Written by  :  *Katakis* (38218)
Written on  :  Oct 22, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

A very good entry to the Tex Murphy series, complete with some humor thrown in for good measure

The Good

The Tex Murphy series is proven quite popular with the many people who enjoy detective fiction. Ask the majority of fans what their first Tex game was, and chances are they will say Under a Killing Moon, the first game that heralded the introduction of full-motion video to the series. But what the majority of Tex Murphy fans do not know is that the series goes way back with Mean Streets, a game that is classed as an “interactive detective movie”, and a game that is overlooked to this day. Furthermore, the Kickstarter trailer for Tesla Effect did not mention Mean Streets or its sequel.

Inside the box (the front cover is reminiscent to the poster for “Blade Runner”), you have the manual and the three game disks. You will have to refer to the manual for the copy protection, the usual “enter word x in line y on page z” kind of stuff. There are also some papers, including a quick start guide, a map of California (showing the state's suburbs as well as its landmarks), and two copies of the “Detective Information Charts”, one of them filled with information and the other one blank. The former is what you'll use to help you get started in the case.

Tex's first case is an interesting one. Sylvia Linsky, the daughter of a well-liked scientist who took his own life on top of the Golden Gate Bridge. She went to the police, who claim that it was a suicide. Sylvia is not convinced that it's suicide and hires Tex to uncover the truth. Vanessa, his secretary, gives him a newspaper article about the death, as well as a few leads to help him get started.

The very first thing that I saw the inside of Tex's speeder, a type of transport invented to make traveling easier for people and what we may be using when 2033 finally ticks over. The speeder is used for traveling between locations, and this adds realism to the game. After you punch in the co-ordinates, you can manually control the speeder as you proceed to your destination while you learn what everything does and explore the sights. But non-flight-sim fans like me can toggle the auto-pilot. The idea is to use auto-pilot only a few times to get a good idea of how everything works, then control the speeder yourself.

Mean Streets was considered technically superior to what was available at the time. The game supports 256-color VGA graphics, and this was at a time when VGA cards were a rarity. Everything in the game looks detailed, especially the backdrops for the interrogation scenes. Even with the vector graphics (if you're in the speeder), the locations are represented clearly and there isn't too much clutter between the different objects. Characters you meet in the interrogation scenes are not 2-D pieces of art, but rather Access employees, such as Chris Jones and Doug Vandegrift, were digitized in the game. People who couldn't afford to buy a VGA card could run the game in CGA, EGA, or Hercules, but the graphics didn't very good.

Another innovation was the use of RealSound, which provides high-quality sound through the PC Speaker without any additional hardware. All you needed was a machine that was capable of running at least 6Mhz and the speaker cable hooked up to an amplifier. Designed by Steve Witzel, the technology was already featured in Echelon, Access' 3-D flight simulator, and other games made use of it before the introduction of sound cards made RealSound obsolete. The soundtrack sounds amazing; and two of the most important characters, your secretary and informant, actually talk.

There is a little bit of humor in the game, especially when you can “threaten” every person you meet, with humorous consequences. More often than not, you are treated with a still shot or two showing Tex getting attacked and a description well-worth reading. You also get to see Chris in his mid-twenties. My favorite person to threaten was Delores Lightbody, Carl's ex-finance. “Threaten” was a nice feature in Mean Streets, and I wish that you could do that in the future Tex Murphy games.

The Bad

There are two things that I didn't like in Mean Streets. There are some action sequences in Mean Streets which you are forced to play just before entering apartments. They are difficult even when the game's fight level is set to Easy, and they just ruin the flow of the game.

There are also some time-crucial moments near the end of the game, which won't work properly even on a 386. For instance, you have to type in a series of words within a time limit or you will lose the game. Even when I think if I type the word right, the first key wouldn't register and I waste a lot of time re-entering the correct word.

The Bottom Line

Mean Streets is a lovely introduction to the Tex Murphy series, an “interactive detective movie” that is a precursor to FMV-based adventure games. As a private investigator assigned to uncover the truth about Carl Linsky, you spend most of your time interviewing people and searching apartments. As the game progresses, you search for clues that uncover a more, sinister plot. Unique to this game is the use of Tex's speeder to travel between locations. Although there is a lot of time wasted between locations, especially when going from one end of the state to another, this adds realism to the game. Having said that, I wish that you could have the opportunity to control Tex's speeder in future games of the series.

The game was ahead of its time due to the use of the VGA graphics and RealSound technology, providing detailed graphics digitized speech (an element which is used a lot in Martian Memorandum). In 1989, the minimum requirements for Mean Streets was a 8088/8086 processor, which you might as well run the game on since you may have timer-related issues near the end.