Malachi: “The hotel has thoughtfully provided four pillows, in case I want to smother myself in the middle of the night.”
Moebius is a third-person mystery adventure game created by Jane Jensen, one of the most well-known names in adventure gaming. She is the creator of Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter. She’s also a consultant for the Cognition series, which I absolutely love, if you recall. This is the first game that she has completely overseen since Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned came out in 1999. Moebius began as a Kickstarter in April 2012, raising $435,316 – beating the $300,000 goal – with the help of 5,836 backers. There is another game in the pipeline, as yet untitled, which was also funded by this Kickstarter. Pinkerton Road was founded by Jane and her husband, composer Robert Holmes. The studio will be creating story-driven, third-person adventure games. Jane is one of the people who consistently comes up when discussing women in game design, and I was very excited to be able to get to try the preview build of Moebius, which covers the first two chapters of the game – Into Your Hands, which takes place in Manhattan and Venice, and The Wheel Turns, set in Cairo.
Watch the trailer:
Malachi Rector, a prestigious antiquities expert with an uncanny knowledge of history, travels around the world evaluating antiques for auction houses and private collectors. He can tell at a glance whether a varnish is 14th century Venetian or a 21st century imitation, where a particular hinge was forged, and what tomb an Egyptian artifact came from. The game begins when a mysterious government agency named F.I.S.T. offers Malachi an odd job: instead of evaluating an antique, he will travel to Venice to investigate the death of a politician’s wife. Though this is far outside the scope of his usual work, Malachi is curious, so he agrees. What Malachi doesn’t know is that his photographic memory and genius for history is of extreme interest to not only F.I.S.T. and the U.S. government, but to other top-secret agencies as well. And Malachi’s about to meet a man in his travels who holds the key to it all…
“Antiques dealer” might not be the most glamorous profession I’ve ever been in a game, but Malachi still manages to be a compelling character. He’s a Brit living in New York City, he’s very smart, and he’s very snarky. The game is billed as a metaphysical thriller, which was definitely hinted at in the portion of the game I played, and I’m curious to see where that aspect of it is going.
Another thing I was picking up on that I’m interested to see the outcome of is the relationship between Malachi and David, a man who fixes his broken-down car at the beginning of chapter two. At the beginning, Malachi makes it pretty clear he isn’t interested in being “girlfriended” by his secretary. However, he and David seemed to have quite a bit of chemistry together. I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into it, but it is an interesting possibility. If I’m right about where their relationship might be headed, I can’t think of any games where a character was gay without player choice being involved.
Also, the spot where the preview ends is TORTURE. So many things are happening!
Graphics and Sound
The game runs on the Unity engine and is absolutely gorgeous. It ran extremely smoothly, which was pleasantly surprising for a preview build (I only noticed one or two graphical glitches, which didn’t affect play). The backgrounds are amazing. You see the water in that screenshot? My jaw literally dropped when I saw it in game. It has fluid movement and reflections, and it doesn’t slow the game down at all. Character models are less realistic looking than the rest of the game, but they still look good. The eyes/eyebrows in particular are something that drew me in – they are more expressive than is usual for a game of this style. Sometimes a character would pull a funny face, but it didn’t happen often. There were two cutscenes in the preview build, which were excellently animated. They also allow you to see how Malachi’s thought process works.
Music was excellent and ranges from standard classical to some funky guitar for the menu theme and Egyptian-style when in Cairo. Voice overs were of high quality and no one seemed out of place. I am unsure if the Italian and Egyptian accents are authentic, but they sounded good to me (disclaimer: not an accent expert). Malachi in particular, as the main character, needs to be someone you can listen to a LOT, and the voice actor does not disappoint. He’s got a nice deadpan snark most of the time, with a snobbish overtone and a rare mischievous streak. No one else really stood out, but I’d rather have normal sounding characters than ones that pull me out of the game. You can skip most dialogue by clicking, and subtitles are used (although not color-coded, at least at this point).
Controls are standard – you could play this game with one finger if necessary. You also have the now-expected button that shows all the hotspots on the screen. Clicking on a hotspot brings up between one and four options – look, talk, use, and a brain which allows you to analyze something in more detail with your supreme powers of observation (which are not only limited to identifying antiques.. There are a few new mechanics thrown in, however, which I really enjoyed. The game keeps track of your score out of a thousand, which absolutely hearkens back to text adventures and Sierra games. I was at around a hundred points by the end of the preview, which is encouraging to see, because that means there’s a lot more game. I basically got a point every time I did something successfully.
The aspects of Moebius that are different from a standard adventure game are the people analysis, the modern-day/historical comparisons, and the artifact analysis. I am betting there will be more as the game goes on, but even if there aren’t, these are enough to make Moebius feel like it has new ideas. People analysis involves zooming in on a person and “observing” them by clicking on interesting aspects of how they carry themselves (e.g. a woman is a dancer because of her build; a man has been a detective for a long time since his coat is worn down). Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what you’re trying to find, and I wished you could have zoomed in a little on the image. Some of these observations pay off when you’re talking to someone, which is a nice touch – otherwise it would feel pointless to do the analysis. Modern-day/historical comparison kind of reminded me of Carmen Sandiego, where you have to look at clues you’ve obtained to narrow down a suspect, but in this case you have to take a modern-day person and see which historical figure they most mesh with. I was not expecting this aspect of the game, and it was really cool (and educational!). The artifact analysis brings in the antique dealer side of Malachi, and there is a point where you have to appraise the authenticity of an Egyptian artifact. You do this by comparing what you have to other artifacts from the same time period.
I did not feel that I needed a walkthrough at any time, and I never used the provided hints – the puzzles are logical and intuitive, which is extremely important in an adventure game. You could also pick things up before you knew the use for them, which is something I’m a big fan of – this way, you don’t have to traipse halfway across the game to go get the sandwich you KNEW was going to be important later.
A gorgeous adventure with a compelling story. Jane Jensen does not disappoint! I can’t wait to play the full version when it comes out.
You will be able to play Moebius on PC, Mac, Linux, and iPad. Check out Moebius‘s official site, like Pinkerton Road on Facebook, and subscribe to them on YouTube. You can also follow Jane on Twitter.