Written by  :  Zovni (10653)
Written on  :  Mar 22, 2005
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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The early days of Tex Murphy, back when he had the slowest car in the galaxy...

The Good

Mean Streets marks the starting title for Access's only successful adventure series: the Tex Murphy sci-fi/detective titles. And to be honest regardless of future mishaps, this particular title was well ahead of it's time in terms of gameplay, technology and design.

Unlike other detective-themed adventure games that are nothing but that (meaning an adventure game that just so happens to involve a private detective "noir" storyline and characters) Mean Streets's gameplay is indeed designed as a detective fiction. By that I mean that gameplay doesn't revolve around you solving puzzles and mindlessly adding items to your inventory, instead the main objective is for you to follow contacts and evidence that lead you to other contacts and evidence and so on.

The basic idea is that you go to a contact (obtained via a plot-related event such as the starting suicide investigation) and you drill the character you find there for all the info you can think of via a text prompt. If you are lucky, said character will give you the location of another contact, which can turn out to be either another character you can drill for more info or a location you can freely explore. In the case you get a location, the game switches to the classic 3rd person perspective sideview in which you maneuver your character around and search for clues, evidence, etc. trying to find something that makes heads or tails of the complex plot you seem to have been drawn into.

But Mean Streets doesn't stop there. Proving to be quite ahead of it's day in terms of design, the game added a semi-freeform gameworld. Remember those contacts? Well, sometimes they won't be able to give you the exact location of someone, and your trusty secretary probably won't be able to get it either. In those cases bribing someone or paying your informant Lee Chin might get the job done, and that's when the options start to open as you have to find a way to come up with the cash.

Basically you can skulk around the contact locations and steal stuff that isn't pertinent to the investigation (nice going Tex!!) but doing so risks setting off security devices that can kill you or call the police, thus most of the time you have to race against a real-time timer to find and deactivate these safeguards. Should you not want to be such a rotten thief you can choose to fly over to bounty-hunting zones and take on some of the baddies there for some reward cash.

This brings me to the retro-futuristic, Blade-Runnerish gameworld you play in, in which the environment is completely polluted, megacorporations rule the earth, mutations are becoming a daily occurrence and flying cars are a reality. Man I love those optimist cyberpunk universes... Anyway, as I mentioned, there are flying cars. Flying cars like the one you own, and which allows you to take to the skies in a crude but effective polygonal flight sim of it's own which is your means of transportation from contact to contact. Times are hard however, so you'd better keep an eye on that car of yours as you'll cross paths sooner or later with the many criminals, mutants or fanatic cops that skulk around in the city. Fighting these bozos takes you to 2D side-scrolling arcade sequences (think Rise of the Dragon but much faster and easier) in which you have to get to the end of the current area without being gunned down.

As it becomes obvious, Mean Streets offers much more depth and variety in gameplay than your average adventure game, but wait! It doesn't stop there! Access somehow managed to jam digitized graphics and voices (using their infamous "RealSound" trick) into a 1989 game, which made it a veritable quantum leap in terms of technology in it's day. Truly amazing.

The Bad

The interface is kinda clunky, as it's keyboard only and has some strange annoyances, such as requiring you to spell complete names when interrogating, that only slow the pace of the game. The plot, while following the classic "Noir" guidelines of a "down-on-his-luck private eye that gets a case from a hot babe that turns out to be much more" is nice and all, but I think it could have been better wrapped up and ends up being quite boring by the end. Plus the gameplay in retrospect boils down to a dot-connecting exercise in which you go to Mr.A and ask him for Mr.B, then go to Mr.B and ask him for Mr.C and so on... and in the latter half of the game things turn towards a stupid citywide key-hunt which doesn't help matters...

Finally, while the polygonal flying-sim part is interesting, it's completely redundant in the game as you can just punch in your coordinates and travel automatically to the next destination. Problem is this auto-pilot doesn't warp you to the selected place as you would hope to, but instead makes the entire flight to the next area... And some of those contacts are REALLY far apart, which leaves you basically with the gaming equivalent of "commercial breaks" in which you can go to the fridge and get yourself a beer or coke, wait around for 5 minutes or so and then return to the game...

The Bottom Line

Despite a dated interface, some design mishaps and a lackluster plot, Means Streets is an excellent game way ahead of it's time and still an interesting play to this day. My biggest complaint is with those damn useless flying sequences that take away too much time and seem to be there just to annoy the crap out of you, but otherwise this is a definitive recommendation.