Thursday, 24 April 2014

Moebius: Empire Rising

When asked what my favourite video game is, I usually end up basking in what I played as a teen, in 1993: the good old Sierra games. The Quest for Glory series is an old favourite; Kings' Quest 6 as well; but the one that gripped me most was Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. A combination of modern occult (and just a tiny bit of that), fascinating historical facts spanning three cultures, a captivating protagonist and a plethora of interesting side characters, I have never since seen its equal.

I looked for more of this for years. Some books, movies or games provided a part of what I looked for; The Mummy and Indiana Jones are close, but lack the intellectual feel and vast historical tales (also, both are quite light hearted - and Gabriel Knight had a decent touch of dark, which I like); the Da Vinci Code had history and conspiracy, but was dumbly written, with flat characters and a back story I knew from Gabriel Knight III (which wasn't a good game, sadly). The Anubis Gates got fantastically close, but isn't very modern and its protagonist's personality isn't half as interesting; in short, while my favourite setting is modern occult, I haven't found anything that quite hits the spot there for the past twenty years.

Jane Jensen, who wrote the three Gabriel Knight games (the second was excellent as well), announced a Kickstarter project a year or so back. While I had little faith in it, mainly due to a book she wrote which I thought was't great, I still donated; a bit for old times' sake, a lot to say thank you for what she already gave me with the old games, and a bit in hope to get a whiff of that old Knight spirit; but my hopes weren't high.

Moebius: Empire Rising was released less than a week ago. As a Kickstarter supporter, I got a copy; and today I finally sat down to play.

My hopes weren't high, I said; boy, was I wrong.

I'm about a sixth of the way into the game, and I'll start with the main thing that bothers me - the graphics. While the backgrounds and environment seem alright (but nothing more) the characters' design and animation leaves a lot to be desired. The intro comic, another nod to the Gabriel Knight series, is poorly drawn, very unprofessional, and it shows. The main character's design is spindly and awkward, and while I can see how that works with his personality, it doesn't look intentional - it looks like nonprofessional work.

I think that this is the only bad thing I can say about the game so far. As for what's good: the music is by Robert Holmes, who composed the music for the original Gabriel Knight games - and Moebius has a very similar, distinctive feel to its music; the very first note made me feel as if I'm diving back home, to 1994 and Gabriel Knight. Providing a similar feel but not still entirely original, Holmes seems to have entirely kept his touch, and as an old fan, I find the music to be one of the delightful strong points of this game.

The interface is intuitive and well-explained, especially for people used to the old Sierra quests. Times have changed, though; Whereas Gabriel had a pocket recorder and a notebook, Malachi has a smartphone. Both, though, have a decorative shop-keeper assistant with flirtatious undertones, but while Grace was brilliant and very active (and an inspiration not only to my favourite roleplaying characters for years but also to what a woman should be like), Gretchen, at least so far, is hardly present in the game.

The protagonist: While Gabriel was a charming, cocky womanizer with issues regarding commitment (but still had the ability to fall in love), Malachi is, as far as I can tell so far, a sociopath; his inability for empathy (and disinterest at it) are balanced by his extremely high IQ, the ability to deduce and analyze things in a glance, and the talent to fake emotion when needed - at least that's what I get from him so far. He has many Sherlock Holmes characteristics, but somehow I don't get the Sherlock vibe. I think Malachi is a bit colder, perhaps.

One cool mechanic is analyzing - Malachi takes a look at a person or an object, and we get to note various facts about said person and try to deduce something coherent from them. For example, is that person in the wheelchair an empathy seeker, or someone with a strong will? Are his keep eyes a mark of intelligence or drug use? There's no penalty for messing up an analysis, which is a shame, but the mechanic is still very cool, and expresses Malachi's abilities well.

The background story is intriguing, and seems to involve a lot of history (Malachi analyzes antiques for a living) but with a cool twist I won't spoiler. The beautiful mix of past and present delights me enough to forgive Malachi being such a cold fish.

The first part took me to Venice, and the second seems to be in Cairo; so far, while it might not be brilliant for the average gamer, doubly so the young modern one, this game feels as if its been tailored especially for me. I've already heard it referred to as 'the spiritual successor to Gabriel Knight' and I couldn't agree more; the fact that I'm taking a break from it simply to write about it right now, before I've seen it all, should be testimony enough for my enthusiasm.

So: a brilliant, emotionally-fucked antique-dealer with too much ego and a hint of a death wish, traveling the world investigating a conspiracy spanning both past and future, complete with murder mysteries and cynical commentary in a perfect, haughty British accent. If only there was a witty hot chica to break through his walls and make him appreciate the glory of love, I'd say this game was created especially for me.

But even without romance, it gives me more joy than any other single-player had for years, and since this includes Mass Effect and Dragon Age both, this should tell you something. About me, if not about the game.

And now! Enough word-spilling, more Moebius! I'll be back to report as I advance, probably in a few hours, because I really don't see sleep making me take a break.

6:46 in the morning, edit:
Surprising twists! Cool new characters! So tired. Want to go on playing but falling asleep. Cairo was cool! New side character even cooler. Must keep playing... but the game will still be here in seven hours.

Gotta tell husband that he's doing the dishes today. And shopping. And maybe cooking... What? It's not as if I let him lift a finger when Dragon Age was released, dammit.

אלוהים, לתרגם את ערימת הטקסט בעמודה ליד יקח לי שעה, ואין לי חשק; אז כרגיל, תקציר: משחק המחשב שהכי אהבתי אי פעם הוא גבריאל נייט; לא מצאתי לו אח ורע בעשרים השנה האחרונות, אבל היוצרת שלו פתחה פרוייקט בקיקסטארטר לפני שנה ותרמתי לו בלי תקווה רבה, בעיקר כתודה על עבודת העבר שלה. כך יצא שקיבלתי את המשחק החדש - הקרוי מביוס - והתחלתי לשחק אותו הערב, ואוי, כמה שטעיתי בעניין ההוא של 'בלי תקווה'.

אני מוכרחה לציין שבתור מישהי שהז'אנר האהוב עליה הוא Modern Occult, ואל תשאלו אותי איך לתרגם את זה באלגנטיות, לא מצאתי כמעט אף יצירה שקלעה בול למה שאני מחפשת, מאז גבריאל נייט. המומיה ואינדיאנה ג'ונס נהדרים אבל קצת הומוריסטיים מדי; צופן דה וינצ'י היה כתוב נורא ואיום וסבל מדמויות בעומק סמוחטה על הרצפה (ובכלל, את הפואנטה שלו, המבוססת על תיאוריה היסטורית מגניבה, הכרתי עוד בשנות התשעים מהמשחק השלישי בסדרת גבריאל נייט). אפילו שערי אנוביס שאהבה נפשי לא סיפק את הסחורה, אבל מביוס דווקא כן.

אני בערך שישית לתוך המשחק. נתחיל ממה לא עובד: הגרפיקה גרועה, האנימציה גם, ועיצוב הדמויות לוקה בחסר. זה פשוט נראה לא מקצועי, ואפילו מפריע; סיפור הרקע (הטוב) מסופר בקומיקס מצוייר גרוע מאד, ובקיצור, חבל.

אבל על המוסיקה אחראי רוברט הולמס, המלחין של סדרת המשחקים המקורית - ומהאקורד הראשון ברור שהאווירה זהה ומצויינת, כמו לפגוש חבר ותיק; הממשק אינטואיטיבי ונוח, במיוחד לבוגרי הקווסטים הישנים של סיירה; יש כמה מכניקות מגניבות, הדמות הראשית מעניינת, עד כה הסיפור הנפרש די מסקרן, ועל הדרך מציף אותי בפרטי היסטוריה מענגים. בקיצור, אני נהנית מאד מאד, ואולי כדאי שאפסיק לכתוב ואחזור לשחק - אבל רציתי לכתוב את ההתרשמות מההתחלה, לפני שאראה עוד מהמשחק. אולי אכתוב עוד לכשאתקדם.

יאללה. נרגילה ולצלול; איזה, איזה, איזה כיף.

6:48 בבוקר, עדכון: תפניות עלילה מפתיעות! דמויות משנה מגניבות! אני רוצה להמשיך לשחק אבל העפעפיים מתנגדים. לישון... לישון. המשחק יהיה כאן גם עוד שבע שעות.

...אני צריכה להודיע לבעלי שהוא שוטף את הכלים היום. ועושה קניות. ומבשל. מה? זה לא כאילו נתתי לו להרים אצבע בבית כשדראגון אייג' יצא. 

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