having skipped a beat from the original UAKM. He’s a little older, but two decades will do that to anyone and actually lends Tex a kind of weathered appearance of someone who has seen a lot of what the world has thrown at him (as well as being responsible for saving it more than once).

This is not a super-serious game with a hardcore storyline with snippets of deep philosophy buried in there somewhere. Tex is fully loaded with purposely cheesy one-liners, puzzles can tend to be a little out there (reforging a metal cog using a fireplace? Well…), and the sci-fi can be a bit tongue-in-cheek. But at the same time, it’s still a fine adventure with a tale to tell that obviously has a lot of fun with its characters, can be challenging, and the full version promises alternative endings and branching storylines. In the demo, Tex had a variety of responses to choose from in dealing with the NPC encountered in it, each of which had its own answers. Death is also pretty prevalent in the game penalizing you in points and thanks to the wonder of modern technology, zaps you right back to the spot where you made that fatal decision.

The world survived WW3 with apparently only a few bumps and bruises -- and a complete disregard for safety.

The world survived WW3 with apparently only a few bumps and bruises, though nukes flying through the air seem less dangerous than what the survivors apparently did on their own afterwards.

Tex's responses are generalized into these selections to determine if he'll make friends or end up with his foot in his mouth. Or both.

Tex’s responses are generalized into these selections. It’s up the player on picking what he’ll say to try and make friends or end up with his foot in his mouth. Or both.

The game is built around the ever popular Unity engine and is played from first-person like the originals were. Graphically, don’t expect this to be quite as bleeding edge as Skyrim or Metro: Last Light — but it works just fine for an adventure game like Tex Murphy. Movement is handled by the tried and true WASD key combo and the inventory-cursor system is intuitive enough that I managed to stumble through the demo for several minutes before clicking on the “Help” feature for a better idea of what the controls were. Instead, that opens up a tutorial which goes over everything you need to know.

The Unity engine doesn't do a half-bad job at fleshing out Tex's world, though there are a few rough edges here and there but nothing so bad as to prevent you from solving a puzzle.

The Unity engine and Big Finish Games’ designers do a pretty great job at fleshing out Tex’s world, though there are a few rough edges here and there (like the very obvious invisible walls outside) but nothing so bad as to prevent you from solving a puzzle.

Inventory's pretty simple, though I had to hit up the Help (i.e. tutorial) to figure out just how to combine things. BTW, Kevin Murphy (aka Tom Servo from MST 3000) provides the smart alecky voice for Tex's high-tech menu.

Inventory’s pretty simple, though I had to hit up the Help (i.e. tutorial) to figure out just how to combine things. BTW, Kevin Murphy (aka Tom Servo from MST 3000) provides the smart alecky voice for Tex’s high-tech menu.

Gameplay-wise, the demo mixes “find the object and match them” puzzles along with two brain teasing logic-based ones that took me a while to get through while exploring the mansion it takes place in. There’s a lot of interactivity here for just a demo — drawers, closets, hidden panels, combining objects, video feeds and recorded messages — making it a surprisingly dense sample.

Ah yes, ye olde "create the picture" puzzle. I spent more time on this than some demos I've played.

Ah yes, an old adventure game staple, the ye olde “create the picture” puzzle. I spent more time on this than some demos I’ve played.

It’s also very old school in that it isn’t always obvious as to what you should do next, or in telling you what to search, as I found out when I thought I knew what the answer was in one part of the demo when it turned out to be something I completely missed. Two game modes are available: Casual and Gamer. Casual allows your flashlight to highlight objects to be picked up as well as provide access to the in-game hint system. Gamer just keeps your flashlight a flashlight and seems to turn off the hint system altogether for the entire game. You can’t switch modes once you’ve started on one unless you start a new game with a new save profile from the main menu.

So is it great? Would I recommend it? It looks like it’s going to retail for $20 on Steam and a pre-order special is running right now knocking it down to around $18 which will also include his second adventure after Under a Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive. As a Tex Murphy fan from those heady FMV days in the 90s, I’m definitely looking forward to the full version. But if you’re undecided, or aren’t quite sure about this FMV and CG stuff that the industry went gaga over years ago, give the demo a spin.

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