And again we’re taking a look at a game series, that like many others, started in the 80s or 90s (80s in this particular case), still continues to this day and became famous around its 3rd entry. But this time, it features perhaps the most famous private detective in computer gaming: Tex Murphy. I’m obviously talking about Mean Streets.
Mean Streets is an adventure game made by Access Software and originally released in 1989 for the Commodore 64 and DOS. It was ported the next year (in Europe only) for the Amiga and Atari ST. And it was re-released in 2014 for Windows, Macintosh and Linux by Night Dive Studios under the title Tex Murphy: Mean Streets.
But as always, let’s first look at the covers, shall we?
I love this cover! It’s very reminiscent of the original Blade Runner movie poster, with a shot of Chris Jones (the designer and face of Tex Murphy throughout the entire series) holding a gun over a shot of a futuristic city and another shot of the love interest.
But however, the European release had this interesting cover:
Where to begin? First, both the title and the art style definitely has an European urban sci-fi look, like taken from a Métal Hurlant magazine. Second, the characters depicted here look nothing like the game’s main characters. While the woman resembles one of the lesser known female characters in the game, the man resembles more like Conrad B. Hart, the protagonist of Delphine Software’s Flashback. And third, while the background is undoubtedly futuristic, it looks nothing like the entire series’ dystopian look. Overall, it’s a good cover, but as you’ll find out soon, it has little to do with the game.
But, it’s finally time to boot this sucker:
As you can read in the short intro text (or more detailed in the manual), you play as Tex Murphy, a down-on-his-luck private detective living in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, in the distant year of 2033. You’ve been hired by Sylvia Linsky (the blonde woman depicted in the cover and title screen) to investigate her father’s suicide, of which she suspects of being murdered. Of course, the story spirals into something a lot bigger than a simple scientist’s death.
Right from the start, you’ll notice that Mean Streets isn’t a traditional adventure game, but more like a mix of different genres. First, we have a flight simulator section (taken from another Access game, Echelon), where you take control of your speeder flying car and travel through the game’s various locations in California, but you can only land in landing pads. The controls aren’t too complicated and the speeder is indestructible, so there’s no risk of dying in this section. However, you don’t actually need to control the speeder itself, because you can simply introduce the nav codes in the navigational screen and press “a” for the auto-pilot to take you there. This section occupies more or less 80% of the game and travelling greater distances can be somewhat boring. And also is the only part in the game where you can access the inventory and the save and load screens. You can also contact Vanessa, your secretary and Lee Chin, your informant, which brings us to the next section of the game.
Then we have the interrogation section, where you’ll interview the several characters in the game. You can ask them about other characters and locations by typing them perfectly (the game doesn’t recognise badly written words) and they’ll answer if they’re familiar with it. But sometimes they’re not willing to talk and then you have the option to either bribe them with money or threaten their physical integrity. But only one of these two options will work because you’ll find characters, that when uncooperative, can only be bribed or threatened. Then after one of the options,they’ll reveal new information, like a name or if you’re lucky, a nav code for a new location to explore, which brings us to the next two sections.
When arriving at a new location, sometimes you need to pass an shooting section, where you’ll take full control of Tex and have to cross two screens from left to right, shooting infinite mooks (that look the same, there are only be two at a time and are apparently made of glass by the way they shatter when shot). Tex can duck to avoid the bullets and use the several obstacles to his advantage, although it’s easy to get stuck behind one while bullets whizz above him. The several shooting sections can range from easy to hard, depending on your skill. The secret in passing through them consists in timely dodges and pressing on.
After the shooting sections, you’ll reach the search section, the closest to an actual graphic adventure. In here, you again take full control of Tex, but this time, you only need to explore one screen where you’ll first need to walk to several places inside the room, like a table, a TV or a sofa, then click “Enter” to access a menu of several options. Then you can search through the several locations, open drawers, move objects or get items. The only complaints I have in this section is that; there’s no point and click interface, so you’ll need to do everything using your keyboard; you can’t access your inventory (in fact, any objects in your possession are used automatically when needed) and sometimes, if there’s an object inside a small box and if you get the box before opening it, you’ll get the object inside stored in your inventory, but you need to get back to your speeder to access your inventory and examine the new object there or even to know you got said object. Also sometimes, you can trigger an alarm that gives you a limited time to find and turn it off in order to continue the search or leave the area. And the alarm resets everytime you leave the area.
And apart from all this, you have limited money and ammunition. But you can always find more ammunition, money and objects that you can pawn for more money in the several search areas. But you need to be careful when pawning objects, because there are some obvious valuables that can be pawned freely (like diamonds, necklaces, etc.) but if you pawn an object that you might need later in the game, you have to buy it back for double the cash it was pawned off. Or you can collect bounties on several criminals, whose map coordinates can be found on the manual that takes you to harder shooting sections. And the money is only used for bribes (or to buy back some important object you accidentally pawned off), especially when dealing with Lee, as she’s an invaluable source of information but only gives said information when paid.
But that’s the game’s mechanics. How is the rest of game, you ask? Well, apart from being one of the first games to introduce VGA graphics, it also features Real Sound, which could produce small digitised speech bytes through a PC speaker. Yes, really! And it isn’t badly garbled nonsense, it’s actually quality digitised speech, albeit small samples. But the rest of the sound effects are of equal quality, from the sound of the speeder’s engine to the sound of the shots in the shooting sections. Unfortunately there’s only one musical theme in the game but it’s actually a good one, in my opinion.
But back to the graphics, the game features some nice backgrounds, still images (albeit it repeats the latter a bit much for my liking) and some digitised photos of the several characters you’ll meet in the game, including the mutants, with some gruesome visuals. The only complaints I have about the graphics is that Tex’s sprite is a bit EGA when playing in VGA. It stands out in both the shooting and the search sections. And the animation’s a bit jerky.
But for me, the best part of the game, it’s its story and characters. I love how the plot gets increasingly more and more complex and interesting as you play along and the majority of the characters are equally interesting, despite some red herrings and dead ends your investigation can run across. Still, I recommend reading the manual before starting the game, just to get your bearings and know where to start. And another thing: near the end, when you think you know the entire story, it still throws a good twist at you. Also, this game introduces a bit of the comedy that the series would be known for.
So in conclusion, Mean Streets is a worthy introduction to the Tex Murphy series, albeit it doesn’t know which genre wants to be, unlike its sequels, which are proper graphic adventures. And if you personally don’t enjoy flight simulators, you might not like it. Still, if you’re a Tex Murphy fan, then I recommend it.
Mean Streets was remade in the fifth titles of the series, Overseer, but it’ll get its own review later on for two reasons: first, in Overseer, the events of Mean Streets are told through flashbacks to characters that were introduced in previous titles and second, it uses game mechanics that were introduced in the third game of the series, Under A Killing Moon.
So, where can you get this awesome game? well, you can get it here at Steam or you can get here at GOG.com bundled with the second game of the series, Martian Memorandum. And if you’re looking for more stuff about the game, then you can go here to the unofficial website and get all sorts of goodies, like save states or a mod that lets you skip the flying sections.
So, do you like the Tex Murphy series? If so, what’s your favourite titles of the series? tell me by commenting below, in our Facebook page, our Twitter feed or on our new Steam group. See you all next time and until then, keep on playing!