I have been a fan of Tex Murphy since Under a Killing Moon – nearly twenty years! That said, I will not do this game or the community a disservice by writing anything less than a fully honest review. The game succeeds far more often than it fails, but is far from perfect, so I will not score it 10 out of nostalgia, or 0 out of disappointment.
First, let me give this game a score out of ten. In my opinion, it falls somewhere around 7.5. I think this game will please Tex fans and newcomers alike, even if it isn't perfect. If you like a good story or adventure games, then check this one out. If you like it, I highly recommend trying out Tex's past adventures.
Let me start by talking about what the game gets right. First and foremost is the story/cutscenes. Tex Murphy is definitely back and they hit the nail on the head, bringing the right balance of humour and drama to the story and protagonist. The story is a satisfying conclusion to the cliffhanger of Overseer and with multiple story paths and endings provides some good replayability. I have completed the game twice and got two endings. One was near perfect, the other was mediocre, but easily avoided in the future. The characters in the game are mostly quite good, with some familiar faces returning to Chandler Ave, and a few new ones. I particularly like Mojo, the owner of one of the new establishments on the street.
The multiple paths and endings brings with it something new to Tex Murphy. Unlike The Pandora Directive, the path you choose will affect your ability to access several locations and will uncover different story elements. While these are all relatively small, most come with puzzles you won't get playing the game along another path. My only wish is that this was more pronounced than it was. The gameplay is about 90% the same regardless of the path you're on.
The gameplay is what you'd expect from an adventure game: inventory and “logic” puzzles. While easier on this front than it's predecessors (more on this later), it was still fun. The atmosphere in several of the locations is excellent, particularly the last big location in the game, which manages to capture some of the atmospheric elements that made The Pandora Directive so good. The main musical theme of the game is also excellent.
While all of these elements are good, they all fall a bit short of what they could have been, and keeps Tesla Effect from beating out Pandora or UAKM for best Tex Murphy game.
While the story is quite good, it can feel a bit rushed or disjointed at times, like just a bit too much wound up on the cutting room floor. Sometimes you're thrown from one scene to the next with a bit of exposition in between – rather than returning control to you. You also can't visit locations whenever you want, even when there's no reason to disallow it – e.g. Why can't you return to the resort whenever you want, even if there is nothing to do there? This all gives the game a very linear feeling.
While I noted that characters are mostly good, one in particular stands out as not: Smart Alex. Your new PDA sidekick (voiced by Kevin Murphy) feels out of place in a Tex adventure and is rarely very funny. Instead of hearing Tex's inner monologue, we're too frequently left hearing Smart Alex – this is of particular note during the death sequences. I miss Tex lambasting himself for violating PI rules, or calmly explaining that he was mauled to death by a pack of hungry coyotes (try breaking the alien abductor in Pandora for that one). All in all, I don't think this hurts the game too much, but it is part of what holds it back from being the Tex masterpiece I had been hoping for.
While multiple paths are interesting, they seem to revolve exclusively around which woman Tex would like to romance, which is unfortunate. During the Kickstarter, it was promised that the three paths would be to find out what happened to Chelsee, uncover the truth about yourself, or find the people who were responsible for shooting you at the end of Overseer. I don't feel this was really delivered on. While the Chelsee path is there, the other two don't seem to be. It would have been more satisfying if the woman Tex ended up with was caused by which path you're on, not the other way around. Though Pandora's pathing was a bit too rigid (try getting the good or bad endings without a walkthrough – few people can), it was stronger as it relied on your actions as a whole (are you good to everyone, bad to everyone, etc.).
As I said earlier, the gameplay is a bit too easy. There are fewer logic puzzles in the game than in the past and not enough head-scratchers. Only for one or two puzzles did I feel the need to take out a pen and paper. Objects are also frequently too close to where they will be used. I assume this was to save players from wandering around, but to me that was part of what makes an adventure game an adventure game. I want to feel stumped, if even for a just a few minutes. With the full walkthrough system right in the game, this would have been possible without frustrating players who just want to move on. It would have also been nice if the “Gamer” difficulty (which doesn't let you access hints or bypass puzzles) had some differences that made it more challenging than the Casual difficulty setting.
The graphics are good, but certainly nothing to write home about. I don't really care, either. To me, graphics always take a back seat to everything else (unless they impact the gameplay somehow). That said, a few environments are a bit too empty, giving them an incomplete feel. The sewers are particularly uninteresting and made moreso by the fact that they are just a maze. Even in the more complete feeling areas (which is the majority, don't get me wrong), there are so few things for Tex to look at. One of the greatest things about the previous games were Tex's humourous comments about mundane things, but almost every location has too many things that can't be interacted with – things ranging from vending machines to hot tubs to miscellaneous stuff on a shelf can't be looked at, but all of these things would have been in any of Tex's previous adventures.
In summary – 7.5/10 :
Good story, with plenty of Tex humour
Good cast of characters (mostly) with some excellent newcomers
Multiple story paths and endings provide replayability
Some good adventuring gameplay
Atmospheric locations come close to matching Pandora's and UAKM's
Some story feels rushed or incomplete in a few places (not enough to seriously affect enjoyment, though)
Story pathing relies too much on which woman Tex wants to be with
Gameplay is a bit too easy at times given that stumped players would have a hint system at their disposal
Some sparse environments
Too few items can be commented on by Tex