Hard-boiled detective work, a badass trenchcoat, and post-nuclear dystopia. This is what you get when you slip yourself into the gumshoes of Tex Murphy, private investigator of the future. His love for Humphrey Bogart films is rivalled only by his eye for detail and social awkwardness, making him the ideal go-to man for all sorts of strange and bewildering cases.
The Tex Murphy series consists of five games which are notable for their popularisation of FMV and other groundbreaking advancements in audio and visual technology. They’re a bunch of adventure games at heart (“use squeaky mouse on cat”), but earlier titles also flirt with the idea of interactive movies (“watch cat”), dating sims (“charm cat”), action shooters (“get locked in firefight with cat”), and even flight simulators (“take cat for cruise around 3D construction of blasted-out San Francisco”).
While not as popular as some of the other games in the series, the first two Tex Murphy titles are an interesting look at this oft-overlooked set of classics. Mean Streets deals with Tex’s first big case: an apparent suicide at San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge which (predictably) turns into something a whole lot bigger. Players spend most of their time cruising between locations on the world map and interrogating various suspects using simple text commands, occasionally engaging in side-scrolling firefight scenes. Mixed in with this are the investigation segments, which are more reminiscent of standard adventure gaming and require you to search for various objects and clues.
While gaming, players also need to keep an eye out for new leads and jot down any important info with (gasp!) real pens and paper in a way that actually makes one feel like a proper detective.
The second game, Martian Memorandum, still retains some of the original’s experimental flair, but goes down a far more conventional route with a mouse-driven interface and a far heavier emphasis on adventure-standard investigation scenes. It also fleshes out the game world some more, dealing with a conspiracy that started before the Earth was ravaged by nukes, while going into more detail about the power players and politicians of the post-war world.
Unfortunately, what was originally a brave new experiment in the ’80s translates into a rather shoddy and frustrating game experience today. Players will no longer be wowed by the stunning VGA graphics, the FMV sequences with full digital audio, and Mean Streets‘ high-tech cruises around 3D San Fran – in fact, the latter soon proves itself to be more of a time-wasting eyesore than anything else.
If you’re feeling adventurous or are already a Tex Murphy fan, get this package and at least play through Martian Memorandum. It’s the more conventional game of the two and ends up being pretty worthwhile. Otherwise, look up Overseer (a refined FMV remake of the first game) and Under A Killing Moon (considered the best of the series, which we will review soon) if you want a more accessible first impression.