Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181424)
Written on  :  Jun 05, 2001
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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Digitized mutants get too much stage time

The Good

Martian Memorandum is the second Tex Murphy game and the sequel to Mean Streets, a technologically impressive - though not always fulfilling gameplay-wise - adventure set in a colorful future combining post-apocalyptic traits with a bit of film noir.

Mean Streets boasted 256-color graphics and an ingenious usage of the PC beeper (they managed to reproduce speech using nothing but those beeps). Like that game, the Martian Memorandum is, above all, a technological showcase, though on a smaller scale. Following the footsteps of Countdown, the game proudly presents video snippets of live action and rudimentary (but still very impressive) voiceovers. The graphics - digitized for most locations, hand-painted for the exotics of Mars - are strong as well, bringing many of those interesting areas to life with their detail.

Dialogues are a simplified version of the complex conversations in Countdown: most of the time, each response you choose leads to more branches, of which only one would normally achieve the desired effect, allowing you to continue the game. It is nice to have this kind of tension, though it is really overused here. Those dialogues were clearly supposed to be the highlight of the game; but there are also the usual adventuring screens where you have to find the right items needed for progression. These are somewhat more varied than in Mean Streets, with some proper inventory puzzles and more adventure-oriented setpieces (avoiding lasers, crawling through vents, etc.) replacing the first game's repetitive flying and goon-shooting sequences.

The Bad

Much like its "older brother" Countdown, the second installment in the Tex Murphy series seems to focus on audiovisual effects more than on actual gameplay. The biggest problem of the game is its schematic, formulaic progression. It is as if the developers decided that a few gameplay gimmicks were enough to build an adventure game upon, without paying attention to pacing and general flow.

Martian Memorandum is built like a detective investigation, but one following either of the two very simplified procedures: search a room, find the right item; or, discover the correct way through a conversation to open another location either of the first or the second kind. The entire game is, essentially, composed out of those segments - which make perfect sense within the frames of a detective mystery, but feel disjointed and unrewarding in an adventure game.

Areas often confine you to one screen only; there is no sense of movement in the game, because most of the time you'll "jump" to new locations instead of actually moving there. Many locations consist of just one character portrait and dialogue lines, almost like in Japanese adventures. The path through the game is linear and you often feel your investigation is on rails. These repetitive activities quickly get old, and the more you play the less you care which of the myriads of mutants you've been talking to is the real culprit. Puzzles are mostly forgettable, and the clunky interface combined with a few serious pixel-hunting issues doesn't help at all.

Just like Countdown, the game also struggles to find the right tone. The story involves a series of murders and a global conspiracy, yet the game stubbornly insists on a campy B-movie style with particularly cheesy mutants and rather lame attempts at humor. The detective line itself starts well, but becomes disappointingly predictable as the game goes on. There is something dry in the way the plot is being served to you, and the protagonist seems to be curiously detached from what is happening around him.

The Bottom Line

Martian Memorandum is a solid and technologically impressive title - but as an adventure game, it is somewhat lackluster. It also doesn't really improve upon Countdown in any significant way.