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Martian Memorandum (DOS)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168975)
Written on  :  Jun 05, 2001
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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Solid and technologically impressive, but overshadowed by later episodes

The Good

For me, "Martian Memorandum" was the first Tex Murphy game, since I never completed Mean Streets with its unbalanced fusion of adventure, action and flight simulation.

Tex Murphy games have always been unique in their design (which is true to "Mean Streets", too), had rich atmosphere, and each time introduced some new technology that had just been discovered. For instance, "Mean Streets" was one of the first games to use 256 colors, and maybe the best example of how to use PC beeper (they managed to reproduce speech using nothing but those beeps... now that's an achievement!) .

"Martian Memorandum" was also a technological breakthrough. It featured real actors and - amazingly enough - real voices! Of course, this isn't full-motion video in the sense of Phantasmagoria, and the voices aren't CD quality, but all this was made much, much before it became a standard to use real voices in computer games (I'm not counting such games as early installments of Tengai Makyou series, because they came on CDs), and much before the custom of making games with real actors conquered the gaming world. "Martian Memorandum" was very advance technically.

I can't thank enough the creators of this game for the built-in hints. The truth is that I'm an especially weak puzzle-solver and never have enough patience to solve everything without peering into a walkthrough. I believe I'm not the only one. It was such a pleasure to proceed with the game without breaking the head! I wish all the games had this feature.

The dialogues were also a great innovation. There are no dialogue lines in the sense of LucasArtsgames, which in most of the cases lead to the same result and are often displayed there merely for fun. Here, the dialogue choices are crucial, and if you've chosen a wrong response, you're likely to get stuck. Normally, I don't like games where you can get stuck, but here it adds to the sense of realism. By the way, it's not so difficult to figure out which dialogue line to chose.

And of course, we have the unique futuristic/film noir atmosphere, which we all know and love.

The Bad

Maybe it's unfair to compare a game to its sequels, but the quality leap made by Under a Killing Moon is impossible to ignore. "Martian Memorandum" often feels very limited and restricted. The interface often confines you to one screen only; there is no real 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 interface is not very intuitive, and despite the high technical quality of the game, it is not particularly atmospheric.

The story line is nothing special. There is a murder case that soon grows into an interplanetary investigation, but typical film noir images gradually give way to standard, rather uninspired sci-fi.

The biggest problem, however, is the total lack of Tex Murphy. What made later installments of the series so charming was the personality of their protagonist. In "Martian Memorandum", the protagonist is your ordinary P.I. without background. We learn nothing about Tex Murphy, he makes no comments, and is generally not there. Without Tex Murphy, the game doesn't have that particular something what would set it apart from other detective/mystery adventures, since the unique setting doesn't really come to life here. Without the humor, the romantic aura, the emotions, "Martian Memorandum" feels somewhat dry and uninspired.

The Bottom Line

+ Technically very impressive
+ Interesting setting
- Where is our Tex Murphy?!
- Not enough atmosphere
- Some interface problems

"Martian Memorandum" was by all means a solid adventure game, technically ahead of its time. But it lacks the soul of the series. Its atmosphere is not very convincing, and its Tex Murphy still doesn't have his wonderful personality that made later installments of the series so memorable.