Have you ever played a video game where you’ve almost immediately disliked the protagonist? I’ve been through a couple of situations myself. Sadwick from The Whispered World annoyed me so much I wanted to punch him; and Nico and George from the Broken Sword series really grind my gears.
My most recent experience has been with Malachi Rector from Moebius: Empire Rising, a point-and-click I decided to stream in March. I’d picked up the game during the Steam sale over Christmas and had left it in my library for a while; but when Pete from MoeGamer suggested I try it after I shared some of my female characters in a tweet, I finally got around to installing it and giving it a go. I’ve since been trying to figure out why the main character grated on me so much and think I’ve finally got it.
Funded via Kickstarter campaign and released in April 2014, Moebius is about an antiques dealer with a photographic memory who hunts down valuable artifacts. After returning from a trip to Spain, a government agency enlists Malachi to determine whether a murdered woman in Venice resembles a historical figure. Why would they be interested in such a thing? And why does David Walker, a former Special Forces operative he meets during his quest, feel like someone he’s known all his life?
Pete said I should try this game is because it was created by the same people behind one of my favourite adventures. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller tells the story of an FBI Agent as she searches for the evil Cain Killer, the murderer of her brother. It gradually becomes clear that a group of seemingly-unrelated killings all have clues only she can read: she can find connections between objects and access memories using her ‘psion’ powers to see the past.
There are two reasons why I love this title so much, the first being the protagonist herself. Back in October 2012 story consultant Jane Jensen and Phoenix Online Studios did a great job of making someone doesn’t fall into the usual female stereotypes. Erica is strong, independent and intelligent but she isn’t perfect; she’s portrayed as a real person who’s struggling with a stressful job, tragic past and powerful secret. Props to voice-actor Raleigh Holmes for bringing her to life so wonderfully.
The second reason is the fact that Cognition is a grown-up murder-mystery. With potent postcognition powers, it would have been all too easy for the game’s creators to resort to using them to push the plot along but instead, Erica’s abilities aren’t the solution to every problem she encounters. In fact, they don’t always work as expected and can cause her a great deal of mental trauma. There are no easy fixes for her and this creates some interesting puzzles during the gameplay.
Prior to being involved with this release, Jensen was known for some classic series in the adventure genre. She was a writer at Sierra Online where she worked on Police Quest III: The Kindred and EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus, then co-designed King’s Quest IV: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow with designer Roberta Williams. She created her first solo release in December 1993 along with another of my favourite characters from point-and-click history.
When you look at him on paper, Gabriel Knight from the Gabriel Knight series should be one of the most hated protagonists. This novelist is sardonic and selfish, and his love for the opposite sex sometimes takes priority over progress of his cases. But he’s at his best when he’s played by Tim Curry and there’s just something weirdly likeable about him. I should want to kick his butt for some of his comments about women and the way he talks to his assistant Grace Nakimura –instead, I want to take him for a drink.
In Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, Gabriel investigates a string of murders with a voodoo connection in the hopes of using it as the basis for a new novel. He learns more about his history while visiting his grandmother and discovers a long-lost relative who reveals he’s a ‘Schattenjäger’: a family of supernatural investigators descended from Inquisitors, Jesuits and Witch-Hunters with an ancient charge to destroy evil and ‘serve the light’.
The three characters we’ve discussed so far have several things in common. They’re all highly intelligent and fiercely independent individuals, perhaps so much so that it’s to their disadvantage sometimes. They all have special abilities they’ve had to learn to control and develop, which can make it difficult for them to form relationships with other people. So why do I like the first two but would rather leave the last on his own in his antique shop?
I love Erica’s logical method of thinking and her intelligence; although she might be able to kick some serious butt, she thinks about her course of action first. And I love the way a lot of Gabriel’s sarcasm and arrogance is a defense mechanism to stop anyone from getting too close to his heart. It’s almost as if those best bits of each character been combined to make something new in Malachi… but for me, it just doesn’t mix to create a protagonist I really want to spend time with.
Erica and Gabriel have an element of vulnerability about them which is only discovered through participating in the story. They can be unsure of themselves and their abilities, regardless of how confident they try to appear in front of others. But even though the player is told something similar exists inside of Malachi, he’s rude to the point of obnoxiousness and is so damn cocky. It makes him incredibly hard to warm to and he comes across as – quite frankly – a bit of a dick.
No wonder the viewers who joined me for my streams came up with several nicknames for him. I totally get it: he’s meant to be an unlikeable protagonist who slowly opens up and grows on you throughout the game, his relationship with David being something to hang this on. Every critical response and raised eyebrow is a cliché though, and I can’t see Malachi ever appearing on my favourites list in the same way Erica and Gabriel frequently do.
The end of Moebius: Empire Rising implies a possibility for a sequel at some point, even though I haven’t been able to find any news about this online. I’ve only got one thing to say to Jensen and Phoenix Online Studios: forget about Malachi and bring back Erica!
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.