All respectable adventure gamers are familiar, at least in passing, with Tex Murphy's FMV adventures: Under a Killing Moon, the Pandora Directive, and Overseer. But before the days of CD-ROM, Tex Murphy was born into a world of grainy, poorly digitized VGA graphics and a new "RealSound" technique intended to revolutionize the industry. Here we take a look back at Mean Streets, the very first Tex Murphy game.
The story takes place in many different parts of California, but is rooted in San Francisco. It begins as a young, beautiful girl named Sylvia Linsky comes to you, Tex Murphy, hard-boiled PI, with a case. Her father, Carl Linsky, a professor at the University of San Francisco, has committed suicide...or has he? Sylvia doesn't think so. It's up to you to find out what really happened. To do this you'll have to visit many, MANY different locations and talk to many people.
Since this is set in the future, your mode of transportation is a landspeeder. And it's up to you to pilot this thing over and around California. Access Software has succeeded in creating the worst excuse for a driving/flight simulation I have ever seen. The controls are absolutely hideous and it takes forever to get where you're going. The landscape has no details at all, just large blotches of green and gray with the occasional large blue river. Since it's so hard to pilot this thing, you'll just want to enter the NAV codes you receive and turn on autopilot. Unfortunately, autopilot forces you to watch every slow, agonizing detail of your flight as you jerk around in the air and then slowwwwwwwwwly descend onto your destination. Couldn't you just warp there without having to watch the whole flight? The travel scenes drastically detract from the enjoyment value of this game. The fact that it was made in 1989 is no excuse; Sierra games from the late 80's were miles ahead of this.
Access really thought they had something with their new RealSound technique. It somehow digitized music and voices--all without a sound card! It played these voices through your PC speaker. Of course not every line of dialogue is digitized here, but supposedly RealSound does some cool stuff. I say supposedly because I have no idea; the game would not run on my computer until I turned it off. I heard part of it on a friend's computer, and I really wasn't that impressed with the quality. I guess you have to admire Access' attempt to move away from the standard and do something to save the consumer money, but obviously the technique never caught on, and this game would be a lot better if they had just given into the sound card frenzy.
The graphics certainly leave much to be desired. The digitized faces and backgrounds are horribly grainy, and as stated earlier, the graphics during the speeder sim are hideous. You'll find nothing in the way of eye candy here. Once again, before you dare bring up the age of the game as an excuse, I have three words for you: Police Quest 2.
There's so many more negative things I could say about this game. For example, the scenes where Tex walks around locations gathering clues offers no chance to save or view inventory, and using the keyboard instead of the mouse is a real pain. And the "action" sequences where Tex must move through waves of firing gangsters are laughable, and that's being nice.
So how can I give this game two and a half stars? The answer is, this game features an excellent storyline and all the suspense that any good detective game should have. There's a lot of very canned and cliched dialogue, but as a whole there are as many clues to gather and locations to visit as Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes, the all-time greatest detective adventure game. There are many avenues to pursue, some dead ends, and some that will open up even more avenues. You'll have to take excellent notes to keep track of all the clues and leads. When all is said and done the story behind the death of Carl Linsky is quite a fascinating one, one that you'll want to finish and unravel.
But to get there, you'll have to fight through waves of bad graphics, annoying RealSound (if you can get it to work), an impossible interface, a horrible time-consuming flight simulation, and virtually no puzzles. You may have so much fun gathering clues and trying to figure out what's going on, though, you might not even notice.