After doing the Gabriel Knight series, I was left with a somewhat mixed feeling. I was not a fan of either the second or the third game, but I adored the original and praised the remake highly, despite fans not feeling the same way. I suppose one grows too attached to their own nostalgia. Regardless, I forgot that, after Jane Jensen and Robert Holmes created Pinkerton Road Studio, their first title was not the Gabriel Knight remake, but an original title. Moebius: Empire Rising was a game that simply flew under my radar and I can’t say I heard a lot of people talking about it either, even in the point and click-community. This is definitely a shame, as while it is flawed, it shows that Jane Jensen and Robert Holmes still got a lot to offer as video-game developers.
History has defined patterns
While there is an optional comic-book that gives you a small background story about our main-character, Malachi Rector, the game itself starts with him returning to his antique-store after verifying a historical object as being fake. While he took a beating for his direct answer, he is still standing strong and ready to take up another task from a corporation known as FITA. He is asked to find information about a murdered woman and verify if she has any historical connection. Quite the odd request, but Malachi accepts the task and begins a bizarre journey that subtly builds itself up to something bigger than Malachi could ever have realized.
The theme of the game’s plot is closely related to its title. Without spoiling anything, Moebius, in this case, refers to the philosophy of how history is repeated, which will be represented when our main character investigates the different people he encounters, comparing them to historical figures to find out if they have a similar personality. It is quite the interesting approach for including history in a detective style game, and I enjoyed it. It must be said that it will require a fascination for history to enjoy this title, so if you do not have that, some parts might be harder to swallow as these figurines from the far past are represented by an organized, but huge amount of text. While you will have to be clever and figure out how to get the information you need, you will also see a pattern in the progression of your adventure, making the plot stale in one or two out of the seven chapters the story offers.
Though what does help, is our main character. He starts out as uninteresting due to being quite direct and simple, until you realize it is part of his character. Malachi is highly intelligent, which makes his social skills suffer because of it, making for some funny dialogue between characters or harsh comments on the world around you. Though he is arrogant, he is never mean-spirited so it becomes easy to enjoy his strange yet intriguing personality. After the first chapter, he will also take a bodyguard with him throughout the game and if you have any knowledge of some of Jane Jensen’s literature, you might have an idea on where it will go with these two. What surprises me, is really how subtly and mature this is handled. It makes me happy to see that a romantic setup can be presented believably in media with a clear and endearing progression, without resorting to having one character only being present as a love-interest. Their chemistry is well done, they each have their strengths and weaknesses that complement each other, and the subtle hints and references are perfect, especially with the awkward, yet adorable jokes they have.
What is a bit hard to swallow, are some theories that, while not impossible, are a stretch. The Moebius theory is one element indeed due to, it in a way dealing, with a form of destiny, but there are a couple that go even further than this, with one psychological analysis that is hard for me to digest. There are also some parts that can feel slightly forced or even cringy due to pacing the story faster than needed. Still, it does not change the fact that I found myself happy for experiencing this tale and see a great take on a duo taking on tasks that theme themselves around an interesting, historical theory.
Story Score: 7/10
Something old, something new
Moebius is a point and click game, similar to other projects by Jensen, with a cursor to choose whether to talk, interact, look, or use an item on an object or a person, as well as an inventory for items you can examine, combine, or use. It is well laid out with a stationary camera and it’s easy to know what to interact with thanks to an option for highlighting important elements. Since you will be investigating persons and objects, a unique addition added to this game is the ability to decipher them. You can then look at parts of a person’s body to tell what each part can represent in their personality or habit, and it is quite interesting as you must try to compare your answers and see what you get. For example, why is a person using a disc-man? Is it because she is poor, think it is cool, or just plain bad with technology? You then have to compare with the other analysis you will do on the person and see what you might get.
You can also do this on objects, which is slightly different. Here, you will get pictures and descriptions on possible answers from which periodical era parts of the object are from, and will then be able to see if it is fake or not, or even which time-period it is from. If you answer all parts, but get a message that something is wrong, you will simply be able to try again. While there is nothing hindering you from guessing and trying again if you fail, it will take forever. It is much better and quicker to investigate thoroughly and get wiser on what might actually be the correct answers.
Using items and solving puzzles are still a part of the game, and it is handled fairly well. I always felt that I made progress, and there were always clues to what you might have to do, making it a comfortable ride, but never blatantly telling the answer. You were always told what objects you could interact with and in what way, which is great.
What was an issue, however, was that for about 80% of the game, you had to get the information on a puzzle or an object in-game by talking to people or look at the environments in order to pick up certain items. It just got tedious when you already could have gotten an item from early on or could even tell what you had to do visually. You might even be aware of what you have to do before a puzzle is explained, but since you have to activate it by talking to an NPC or look at an object, it just halted the game. It became tedious and while the backtracking was never a chore thanks to small areas and a handy map for traveling between locations in a quick manner, it was still a bizarre design choice. In point and clicks, you pick up just about any item, even something so insignificant as a candy-wrap. At least you can always talk to people and quickly get Malachi’s thoughts on the environment, helping you in the direction you should go or what you should search for. The dialogue you can encounter for gathering clues and intel are plenty and interesting, with multiple possibilities for conversations leading to some personal and interesting events or comments.
No puzzle got near the level of moon-logic, meaning all of them felt smart, without going to an absurd level of creativity. They are fairly easy to figure out, but creative enough to make you think over what you have seen throughout the adventure and what might be a logical solution, keeping your mind active. There is sadly one maze-part to the game that shows you clearly the right way, and one unfortunate puzzle that drags on due to having you try out plenty of possible combinations, but neither became too obnoxious thanks to you always getting closer to the exit or the answer with each step you take.
An interesting mechanic added in for modernizing the diary from Gabriel Knight is your phone. It is used to search out names you have encountered, be able to contact some plot-important characters when Malachi feels like it, get hints if you desperately need one, and most importantly: compare characters to historical figures to find out more about their personalities, motives, or if they are of further importance to your investigation. You will then be able to see how many historical characters match the info you have, narrow it down to three, and then compare between their descriptions. The first part is basically a counting-game where you simply see which characters appear the most, but the second part is more interesting where you filter down the facts to see who is most comparable. There is no penalty for answering wrong here, similar to analyzing an object or a person, and since it is easy to guess between three people, it is not very hard to get the right answer.
This is one sad aspect of the new and cool mechanics: there are no penalties for making mistakes, making it less impactful and easy to misuse. There are certain parts in the game where you can die, but those have better payouts as you will have to retry from a generous checkpoint and it requires you to be more thorough with how you tackle a puzzle. The analyzing has nothing like this since you can easily guess to the right answer. Another off element are two minor, interactive parts with the second being a QTE. I do not know why either was included as they add nothing, but both are short-lived and forgettable. Still, Moebius provides satisfying puzzles and an interesting mechanic for analyzing, but both have flawed executions with forced progression and no penalty for answering wrong. Nothing is thankfully on the verge of bad, and I do love the new ideas and modernizing your equipment with a phone and a person to analyze people and objects, is intriguing. It just simply needs more polish.
Gameplay Score: 6/10
The importance of personal space
This is such an odd mix of beautiful and ugly. The backgrounds are varied due to the number of places you will be visiting, such as the fair and the huge city of Paris, or the dark back-alleys in Cairo. It creates a huge adventure that is brimming with colors and diverse location that are easy to remember. The settings are beautifully created with every screen being different from one another with a good mix of using cel-shading and CG, it provides a gorgeous world to explore. In many ways, it complements both the Gabriel Knight Remake’s (which came later) great update of CG-usage and Broken Sword’s cartoony art style, and I do not know if it was intentional, but I love this take on the visuals.
That is, whenever no characters are on the screen. I have no idea what happened, but every character has unnatural movement with awkward and overly animated motions, with even sitting being sexually offputting. It is also hard to not notice how every character seems to be looking down at each other’s knee instead of having eye-contact, or the small and odd mouth animations that remind me of the PS2 era of poor lip syncing. Adding to these problems, are other awkward animations of ropes and water that looks like oil, both showcasing poor physics. I think if they just had a character at a distance or made them more cel-shaded like the world, it all could have been much better. Instead, the beautiful world is destroyed by ugly humans. Almost an unintentional metaphor there. Though I will give the game credit: the still images for analyzing people look fantastic and I wish the game tried to replicate those instead of this awkward 3D-design.
The cutscenes are just as awkward, but at least they are presented in a comic-book style with panels, referencing both the intro-comic and the first Gabriel Knight. They are alright, but suffer from the issue the in-game visuals have and look questionable when the stiff animations try to be more active. Though the voice-actors do a great job at conveying personalities to the characters and make them believable and charming, even if they have clear, social issues. It is a quite impressive cast and adds to the well-written dialogue.
As for the music, Robert Holmes enters some new territories of music. He still uses symphonic instruments to replicate the different atmospheres, like libraries having a jazzy piano-tune, or a gloomy guitar-tune near the scene of a murder. It is all beautiful and wonderful. The new style Holmes goes for uses more urban music, adding in electronic guitar and light rock to name a few. It is impressive that Holmes is still able to do that and the new style adds to the atmosphere, making both emotional scenes and the places you visit come to life. All have varied tones, great strengths, and add to the atmosphere. Even the songs that might sound similar, still add a unique emotion due to changing some instruments or tone.
Presentation Score: 7/10
“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it”
I was quite surprised to see scores return to this game, as I never got interested by them in any other game before. However what did surprise me was their purpose. It was not just by doing some bizarre things I would get the highest amount of points, but by analyzing, finding the best options for conversations and, most importantly, take the best course of action, I would get a higher amount of points. There are multiple choices in some events that lead to slightly different outcomes and it is nice to see how much they matter or what your poor choices lead you to. It might not be anything grand, but it made me curious enough for a second playthrough. The game is also just long enough to be satisfying, but also enough for an easy second playthrough, clocking in at about 8 hours with only a few bumps in the road.
Extra Score: 6/10
In many ways, Moebius feels like a proper game made by Jensen, with enough references and style to make me remember why I fell in love with Gabriel Knight in the first place, while still being able to stand on its own. It is definitely flawed in its execution when it comes to the puzzles, the new ideas, the human design and animations, and even in its story. However, I was having fun with it all and it got me excited for what possibilities Jensen and Holmes could offer. If you have an interest in history and can get over the bumps in the road, you will find an endearing story that shows also why Jensen is a great author. Both within the genre of romance and historical investigations.