Discovering a decapitated body shouldn’t be funny.
It should be macabre, shocking, maybe even a tad bit sobering. But when I discovered it, I laughed. I laughed hard.
Because when the intrepid P.I. (and sometimes Dance Instructor) Tex Murphy pulls back the curtain to reveal the horror, he instantly emits a girlish shriek of terror. It’s silly, it’s cheesy, and it’s the perfect response to break up the actual seriousness of the situation.
That alone demonstrates the great balance in tone achieved in Tesla Effect, the sixth installment in the long-running Tex Murphy adventure game series. It’s a wonderful blend of dark comedy and clever storytelling that lends itself well to virtually anyone.
One might say that Tex is having some issues. On the first day of our adventure, he awakens to a horrible headache, a nasty gash on his head, and an injection mark on his arm. Once he gathers his wits and begins talking to his neighbors, Tex discovers that his memory of the past seven years has all vanished. Determined to regain his memory, Tex stumbles- sometimes literally - across a much bigger and more diabolical plot involving the great inventor Nicola Tesla and those who would harness his creations for their own nefarious purposes.
Staying true to the FMV (full motion video) format, all of the cut scenes feature live actors delivering lines on camera. While there are moments that hint at some of the limitations creators had to work with, the FMV is seamlessly integrated and is a massive part of Tesla Effect’s overall charm. It’s clear from the start that everyone in the cast is having fun with their individual roles, and even the more eccentric characters own their quirks with such bravado that it’s a joy to watch unfold.
Tex himself is a charming enigma. He’s part Deckard Cain, part Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun; hardened, tough, and susceptible to moments of buffoonery. This too, is part of the great tonal balance found in Tesla Effect; never does Tex come off as annoying or off-putting. Rather, his sarcastic quips and dramatic physical comedy have great timing that help to ease the tension and keep the darkly comedic edge strong.
This is an adventure game, and thus does require a fair amount of puzzle solving, item retrieval, and crafting. While conventions like these can often lead to frustrations, the game has included helpful mechanics such as an item finder and the ability to skip puzzles that make the game accessible to those who lack experience with the genre. Really, the only annoyance I encountered was with the interactive dialogue. Like other games that allow players to select responses in conversation, many of the options were so vague that many of my selections led to some conversations that felt a bit disjointed, as Tex would oscillate from being sarcastic to serious without any logical transitions. It’s a mostly minor frustration, but a strong story and good characterization made it stand out all the more.
Small dialogue annoyances aside, Tesla Effect has a fantastic narrative and succeeds in not only seamlessly integrating FMV into a modern adventure game, but also in mastering tone and using comedy to great effect. It’s a bold experience; one that takes itself seriously enough to present the player with often-mature subject matter, but subverts its heavy themes with well-timed dark comedy. Tone is often a difficult thing for a game to pin down, but Tesla Effect does so while brilliantly pulling you into its mystery and leaving you laughing in the wake of its joyous absurdity.