Manhunter: New York review

For those who had the privilege to experience videogames during the 80s and 90s (like yours truly), you probably noticed that the period between the late 80s and early 90s was probably the most prolific in terms of novelties. Basically, developers back then (but especially during that specific period) threw every idea they had at the wall to see what stuck and what not. In other words, developers and companies weren’t afraid to experiment with new ideas and concepts, and creativity was the most valuable asset when creating new games. And sometimes, they came up with some interesting games like the one we’re about to review. I’m talking about Manhunter: New York.

Manhunter: New York is an adventure game developed by Evrywere and published by Sierra. It was originally released in 1988 for the Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Apple IIgs and DOS. The following year, it was ported to the Macintosh by Fairfield Software.

The game was designed by Dave and Barry Murry and it was programmed using a modified AGI interpreter. It’s considered the first computer game featuring a point-and-click interface.

But, as always, before we take a look at the game, let’s first look at the cover:

222972-manhunter-new-york-apple-ii-front-coverTalk about ominous covers! You can’t get much more ominous than this cover that depicts New York in shambles with some giant eyes above and a red background. Is somewhat reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. It gets you in the mood for the game’s dark and grim backstory, but not its animations as we’ll see next.

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

The game starts with an intro showing New York being invaded in 2002 by an alien race called the Orbs that are basically giant eyeballs (no, this is not a Doctor Who episode). Two years later, the inhabitants of New York (and presumably the rest of the human race) live enslaved by the Orbs and some of these humans are selected by the Orbs to become manhunters (basically police officers), whose functions are to solve crimes and apprehend criminals and anyone who oppose the Orbs.

Our nameless protagonist is a rookie manhunter who’s first case is to solve an apparent simple murder but its investigation will lead him to find the truth about the Orbs. To aid him in his task, he’s given a MAD (Manhunter Assignment Device) computer, where he can track the movements of any human (all the remaining humans carry a chip for localisation, cloaks and are forbidden to communicate with each other) and request any information from his targets.

The intro also features a nice music theme. When the game properly starts, the first thing you’ll notice is the lack of a text parser. Like I said before, the game uses a rudimentary point-and-click interface with some simple commands for various actions, like traveling or accessing your MAD computer, although using the mouse can be a bit troublesome as the cursor moves a bit slow and it can get stuck sometimes.

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How would you feel being woken every morning by a giant eyeball?

Another thing you’ll notice is a very distinct lack of text. Since humans aren’t allowed to communicate with each other, there isn’t any dialogue whatsoever and very little text and almost no exposition. Due to this, Manhunter is a very visual game, with all the hints and story being told purely in visual form (which makes the puzzles incredibly hard). And apart from the puzzles, you’ll also have arcade sequences throughout the game (which I personally think are a little easier than the puzzles) that get increasingly harder as you play along.

But at least, the game doesn’t have a proper game-over screen. Everytime you die, the Murrys pop in, dressed in cloaks, to give you a hint to bypass the part where you died and the game restarts right before you died. And the key to solve the harder arcade sequences is basically patience and luck, because you’re going to die and restart a lot! The game it’s usually in first-person perspective except in some cutscenes and the arcades sequences. And although the story is dark and grim, the animations in the cutscenes can be somewhat funny (and sometimes also weird), which creates a mood whiplash when compared with the backstory.

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Tracking a suspect.

The game is divided in four acts (or days, as is depicted) and you need to accomplish certain actions (or solve certain puzzles) in order to “finish” a day. When a day comes to its end, you’re contacted by the Orbs through your MAD computer, requesting the name of the suspect of your investigations. Then the protagonist simply returns home and in the next morning, he’s contacted again to solve another seemingly unrelated crime.

The game features quite good graphics for the limited AGI engine it was made in and the animations might be a bit weird but at least they’re quite fluid. The game might not have a lot of music in it but what little there it’s good along with several musical cues everytime your cursor passes over something it can be clicked on (which reduces the pixel-hunting) but the sound effects are a bit poor. And like I said before, the point-and-click interface is very cumbersome with a very slow cursor on screen and the keyboard controls during the arcade sequences could have been more responsive.

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The Murrys taunting the player after dying.

In conclusion, Manhunter: New York is a very ambitious game that is very limited by its game engine because you can see the concepts the Murrys wanted to bring to the table (like when trying to transverse the park). So personally, I’m kind of torn in this one; in one hand, we have a very interesting game with intriguing concepts and backstory, but on the other hand, those concepts are badly executed due to the limited engine. So, if you like games that go beyond the norm, you might want to give it a shot, but if you have little patience for hard games with limited mechanics and design, then I can’t really recommend it.

The Commodore Amiga version looks and plays just like the DOS version and the Apple IIgs version might be the superior version due to better sound and music (just like all AGI titles).

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In the park.

Manhunter: New York had some critical acclaim although it didn’t had a great commercial success, but it had enough for a sequel (which we’ll also review at a later date). With its concepts and backstory, I think this game it’s just ripe for a proper remake (although I think Activision has the rights for it). And if you want to experience it for yourself, then click here to play it in your own browser.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. I’d like to give a special shoutout to Florin9895, who recommended this game to me. Tell me what you think of the game by commenting below or on our social media. Next week we have a very special date which will prompt a special occasion: our 2nd year anniversary! And we’ve prepared a very special review depicting one of the best computer games ever made! So come and join us next week and until then keep on hunting and playing.

The 11th Hour review

Well, it’s Halloween! So, ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night, today we’re going to take a look at the sequel of my very first horror-themed review, The 7th Guest. I’m talking about The 11th Hour.

The 11th Hour is an adventure game developed by Trilobyte and published by Virgin. It was originally released in 1995 for DOS. It was ported to Macintosh in 1997 and re-released by Night Dive Studios in 2013 for Macintosh and Windows.

Graeme Devine, the main designer and programmer, created a new video compression  program called Wavelet and updated the Groovie engine used in The 7th Guest specifically for this game (which would later be used in subsequent Trilobyte titles).

But, as always, before we take a look at the game, let’s first look at the covers:

17406-the-11th-hour-dos-front-coverThis is the US cover and apart from the title, which looks cool, it’s a bit of a mess with several clocks, wires and remains of a baby doll. I see where Trilobyte was going for with this, but I find it very confusing.

Luckily, the European version is a bit better:

93203-the-11th-hour-dos-front-coverNow, this one I like better. Yes, I understand if some people find it too simplistic, but the use of the baby doll’s head along with the strings and the colour red in a black background, makes it look more ominous, fitting for a horror-themed game.

And now, as always, let’s boot this child of the night:

The game starts with a long intro cutscene introducing our main characters: Carl Denning, the host of the TV show “Cases Unsolved” and its producer; Robin Morales. The intro starts with Carl watching the news about Robin’s disappearance and the series of unsolved murders she was investigating before disappearing. Carl then receives the GameBook (a PDA-like laptop) by mail with a video in it of Robin asking for help and an image of Stauf’s mansion. Carl then goes to Harley-on-the-Hudson, where Robin was last seen while remembering their last interaction. Carl arrives at Stauf’s mansion and after solving a riddle via the GameBook to open the mansion’s door, the game properly starts.

The 11th Hour, just like its predecessor, uses logical puzzles to advance the story, but with an added element to the gameplay: first you receive a riddle by Stauf in the GameBook referring to any object in the mansion, then you have to find and interact with said object to solve the riddle, but every time you enter a new room, you can’t interact with any object whatsoever until you solve the puzzle located in said room in order to “unlock” the objects and the rest of the room. And there’s also a lot of “red herring” objects you can interact with.

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The beginning of the intro featuring our hero, Carl Denning, played by Douglas O’Keeffe.

And every time you solve a riddle, you’re awarded a short cutscene, usually depicting Robin’s investigation before her disappearance (later in the game, they also show Carl’s adventure in the mansion). The game’s story is divided in acts (represented by each passing hour), in which at the end of each act, a longer cutscene plays (including the smaller cutscenes you’ve “collected”) that advances the story along.

To help you, you have the aforementioned GameBook, which substitutes the Ouija board from the last game as the in-game menu. In it, you can save and load and you’ll also have access to a map (and although the mansion’s layout is still the same, it’s good to know which rooms are accessible and which puzzles remain unsolved or not) and a help button that substitutes the library book from the last game. The first two times you click in it, it gives you hints to the puzzle or riddle you’re solving and the third time, it solves the puzzle or riddle for you (although you still have to search for and interact with the objects to solve the riddles). But this time, however, there’s no penalty whatsoever in using the help feature to solve the puzzles and riddles. But you can’t use it to solve the last puzzle (which we’ll talk about later on).

50219-the-11th-hour-dos-screenshot-in-the-foyer-of-the-house

Looks familiar?

The riddles usually use anagrams and if you’re bad with anagrams (like I am) then it’s a good thing there’s the GameBook. And the new puzzles are even harder than in the previous game. Remember the dreaded microscope puzzle in The 7th Guest? Guess what. It’s back with a vengeance! AND IT’S NOT EVEN THE HARDEST PUZZLE IN THE GAME NOW! Maybe that’s why there’s no penalty in using the help feature to bypass the puzzles. And, as always, Stauf taunts you throughout the game, especially if you fail a puzzle or riddle. And again as always, his taunts get old fast due to repetition.

The cutscenes are now longer (sometimes a bit too long) and of a much better quality than The 7th Guest. Robert Hirshboeck (Henry Stauf), Julia Tucker (Julia Heine), Larry Roher (Ed Knox) and the late Debra Ritz Mason (Martine Burden) are back to reprise their roles and Hirshboeck again turns the ham all the up to eleven while playing Stauf, whether it’s live-action or just voiceover. The new actors, however, aren’t as memorable. Although some of them are renowned TV actors, their performance ranges from bad to acceptable, with some good moments here and there.

50225-the-11th-hour-dos-screenshot-the-game-book-has-stauf-s-riddles

The GameBook with one of the riddles displayed.

The story is now darker with some gore and one or two adult scenes here and there; and for the most part; it isn’t that bad. But halfway through, Trilobyte throws at us some poorly plot points added only for shock value. And the production value, although better than in The 7th Guest, is equal to a 90s suspense TV series. Honestly, I had more fun with the puzzles than I had watching the cutscenes. And also, all the dark zany humour present in the previous game is now mostly gone, with a few moments here and there with Stauf.

The new 16-bit graphics are definitely an improvement, with much better detail. But since the game now occurs in the 90s, the mansion is rundown and debilitated, which means that although the graphical quality is better, the game isn’t prettier which ruins the atmosphere in my opinion. If the intent was to make the game more visually scary, then it failed that purpose, even if you play it in “spooky mode” (just the game in faded black and white). And also, there’s a lot of visual references to The 7th Guest (in case we forget we’re playing a sequel to it) and even one small reference to another famous FMV adventure game of the time.

50223-the-11th-hour-dos-screenshot-another-of-the-mysterious-puzzles

One of the several puzzles for you to solve.

Which leads us to the animation. The animation, again, is better in terms of graphical quality but now with some top-quality special effects (well, top quality for the time, that is). There’s no longer weird auras around the actors (which prompted The 7th Guest becoming a ghost-story in the first place), but there’s still some pretty obvious green screen effects (it was kind of new at the time). I have to say that the animation is actually one of the best parts in the game.

Now in terms of music, George “The Fatman” Sanger is back as the main composer and not only does he brings remixes of the previous game’s musical score but also some new themes, which in their majority aren’t as good. With the exception of “Mr. Death”, the main menu theme, which is quite catchy. Also, instead of taking advantage of the new technologies to improve the music quality to CD audio, Trilobyte released the music in MIDI format, which was kind of outdated by 1995’s CD-ROM standards.

Which brings us, finally,  to the end of the game and before discussing it, here’s your spoiler alert:

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Without revealing too much, the game now has three endings to choose from, ranging from good, to bad, to worst. However, there’s a small detail: you can only save the game right before the final riddle and the final puzzle. And after choosing one of the endings, if you reload your save file in order to see the other endings, you obviously need to solve the final puzzle again. But here’s the catch: the final puzzle gets harder the more endings you unlock and the previous solution to it no longer works. So you might want to get the best ending first.

Ok, spoilers over!

So, in conclusion, The 11th Hour is technically bigger and better in comparison with its predecessor, but it fails to provide a proper scary atmosphere and therefore, it lacks  the previous game’s charm. And due to the order of the riddles and fact that the game is divided in acts, it’s also a bit more linear than the previous game. If you’re a The 7th Guest fan or simply enjoy logic puzzles and riddles, then you might want to give it a shot. But for traditional adventure games fans, I can’t really recommend it. If you want to play it though, you can buy it here on Steam.

50234-the-11th-hour-dos-screenshot-the-library-in-spooky-mode

The library in spooky mode.

Before wrapping up the review, here’s a few curious tidbits: The 11th Hour is definitely a mature game, but did you know it was supposed to be even more adult? R-rated sex scenes were planned, which prompt the rumour of an uncut and uncensored version of the game, but said scenes were never filmed. However, the script for the R-rated version can be found on the official strategy guide (and in the digital versions).

And like its predecessor, The 11th Hour had a great commercial success, selling around 300,000 copies in the US alone, despite the mixed reviews it received. Trilobyte would later make a compilation of some of the puzzles found in both games (along with some from another title, Clandestiny) in Uncle Henry’s Playhouse.

Also, there have been several attempts to crowdfund either a third game in the series or a remake of The 7th Guest, but all have failed until now. There’s a successful Kickstarter project called The 13th Doll, which is planned for release between late 2018 and early 2019. And from what I gathered, it’s more of a reboot/remake of The 7th Guest than an actual sequel, so who knows if it’ll even reference The 11th Hour.

Ufff! I thought that would never end! So, ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night, I hope you all enjoyed the review. And wish you all a happy and scary Halloween, WHATEVER YOU ARE! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Mean Streets review

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?

217731-mean-streets-commodore-64-front-cover

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:

62261-mean-streets-amiga-front-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.

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Well, is good to know that the Golden Gate bridge won’t be destroyed in the future.

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.

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I love this screen.

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.

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The somewhat boring flying section.

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.

931-mean-streets-dos-screenshot-talking-with-sylvia

Talking to our client, Sylvia Linsky.

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.

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The shooting section.

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!