Hard-boiled detective work, a badass trenchcoat and post-nuclear dystopia. This is what you get when you slip yourself into the … wait, you know what? We’ve been over this before. The Tex Murphy games are a set of oft-overlooked classics that put you in the shoes of the titular character: everyone’s favourite post-apocalyptic private investigator. While rubbing shoulders with mutants and walking under red skies, Tex lives in his own little Casablancan world, proving that you don’t need to worry about solving the case as long as you’re wearing a really nice hat.
Tex is a damn fine PI. Or a damn lucky one, depending on how you look at it. He does all the investigation work that the regular cops don’t bother with: sneaking aboard spaceships with interplanetary smugglers, breaking into genetic research laboratories and talking with that weirdo who sits in the back alley trash all day.
Being an oldschool PI in nuked-out San Francisco tends to bring in cool stories by the truckload. Sure, Under a Killing Moon starts off innocently enough: a washed-out and down-on-his-luck Tex is asked to investigate a local robbery and uncover a two-bit crook. But in the process he meets a mutant who’s addicted to chocolate, an underworld agent with a trunk for a nose and a mystically empowered Native American who has some sort of weird agenda that will probably be revealed in an exciting finale later on. Naturally, everything gets blown out of proportion very quickly and he pretty much ends up saving half the world before the week is through. Oh, and chats with James Earl Jones on a few occasions, too.
The Tex Murphy series isn’t a stranger to full motion video, and Under a Killing Moon is the first instalment to seriously adopt the idea of FMV-based gameplay. A maligned genre which has had few true successes, FMV games still bring out the best in Tex — the developers have successfully retained the quality of puzzles and degrees of freedom that many of the game’s contemporaries lacked.
The game operates through a mixture of point-and-click adventuring, FMV-based cutscenes and real-time 3D navigation. The latter is ugly, but far more practical than sticking with full FMV. Players get a full (and satisfying) adventure game experience combined with the better elements of FMV, some lovingly-crafted dialogue and numerous little quirks that make a Tex Murphy game what it is.
There’s only one real shortcoming in this situation, and that’s a horrible tendency to pull the 3D equivalent of a pixel hunt. Sometimes, if you’re not looking in juuuust the right place, with juuuust the right camera angle, you’re going to lose sight of that all-important flat poly that allows you to progress through the game.
Aside from this annoying point (and the occasional bits of horrible acting), Under a Killing Moon is actually a very engaging and damn clever offering. While time has taken its toll on the graphics, there are comparatively few FMV games in existence, and playing one of the genre’s rare gems is a refreshing experience for any adventure nostalgic.