Tex Murphy Retrospective
By Mitchell “Moe” Long
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I first loaded up the “Tex Murphy” series on my computer, thanks to the friendly folks at GOG.com, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Sure I’d researched the detective, and knew the buzz words: “action-adventure,” “FMV sequences,” “noir,” “private detective.” While apt descriptions, there’s much more depth to Tex. A series of six games, “Mean Streets” debuted in 1989, and “Tesla Effect” has just landed. That’s an impressive run so far from everyone’s favorite wisecracking PI. Considering his utter badassery, it’s a very well deserved legacy.
[dropcap]I [/dropcap]hadn’t played, or even heard of the Tex Murphy series before, most likely because I’m a product of the 90’s. Oh, how much I was missing out. “Mean Streets” marks the first appearance of Tex Murphy, our favorite fedora-topped, trench coat-wearing PI. You play as Tex and you’ve been hired by Sylvia Linsky to investigate the death of her father, Dr. Carl Linsky.
My first observation was that gameplay is fairly involved. This isn’t a complaint at all, but I’d never encountered a game so detailed. Usually I casually discard the manual, tossing the game box into my disorganized stack of far more games than I’d like to admit, but not with “Mean Streets.” The handy manual explains generally the various commands: how to steer your speeder, making calls to friends Vanessa and Lee, and connecting to stereos. Luckily I was familiar with the latter section. The navigation codes initially are in the manual as well, encouraging reading. My high school English teacher would approve.
During the investigation, Tex Murphy zips across 21st Century San Francisco in his speeder. The post-apocalyptic landscape seems plucked straight from “Blade Runner,” with Tex even resembling Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) with his classic noir outfit. However, Tex’s wisecracking feels akin to JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson), from “Chinatown.” As an avid fan of the “Max Payne” series, I suspect Tex Murphy may be a spiritual predecessor. Both series’ incorporate humor into the noir template, a winning combination.
While investigating Dr. Linsky’s death, Tex unearths a conspiracy involving MTC, “Management Through Control,” and the ominous OVERLORD project. Tex finds out that it’s actually an experiment to control people using satellites. By collecting various passcards and passwords, which all relate to chess, Tex must dash about to stop OVERLORD from launching.
The mix of varied challenges and hilarious characters and dialogue makes this now dated game a wonderful gem. “Mean Streets” relies on point and click clue finding. Right away there are a multitude of options available, similar to the “Broken Sword” franchise. As expected some of these choices don’t make any sense, but unlike “Broken Sword,” you can still employ them. Unfortunately, my curiosity got the better of me a few times, and poor Tex perished in the line of duty. Hey, in my defense I didn’t know he’d actually taste that power socket. In conjunction, Tex interrogates various folks, and these sequences are always chortle-worthy. Even the names are clever, such as Dolores Lightbody, who, as Tex observes, isn’t exactly described by her names. There’s also a Peter Dull, and he’s actually pretty boring. However, my favorite name was Lola Lovetoy. Yes, Lovetoy. I had to pause the game I was laughing so hard.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ollowing quickly on the trench coat tails of “Mean Streets,” 1991 delivered “Martian Memorandum.” Gameplay is essentially the same, though we’re now in 2039. Hopefully the future isn’t as bleak, though if it is, I have dibbs on being Tex. I’ve even got the fedora collection to complete the look. Though departing from the MTC and OVERLORD plotlines, “Martian Memorandum” does include a few recognizable faces. Set on Mars, the Philip K. Dick themes recur (“Total Recall” anyone?), and Tex out hams even Arnie. An impressive feat Tex.
“ [dropcap]U[/dropcap]nder A Killing Moon,” however radically changed the foundation of the Tex franchise. Goodbye 2d environments, welcome 3d and tongue-in-cheek FMV sequences. Interestingly, landscapes are fully 3d, so it’s almost like playing an RPG, but point and click style. Thankfully, despite the facelift, underneath the grainy veneer is the same ol’ Tex. Instead of simply text narrations like “Martian memorandum” and “Mean Streets,” there’s an actual voice over. This alteration further enhanced the noir experience, and Tex’s lethargic baritone reinforces the notion that he’s in a rough patch.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]wo years later, “The Pandora Directive” hit shelves. A closer sequel than “Martian Memorandum,” the game features many of the same locales as its predecessor. Graphically, it delivers an identical 3d point and click adventure, as well as Tex’s trademark humor. While most of the Tex Murphy series is moderately challenging, “The Pandora Directive” seems to up the ante. Of course, those gun battles from “Mean Streets” are quite possibly the hardest levels in the franchise. That being said, the “The Pandora Directive” is one of the greatest Tex games. There’s a particular part where I had to rearrange pieces of a torn up note, and this section really captured the cleverness of not only “The Pandora Directive,” but the entire franchise. Placing just one genre on Tex Murphy is almost impossible considering the amalgamation of game types.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]inally, marking the fifth entry in the Tex Murphy franchise is “Overseer.” Returning love interest Chelsee Bando listens to Tex recall his first case, which gamers will fondly remember as “Mean Streets.” While “Overseer” is technically the fifth notch in Tex’s fedora, it’s a pseudo-remake. Despite recounting previous events, chronologically it falls after the events of “The Pandora Directive.” However, as “Overseer” adopts the 3d atmosphere of the previous two titles, it feels like a completely different game.
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]laying through the Tex Murphy series, I was struck by the incorporation of noir, sci-fi, and dark humor. I’m a big fan of this epic triumvirate, and Tex Murphy satisfactorily whet my appetite for lovably cheesy storytelling. Additionally, ever since foraying into “Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse,” I’d been jonesing for another excellent point and click title. “Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure” drops this week continuing the unique franchise and offering “The Pandora Directive” an actual sequel. Tex has thus far enjoyed an impressive and groundbreaking run, so whether “Tesla Effect” can live up to the lofty Tex Murphy standard remains to be seen. If you’ve never indulged in a Tex Murphy game, “Tesla Effect” is the perfect excuse to make the plunge. Long time Tex fanboys and girls, why not dust off those CD-Roms? I’m sure your computer can handle the task. Just make sure those speakers are hooked up correctly.
Many thanks to GOG.com for providing the copies of the Tex Murphy series needed to make this article happen! If you’re interested in buying any, or all, of the Tex Murphy Games then GOG is the place to go.
Be sure to read our review of the latest Tex Murphy adventure, Tesla Effect!
Like this retrospective? Why not take a look at the one we did for the Broken Sword series?
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/moe.jpg” ]Mitchell “Moe” Long is a North Carolina writer with a passion for all things pop culture. Besides gaming, Moe enjoys cult classic films, listening to vinyl, and drinking far too much coffee. In addition to Cliqist, Moe writes about music and movies, and is currently composing what he hopes will one day be a novel about the universally awkward period of life known as high school. Feel free to check out and subscribe to his Examiner page as well as connect with him on Twitter. [/author]