Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure (2014)

Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure (2014), screenplay by Aaron Conners, Chris Jones, Courtney James and Daniel R. Strong, directed by Adrian Carr, developed by Big Finish, published by Atlus

While it took 16(!) years to get the next instalment of the Tex Murphy series to the hands of its adoring fans, the game itself takes only a 7-year gap between the cliffhanger ending of the Overseer, where Chelsea and Tex were shot point-blank by a mysterious man in black. 

So, on a night like any other, or perhaps not quite, Tex is returning to his office with a briefcase in his hands. The narration tells us, that he just might have done the deal with the devil, but he doesn't manage to go far with that line of thinking when he's struck unconscious. The next day, he is confused, as his office looks different, all he remembers is being jumped at home but also how he and Chelsea were jumped. He wanders on to Louie's diner, where a very familiar woman greets him. Here the truth strikes him: Louie tells him that he has lost 7-years worth of memories and not only that, during those lost years, Tex had turned into a right bastard. 

First things first, Tex has to figure out why he has lost his memory and why he was jumped at his home. The trail takes him to a corpse of a sleazy detective, where a trap caught him for the night. Then a mysterious stranger appears, sprouts some clues, and releases Tex for him only to get caught by the cops, who obviously assume him to be guilty of murder.

The plot begins to thicken when Tex learns that a mysterious Tesla cache, filled with lost inventions of Nikola Tesla, is tied to the case. A woman called Margaret Leonard, a founder of the Tesla Society is somehow tied to all this, in the home front Tex is trying to juggle between his loyalty towards Chelsea and a couple of ladies more than interested in his P.I. charms.

Now, it might not sound like any of this has anything to do with the 17-year-old cliffhanger, but surprisingly enough, it does. I don't know if this was the original idea for the sequel of the Overseer, but all this does lead to some insight into whatever happened that evening when Tex and Chelsea got shot.  

The resolution to what happened that evening might not be the greatest one ever devised, but then again, considering the gap between the games, it's amazing any resolution was done at all. On another note, those who get to play all Text-games now, might not mind that much, it's not like any new players need to wait for decades to see where the story goes.  

Yet another thing of the story, quite a big chunk of it takes place on Chandler Avenue. While there are other locations, it at least feels like most of the gameplay takes place there. Very conveniently, most of the important characters in the game seem to either visit there often or just live there. This comes out a bit cheap, but might also be directly tied to the budget they managed to gather from Kickstarter. They had a lot of story to tell, but budget restrictions probably dictated the game space to be a bit more confined. 

Still, the narrative does have several paths in it, all leading to different endings. This time around, depending on Tex's life choices, the game can end up with 5 different endings. What affects the endings the most, is how Tex handles his love life, not as much as how he solves the case. In a couple of endings, you can even see Chelsea, who is otherwise only discussed during the story.

Another minor issue is the fact, that this was a crowdfunded game. See, for those who explore, you'll find more than one place filled with Kickstarter backers' faces. The first place you find them isn't even clever, they are just hanging there on a wall of a derelict house. Something like placing them in Tex's office file cabinet could have been a better choice, turning them into people of interest in the cases Tex had during his lost years.

As for gameplay choices, I'm not a huge fan of the Smart Aleck AI communicator, that keeps commenting on Tex's actions. The previous games worked well enough with Chris Jones doing all of the narration and as a whole, Smart Aleck feels like a forced attempt of inserting more comedy.  It rarely works.

Some of the puzzles are rather disappointing as well. There are several puzzles that require you to hunt for a set amount of objects of interest from the locations. This is a tedious treasure hunt trope and while once would be fine, three times is overkill. Even twice in the same game is.

Then there's one, specific location, that seems to exist only to provide the player with a set of cheap, waiting room magazine puzzles. You know, a group of people are on the shore, but only certain people can cross the river together with a boat that can hold only two people at a time kind of mind teasers. You'll recognize the location as soon as you get to it. 

In terms of the puzzles, nothing really stands out and Tesla Effect is, overall, the easiest game in the series by a margin. That's not a bad thing, but considering the quite steep difficulty curve of the previous games, the difference is quite noticeable.

Technically, you can tell that a lot of time managed to pass between The Overseer and Tesla Effect. You have modern 3D controls, a sleeker UI, and better graphics. While the game graphics weren't nothing to write about even in 2015, some of the FMV sequences are pretty stunning. Especially the many scenes taking place in Tex's speeder, flying above San Fransico are stunning, much better than you'd expect from a game of this budget. The FMV quality is, overall, impressive, albeit some locations look better than others. It's fair to say, a Tex Murphy game has never looked this good or played this well.

All the caveats aside, I do like Tesla Effect. While it might have been a tad underwhelming considering the time between it and the Overseer, it's still a fun Tex Murphy story. Chris Jones might have aged, but he still has the chops and the story has its familiar tone of half-serious, half-comedic sci-fi. Nagging aside, it is still very definitely a part of the same series the Tex fans love. 

Tesla Effect ends with a promise of more. While I don't know if we will ever see a proper sequel to the series, there is a remake of the best game in the series, Pandora Directive, in the works. Not only will it have all-new graphics and a modern engine, but it will also feature remastered and AI-upscaled FMV sequences, with newly rendered backgrounds. And if it does well enough, maybe we'll get remastered versions of the rest of the games. I'd really love to play Under a Killing Moon with higher-quality FMV and art. 

So, for those who want to keep the FMV dream alive, you can head to GOG and Steam and do your part by purchasing Tesla Effect as well as the rest of the games in the series.