If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interest. She is the writer behind many classic Sierra Online games and the creator of the Gabriel Knight adventure games. Recently she has taken to Kickstarter to back two games. The first of those two games has been released, Moebius: Empire Rising.
If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interestMoebius: Empire Rising is a point and click adventure that tells the tale of Malachi Rector, an antiques and art appraiser. He is very intelligent and sharp eyed in his chosen profession. He is also something of an aloof snob and an ass. He is hired by semi-secretive organization (F.I.T.A.), run by a man named Amble Dexter, to go to Venice to investigate a murdered woman and determine what historical figure her life most resembles. While there he is attacked by ninjas who then scan all of the information he has on the murdered woman. He reports back to Dexter that, while her life closely resembled Livia Drusilla, she did not match completely.
Working for himself again Malachi is next in Cairo to appraise ancient artifacts from a mummy's tomb. While there he saves ex-special forces American, David Walker, from the same ninjas who attacked him in Venice. He decides to hire David as a bodyguard. In many ways David is a typical American, blonde haired, blue eyed, jock, who likes to tell bad jokes. (How many Special Forces soldiers does it take to change a light bulb? Sorry that's classified information.) When the ninjas attack a third time Malachi and David are able to stand their ground and fight them off. He finishes his business in Cairo and returns to New York.
Malachi believes the ninjas are part of something bigger and asks to meet with Amble Dexter. He is surprised when Dexter insists that Malachi bring David to the meeting. At the meeting Dexter reveals that F.I.T.A. believes in Roman philosopher, Paramedes’, theory that everyone is an "echo" of someone in the past. From there the story takes some strange twistsNot like reincarnation where a person was someone else but now living a new life, but that same person living the same life event for event in a new generation. Their overall goal is to make Senator Markam, whom they believe is the echo of Augustus Caesar and will bring hundreds of years of prosperity to America, the next United States President. Malachi agrees to help in their endeavor.
From there the story takes some strange twists from a detective adventure towards one of a more supernatural vein.
The mechanics of Moebius: Empire Rising is pretty standard and sound for a point and click adventure. No major problems arose when I used the controls. It does have a quirky playing feature. In most point and click adventures you can pick up and carry almost anything. In Moebius: Empire Rising, you can’t just pick up whatever you want and carry it around. Certain items needed for a puzzle can’t be picked up until you hit the right “trigger point” that will allow you to pick up that item. This causes a lot of backtracking during game play. The oddest of which is when you try to get into a VIP tent to meet Senator Markam. You practically go from one end of Manhattan to the other, working back and forth gathering the items you need. By some strange coincidence the Senator's rally lasts just long enough for you to do all this and then ends the moment you walk into the VIP tent. It's a slight stretch of your suspension of disbelief, but it’s not a game breaker.
The graphics are where the breaks start happening. Moebius: Empire Rising has anexaggerated comic book look that turns into the late 2000's video game style. All the characters have long thin limbs, except David who looks in normal proportion. The style is fine. It's clipping and other effects that fail. Feet go through floors, legs sometimes twist in unnatural ways, and at one point Malachi moves a chair, but he doesn't actually grab the chair as it magically moves, his hand floats on top of it and the whole thing shifts. Little things like this took me out of the game. The worst offender was the water reflections. Now in the background things like trees and buildings that didn't have as much definition are reflected fine. It was when characters stood next to the water with their backs to it. The reflection was not their backside reflected, nope. It was a complete recreation of their front. So unless everyone has their face on the front and back of their head, something's not right here. The first time I saw it I thought the game was going into a dream sequence of some sort.
I do have to give great praise to Moebius: Empire Rising's voice actors. They turn in some fine performances. I think the real audio gem though is Jane Jensen's husband, composer Robert Holmes. Robert provides a great soundtrack that wouldn't sound out of place in a Hollywood spy thriller.
Moebius: Empire Rising's story starts a bit slow, but by the third and fourth chapters things start getting interesting enough that I want to see how it will end. Malachi is a really hard hero to cheer on. His aloof attitude never really endears himself to the player. The only thing that makes him seem to have a heart is subtle underlying relationship between him and David. At one point David tells Malachi that he is meeting Malachi's assistant, Gretchen, at a nightclub. Malachi asks that David not get involved with his only other employee, to which David replies, "She's not my type." At the nightclub David hints around that he's not interested in Gretchen. Towards the end of the conversation Gretchen tells David point blank to not get too close to Malachi, that, "he will break your heart." The possible gay romance never really moves up from a subtle possibility. It gets to a point where you wish it they would either just come out with it or drop it.
Jane Jensen can tell an interesting tale in a video game still, but there seem to be some stray parts to Moebius: Empire Rising that just doesn't pull me in. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good gameA main character I have a hard time caring for and a subtle romance that doesn't go anywhere are things that push me away from a game. Throw in graphical elements that completely take me out of the game and we are starting to have real problems. I have to say the puzzles hold things together fairly well, but an adventure game needs more than just puzzles to engage a player. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good game and you can see where Jane Jensen wants to take it, but as a whole it falls to the middle of the road. If you're a fan of Jane Jensen or point and click style games it might be worth it, but it's a pass otherwise.
Super-intelligent motorcycles, smarmy weapons dealers, and a mechanic literally dragged along for the ride. Lococycle has this and more for you to try to process into something coherent, unfortunately "Loco" is more than just part of the title.
Lococycle starts out with a live action movie that is scripted, budgeted, shot, and acted like a B-movie. This really isn't a surprise, as it has long been known that developer Twisted Pixel was aiming for that feeling. Given the plot it fits beautifully.
A shady weapons company, Big Arms, has built two super-intelligent assassin motorcycles I.R.I.S. and S.P.I.K.E. They show off their newest creations at a party attended by six stereotypical characters, three of which will probably offend a few people; there is the smarmy, fast-talking weapons dealer CEO, the Korean Supreme Leader, the African King, the American General, the Russian General, and the macho biker with the "cybernetic hand."When a storm rolls in and the party moves inside, the Dealer has some underlings move the motorcycles to a different location. As the motorcycles are being moved I.R.I.S. is hit by lightening. Thinking that she might be damaged she is brought to Pablo. While Pablo is checking to make sure she is not damaged, I.R.I.S. scans the "outlaw biker" magazine Pablo was reading earlier, and then she watches a commercial on the T.V. The commercial is for the "Freedom Rally," a motorcycle fan gathering, kind of like the yearly Sturgis Rally but with more outlaws and less corporate sponsorship.
Taking all this information in and processing it through her now fried and faulty computer I.R.I.S. decides that she needs to throw off the yoke of Big Arms and ride the roads of freedom to the Freedom Rally. She also decides Pablo has to come along and somehow attaches his leg to one of her tailpipes, literally dragging him along.
After finding out that one of his two super bikes has flown the coop the Big Arms dealer does the only logical thing an evil C.E.O. in a B-movie would do, send his entire private army after it; including the other super bike, S.P.I.K.E.
While I can appreciate a good B-movie, Lococycle tries too hard. It's got some good bits, especially during the live action cut scenes. They even got some name actors and a B-movie legends; Freddy Rodriguez plays Pablo, James Gunn is the Big Arms CEO, Tom Savini is the leader of the motorcycle gang, Robert Patrick is the voice of S.P.I.K.E., and Lisa Foiles is the voice of I.R.I.S. Each sound like they are having a lot of fun in their roles, so that helps make the storyline a little more interesting. Especially Robert Patrick and Tom Savini, between the two of them I thing they get the lion's share of meaty off-the-wall dialog.The live action encapsulates the best parts of the crazy story. It's in the game where things start falling apart.
Pablo speaks nothing but Spanish. I have to applaud Twisted Pixel for wanting to promote a minority character, even though he's just being drug behind a motorcycle and occasionally used as a weapon. The problem is they try to have both I.R.I.S. and Pablo say lines of dialog and witty one-liners during gameplay. For folks that don't speak Spanish the only option is subtitles for Pablo, which if you are concentrating on the battle onscreen, you miss a majority of what he says. So while I know Freddy had some excellent dialog outside of gameplay, I had nary a clue if he had any winners during. I.R.I.S. does not help either, because while early on she states she can speak over 50 languages, her fried computer misinterprets everything he says. So while Pablo may be stating the amount of pain he is in all I.R.I.S. hears is "lollipops and rainbows" or maybe the "love for the open road.”
A majority of the gameplay falls into the action brawler/shooter category, which is a bit odd for a game based on a motorcycle. Driving is the lower end of the spectrum here. You can move left or right, but the only acceleration is a limited turbo boost and there are no brakes. Most of the shooting and brawling sections are tight and fun for the first few times, but they get repeated early and often. The brawling sections do have combo multipliers you build up that get big fancy lettered names that start out as typical fodder like "AWESOME" and eventually move into the silly and fun of "POETRY" and "BEARDED." It's boss battles and some of the mini-games that really make the gameplay a mixed bag of "meh." The "targeted" shooting sections aiming felt way to loose making it very frustrating to have to play through multiple times. Some of the boss battles even pay homage to classic arcade games, but here too the controls are either "right on" or "why bother."
Sometimes the mini-games didn't even give you a clue as to what to do. At one point I.R.I.S. conks out and stops. The game goes into a split screen showing an oncoming enemy with a "distance from me meter" on one side and Pablo sitting on the road behind I.R.I.S. on the other. I started pushing buttons, nothing happened. I started moving Pablo around, still nothing. It wasn't until I start moving Pablo to the extreme sides that I finally got a button to flash onscreen to start me into a simple mini-game. After trial and error I learned that there are three parts to the mini-game, but again, I had to find the next hotspot to activate the next mini-game. Needless to say I became very familiar with the restart. I think that was my biggest frustration with the game, a lot of redoing sections because of lack of information, guides, or just plain poor game mechanics.
Twisted Pixel is a developer that has created some really good games for the Xbox 360 like The Maw, 'Splosion Man, and Ms. 'Splosion Man, they even created one of the best Kinect games with The Gunstringer. With Lococycle they may have strayed a bit. Ithas some good bits and some bad bits, although Twisted Pixel created craziness it wanted to capture, in the end the bad outweighs the good. Throw in a B-movie story and now you are on a trip to a very niche audience. Lococycle may have been better suited as a straight to DVD B-movie rather than game.