Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Big Finish Games

 Publisher:   ATLUS

Released:  May 2014

PC Requirements:   see review below



by gremlin


What is it?

Tex Murphy is one of those legendary names in gaming. Since his adventures from 1989 to 1998 he's been regularly referenced alongside classic characters such as Gabriel Knight, Lara Croft, or Guybrush Threepwood. For many years, though, the idea of a new Tex Murphy game seemed as likely as another moon landing. Until now, of course. Now we have Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure (hereafter: TE:ATMA)

The eponymous Tex Murphy is a gumshoe, a private eye, a hard boiled street detective, that could have come straight out of a Raymond Chandler mystery (one of the Phillip Marlowe stories), or a Dick Tracy comic strip. He's the rugged yet naive, world-weary observer of the depths of humanity; a man that belongs in a 1940s film noir, but he lives in post World War III downtown San Francisco of the 2040s, a hundred years out of his place, perhaps.

This is the sixth (or fifth, depending upon how you see Tex Murphy: Overseer) game featuring Tex. In all cases the games have been written by Chris Jones, who is, in fact, the actor who plays Tex. Tesla Effect is published by Atlus—a subsidiary of Sega—better known for Japanese arcade games and the Persona series, but given the extremely well-supported Kickstarter project that funded the development of the game, the publisher is of less relevance than it often seems; mostly because of the ground-swell of support that successful crowd-funding can bring.

Is there a plot?

Tex has been assaulted, beaten and possibly drugged right outside his home at the Ritz Hotel, Chandler Avenue, San Francisco. Then he finds himself back at home, but somehow things aren't quite as he remembers them. For one thing, there are holes in the walls of his office, and a bed in the bedroom, more suited to some sort of lounge lizard than our friendly P.I.

Of course, this leads Tex to investigate, knocking on the doors of some familiar, and some not-so-familiar characters in Chandler Avenue to find out how and why he has apparently lost seven whole years of his life, and why people are actually afraid of him!

Further investigations take Tex around various sites in San Francisco: most of Chandler Avenue of course, the Coit Tower, the police station, the hospital, the swamps, a beach house, a very dangerous scientific research station, and even the home of a mysterious cult awash with Egyptian motifs.

Which brings us to the question, what has this to do with Nikola Tesla, flawed genius inventor, electrical engineer, futurist, and linguist? The focus of the plot of TE: ATMA  centres upon what happened to Tesla's papers and possessions after he died: everything was confiscated on the orders of the FBI. It took nearly 10 years for these items to be sent back to his family in Belgrade, Serbia. However, there remained rumours that what was returned was not the complete collection...

How do you play?

TE: ATMA is not a point and click adventure in the conventional sense. Movement is achieved by using the W (move forward), A (move left), S (move back), and D (move forward) keys; you can hold down shift at the same time to move a little more quickly. At the same time, you use the mouse to aim where you're moving towards—with a little practice, you will get this nicely coordinated. However, I'm not sure how easily this coordination will work with a mouse-pad.

At all times, there's a cross-hair icon in the middle of the screen. This changes into an eye, a speaking head, a hand, or an opening lock icon depending upon what is in the centre of the screen. You can left click to interact with the thing under the cross-hairs, or hit the space button too. You'll look at, speak to, pick up or manipulate, or open (in whatever sense is appropriate) the object or person under the cross-hairs.

Your inventory, map and torch are available via the Smart Alex (a kind of PDA), accessible with a right click, or the Q key. The map is used for quick navigation between locations, though it's not always available. You can use the torch in darkened locations (of which there are many in TE: ATMA), and in the easier, Casual, game mode, pointing the torch in the general direction of an object that you can pick up results in visible sparkles above the object.

Speaking of game modes, there are two: Casual and Gamer. Casual gives you the sparkles with the torch, provides access to a built-in hint system, and allows puzzles to be skipped (right click and click the exit button during the puzzle). Using hints and skipping puzzles will cost you points in your P.I. Rating - your overall score. You earn P.I. Rating points by thoroughly interrogating people, examining everything completely, by finding all the extra hidden collectibles, and solving all the puzzles without skipping them.

Puzzles in TE: ATMA are varied. Some are purely inventory based: "get the key, open the door", some involve combinations of two or more inventory items, there's a small maze, some are mechanical (like the game of "Simon Says"), and some are timed, particularly the last major puzzle, which took me several attempts to even figure out what I was trying to do, let alone completing it. All the interactive puzzles show up as a jigsaw puzzle in the cross-hairs, so you know when you're coming up to one. They're all also completed with the mouse. Some puzzles have clues nearby, others you just have to figure out for yourself; or you can just skip them in Casual mode and take the P.I. Rating hit.

Notable Features

Interacting with people in TE: ATMA is probably the most enjoyable thing about this game. Every one has been filmed using a real actor, and those video sequences are overlaid against the in-game graphics. This game is one of those modern rarities: an FMV game, or full-motion video. There must have been thousands of filmed shots in TE: ATMA. There are certainly hours of video. Not to mention the fully voiced descriptions of so many things in your surroundings; not just the objects you can pick up or use.

Whilst we're in the area of speech, there are a lot of conversations in this game. Tex has to do a lot of fast talking to get around certain people. At every point where there are choices in a conversation, you get three possibilities, however the way these choices are expressed aren't with the complete dialog line, but with an indication as to the approach Tex will take: perhaps "sarcastic come back", "an intriguing suggestion", and "pull the other one". This is either a fun way to avoid letting you know what will happen, or a frustrating lack of clarity about the choices you're making. Either way, these choices affect what's said, and in some cases will affect the ending quite significantly, particularly as to whether Tex 'gets the girl', or something else entirely. The central conspiracy in the story, I believe, will always end in the same way, but the sub-plots don't all lead to the same place; and there are several alternative endings.

TE: ATMA has a tremendous sound track of jazz and rock. There is lots of suspenseful atmospheric music. The chapter introductions are done in a very film noir black-and-white style, where the double bass and muted trumpet style comes right to the fore; very stylish and evocative. The voice acting is also of a high standard. There are a few lesser moments, or clunky lines, but the vast majority of it flows well, and the actors "get it"; not something you can say of every game today. The cast has recognizable returnees from previous games (remarkable, as the last game was released 16 years ago!), as well as good additions to the cast, some of whom you may even be able to identify under the make-up and prosthetics.


One of the few let downs in the user interface of TE: ATMA is that it is easy to skip puzzles in Casual mode without realizing you're doing it, because there's no 'Are you sure you want to skip this puzzle' question when you hit the exit button on a puzzle. Or maybe I'm just a bit thick? (which would explain my mediocre P.I. Rating)

I also found it distressingly easy to die in this game. Thankfully the game restores you to health not far short of your critical error, but there are a lot of ways to die, some of which come at you with such speed that it's very hard to avoid them, at least the first few times! Dying also reduces your P.I. Rating. However, for all the dying you do, there's no combat, and you don't do any of the killing.


As a reviewer of adventure games, it's very hard to knock Tesla Effect: a Tex Murphy adventure. A more generalist reviewer might have opinions upon the revival of Tex Murphy or the use of the FMV technique; in both cases I disagree, I think Tex is a great character, and the production values displayed throughout TE: ATMA fully justify the use of FMV.

So, overall, the characters and plot are involving, and the storytelling is stylish and very evocative of the film noir genre. The graphics (especially the video) are top notch, though the 3D environments aren't quite up to the standard of the video. An excellent return of a classic of adventure gaming. Bring on the next Kickstarter campaign, Mr Jones!

Grade: A

What do you need to play it?

PC Minimum Requirements

OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, or 8

Processor: 2 GHz Dual Core

Memory: 4 GB RAM

Graphics: NVIDIA 200 Series

DirectX: Version 9.0c

Hard Drive: 15 GB available space

Sound Card: Direct X 9.0c compatible device

Mac Requirements

OS: 10.6.8 Snow Leopard (10.7.5 Lion recommended)

Processor: Intel Core 2 duo (Intel Core i5 recommended)

Memory: 4 GB RAM

Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 320 M (Intel HD Graphics 4000 recommended)

Hard Drive: 16 GB available space

(I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium (SP1) PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card, with on-mother-board, built-in sound card)



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