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SummaryThose streets don't look so mean no more...
The GoodTex Murphy continues to elude plagiarism lawsuits and commercial success in Martian Memorandum, the second game in the now famous "Tex Murphy Mysteries" series. As luck would have it, Murphy's latest adventures didn't have the successful results he was expecting (sort of the same that happened with the game) and now, years after the events played in Mean Streets Tex still finds himself without the money, girls and fame he thought was in store for him.
However if you're barely familiar with the "Noir" detective films and novels of the 40's/50's you'll know this is the perfect setup for a classic private eye-plotline that starts with an innocent enough missing persons case and turns into a gigantic conspiracy with the fate of an entire planet hanging in the balance... Well, actually I think I'm making the plot sound weaker than it is, and the fact is that the story in Martian Memo is actually really good, surpassing by far the plot of the original game, with much more original twists and situations (even if it seems like a ripoff of Total Recall at certain points).
The game makes a series of improvements from the original that can be summed up under the "Ok, we'll just make an adventure game this time" design mantra Access seemed to abide to with this game. Gone are the genre-bending and freeform elements from the original classic and instead the game is a full-blown point'n click adventure game like the million others or so that got released in 90's. Of course I wouldn't be writing this in the "good" section unless they made an improvement, and the fact is that they do: The game is a much more dynamic experience, without any of the "dead air" moments you had in the original when you had to waste time disabling alarm systems, shoot down stupid goons for cash and have endless flights from one corner of the universe to the other.
In this new game Tex "warps" from location to location using a location menu. Gameplay and gameworld exploration is handled completely via the mouse and the game, while keeping the lead-following/clue-gathering detective oriented gameplay concept, adds much more inventory/deduction puzzles to appease adventure fans. Far from dragging down the action, these puzzles actually increase the overall gameplay value, as the game is no longer just a dot-connecting exercise.
Technology-wise the game is a major improvement from the original, with gorgeous VGA graphics that include even more digitized images and animations than before and much better soundtracks and sfxs courtesy of the now common soundcard proliferation for pcs which rendered such amazing concepts as Access RealSound technology redundant.
The BadFor as nice as the switch to a full point'n click adventure gameplay is, you still miss the original elements that made Mean Streets such an unique title, and there's no question that the switch also limits the gameplay depth considerably. Plus it hasn't been a completely smooth transition, as the game has plenty of dead ends in which not having a specific item or having missed a key event gets you stuck, with your only hope being reloading and hoping that you get whatever you missed this time. There's a nice online hint system, but it hardly helps when your problem lies buried in the past.
The Bottom LineTex Murphy returns, and this time he brings full-mouse support with him!
Martian Memorandum is the perfect introductory title for the Tex Murphy games, as it's linear point'n click adventure gameplay perfectly (well, near perfectly) follows the classic adventure template and gives you a perfectly coherent experience without the hit-and-miss elements of the original (and dated) Mean Streets. Fans of the series however will probably argue that it would have been a better idea to fix what was wrong in the original instead of just getting rid of it, but what the heck... if it gets you a better storyline and tighter gameplay then I'm all for it.