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.

Quest For Glory I/Hero’s Quest review

To end our Sierra retrospective, I decided to do something different. Instead of reviewing another typical graphic adventure, I decided to review the first of one of my favorite series: Quest for Glory (originally known as Hero’s Quest).

Corey and Lori Ann Cole were two designers at Sierra who are avid D&D fans and one day, they pitched the idea of creating a RPG game using the SCI0 engine. But as development went on, they ended up creating a hybrid graphic adventure/RPG game.

Hero’s Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero was originally released in 1989 for DOS, a year later for Atari ST and Amiga and in 1991 for the PC-98.

But a year after the original release, Sierra was forced to change its name to Quest for Glory to avoid confusion with the board game Hero Quest by Milton Bradley (which was adapted into a different computer game).

Quest for Glory I was supposed to have more RPG elements, like a deeper character creation with multiple races and also the ability to play as a female, but due to time constrictions and difficulties with the engine, these and other options were cut from the original concept.

But let’s look at the cover, shall we?

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Talk about a diet rich in iron!

The cover shows our hero-to-be fighting a Saurus Rex, one of the hardest monsters in the game. It’s a good cover with decent artwork and conveys exactly the tone of the game.

But let’s boot this sucker, shall we?

Despite the intro showing a dragon, unfortunately you won’t find any (living) dragons in the game. You’d have to wait further along down the series for that.

The game doesn’t have a lot of backstory; you’re just a recent graduate from the Famous Adventurer’s Correspondence School, recently arrived to the valley and town of Spielburg, who are in dire need of a hero.

The game starts with you creating your protagonist, first by choosing a class (Fighter, Magic User or Thief) and then relocating your points to your preferred stats and finally naming it. The character’s appearance however is always the same.

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The original title screen

The Fighter is an expert in combat and the most direct in his approach towards the puzzles and quests. The Magic User cast spells which you’ll have to look for, learn and use to solve the puzzles and the Thief has to use his abilities to solve said puzzles. Take a locked door for example: the Fighter would simply smash the door open while the Magic User would cast a spell to open the door and the Thief would simply pick the door’s lock. Because of the latter, the Thief class is my personal favorite due to its gameplay being closer to a traditional graphic adventure.

While it is possible to create hybrid characters by allocating points in different stats (like giving the Fighter the ability to cast spells), the game will always treat you as the class you’ve chosen. For example, you can still use a spell to open a locked door but you won’t get the points the Fighter would usually get for smashing said door.

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“Welcome to Spielburg. Don’t mind the goon with the yo-yo”

And those aren’t the only RPG elements in the game. Your character won’t level up like in most RPGs; instead you raise your stats by repeating the same action several times over. Fighting with your weapon raises your Strength and Weapon Use stats, throwing a dagger raises your Throwing and Weapon Use stats or casting a spell raises your Intelligence, Magic and that specific Spell proficiency stats and so on and so forth. You can raise your stats to a maximum of 100 points each (except for the Experience stat which always increases along with any other stat).

You also have Health and Stamina points that when depleted, it’s game over! These are linked to your Strength, Vitality and Agility stats and when these stats are increased, so are your Health and Stamina. Magic Users also have Mana points linked to your Intelligence and Magic stats, although if depleted, you’ll just lose the ability to cast spells.

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No, you can’t turn enemies into frogs, unfortunately

To avoid your Health and Stamina (and Mana) to drop drastically, you need to eat and sleep, so you’re always need a steady supply of food and potions. While there is a specific place in the game where you can get free food and rest, potions aren’t free and you need money to buy them, therefore you need to solve quests and kill monsters in order to make money (although the Thief has another alternative).

Also you can’t just sleep anywhere. There are a few safe spots to do it, like the inn or the castle stable for beginners, although there are also a few safe spots in the surrounding forest for you to find.

The game also has a day/night cycle in which some places (like the town and castle grounds) are close and inactive during the night, while other places become active.

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Where’s Thor when you need him?

Another RPG element is the ability to export your character to the next game of the series, maintaining all the stats, money and items you’ve collected.

You begin your game in the town of Spielburg, but shortly after, you need to explore the entire valley. The map is somewhat reminiscent of the one found in King’s Quest I (with the exception that it doesn’t revolve around itself) and you are free to travel anywhere inside said valley. This gives the game a non-linear aspect also reminiscent of King’s Quest I.

All the monster encounters (except in specific screens and locations) are random, and during the day, you’ll find the easiest ones to fight. The hardest ones come out at night, so be careful if you find yourself at night in the middle of the forest. Also the majority of the night monsters start to appear during the day after achieving 1000 points of experience.

147192-hero-s-quest-so-you-want-to-be-a-hero-dos-screenshot-playing

Not as easy as it looks and it doesn’t look easy!

All the fights are shown in an over-the-shoulder POV and are fought using the keypad arrows. The controls are tight and easy to master. You can even run away from a battle (except the main ones)!

But my favorite part of the game is the NPCs, which are all well written and fleshed out. It’s impossible to hate them. Almost all the characters and by extend, the fantasy elements themselves, are based in Germanic folklore.

While the game isn’t a parody, it still has a lot of comedy sprinkled out through it with lots of easter eggs. But the story isn’t afraid to get serious and somewhat dark when needed.

The game’s EGA graphics are very well detailed and colorful, with great animation throughout. The soundtrack is quite appropriate with certain main NPCs getting their own theme. The main title theme would later become the series’ main theme, with some differences in each entry.

147193-hero-s-quest-so-you-want-to-be-a-hero-dos-screenshot-at-night

Does anyone wants to play Ghosts and Goblins?

But unfortunately, the game also presents some flaws. Because of the nature in raising stats, some grinding is inevitable, forcing you to develop a daily routine for your characters at the beginning before their stats are high enough to tackle the harder quests.

And while the Thief might be the hardest character to play in a graphic adventure perspective, the Magic User is the one that, for me, has the most grinding, due to the fact that you not only have to grind all the necessary stats linked to spell casting, but also have to repeatedly cast all the spells in order to increase the proficiency of each individual spell.

But spite these little flaws, the game not only has great replay value, but also due to the grinding, a considerable gameplay length.

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Then in 1992, to coincide with the rest of the VGA remakes Sierra was making, the Coles decided to remake Quest for Glory I using the SCI 1.1 engine, with VGA 256-color graphics and a point-and-click mouse interface.

Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero VGA was released in 1992 for DOS and in 1994 for Macintosh.

And with it, also a new cover:

317718-quest-for-glory-i-so-you-want-to-be-a-hero-dos-front-cover

“Yummm! Hero fricassé”

While I like the stained glass type artwork, I don’t like the image’s content, which shows the Hero facing a dragon and scared after said dragon broke his sword. We’ve already established that there aren’t any dragons in the game. So why depict a dragon instead of any other monster that’s actually in the game? Because of this, I prefer the original cover.

Anyway, let’s boot this sucker:

The intro’s a bit better, using clay models and stop motion animation, which was also used in the rest of the monsters and characters.

But unfortunately, using said techniques made the animations look a little jerky sometimes, especially during the fights.

The remake not only has better graphics and resolution but the night/day cycle has been improved because this time, you can actually see getting darker at sunset and brighter at sunrise. However the remake uses a brownish palette, so even though it has 256 colors on screen, it looks less colorful than the original. There are even 1 or 2 locations that don’t look as detailed as in the original.

95231-quest-for-glory-i-so-you-want-to-be-a-hero-dos-screenshot-earning

Work, work, work

Because of the mouse interface, the dialogues now have a tree scheme, with topics to choose from a menu. This make the dialogues somewhat shorter, but more to the point.

The fights are now in a sort of isometric perspective, with icons in the corner for fighting, which makes the battles also easier.

The stats now rise faster, reducing the grinding and therefore the game’s length.

But story wise, the game remains the same. All the characters maintain their characterization and with the new graphics, they also sport new character portraits during dialogues (except for the Hero).

95250-quest-for-glory-i-so-you-want-to-be-a-hero-dos-screenshot-the

These flowers don’t swallow

Both versions had a tremendous success, with the original version selling over 250,000 copies shortly after its release.

So, which version do I recommend? Both, actually! It depends on your personal preferences: if you prefer a more colorful game and don’t mind the text parser, then go for the original. However, if you prefer an easier experience, the mouse interface and a better resolution, then go for the remake.

Whichever version you play, I recommend this game as an entry point for the RPG genre, due to its intuitive and easy gameplay. And I also highly recommend the rest of series.

Quest For Glory I’s (and consequently, the rest of the series) influence was extremely important and it’s still observed nowadays because not only it popularized the crossing over of genres in future video games, but it also encouraged the use of RPG elements in other types of games and the use of adventure/action elements in RPGs.

You can buy both versions (along with the entire series) here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

And so it ends our Sierra retrospective. Did you like it? If so, leave your comments below and tell me which are your favorite Sierra games and moments. And while you’re at it, tell me if you’d like to see more Sierra games reviews or other retrospectives.

Join us again in March, where we’ll take a respite from graphic adventures and go back to our regular reviews.

Till then, keep on playing.

Police Quest I review

Continuing our Sierra retrospective, we’ll now a take a look at the first game of perhaps Sierra’s most realistic series, Police Quest.

Like I mention before, after the successful release of King’s Quest I, several other games were made using the AGI engine. Jim Walls, a former police officer, designed a graphic adventure where proper police procedure was fundamental in how to solve the puzzles and to progress throughout the game.

Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel was released in 1987 for Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Apple IIgs, DOS and Macintosh.

All releases featured the same cover:

223-police-quest-in-pursuit-of-the-death-angel-dos-front-cover

Shouldn’t have shot those giant letters

While I do like the detail of the bullet holes in the title, I think it’s too big and almost overshadows the bottom, where we see a presumed criminal running from the police. The bottom image looks taken from the cover of a crime novel and it couldn’t be more appropriate for the game.

But crime novels aren’t the only influences behind the game. As you’ll see while I boot this sucker:

The intro is very reminiscent of the old Dragnet TV show (down to the police badge). In fact, the entire game plays as an interactive episode of a police drama series.

You play as Sonny Bonds (named after Jim Walls’s own son), a young police officer in the fictional city of Lytton, California where there have been a surge of crime lately.

And that’s the entire back story! The story develops throughout the game as you play along.

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“OK, so where’s the toilet?”

The game starts as a typical law enforcement routine day (going to the locker room, attending the briefing and going on patrol).

Then comes perhaps the hardest part of the game: the driving section. Controlling your car is extremely hard, especially during high velocity pursuits. Heck, even leaving the parking lot is a challenge! I recommend reducing the game’s speed until you get used to the controls. But I won’t deny that after mastering the driving controls, it gets entertaining.

During your patrol, you come across several traffic violations and other crime scenes. It’s crucial that you read the manual (or indoctrination guide, as it’s named. Yikes) before playing. All the correct procedure, along with penal and radio codes, it’s so highly detailed in it that the manual could easily pass off as an official police academy manual. And it also features a map of the city which you’ll find extremely helpful during the driving section.

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Take a guess which of these small rectangles’ your car

You can’t just go guns blazing like playing Narc! You have to observe the correct procedure in each specific case and apply it. If you forget any step of said procedure, the best that can happen is that you’ll lose points. The worst however, is an automatic game over.

The game initially received some criticism over the strict procedure, but since that was the intent to such a degree that Police Quest I even served as a police training tool, such criticism was consequently ignored.

The game is divided into two parts: the aforementioned traffic patrol and an investigation part after Sonny is transferred to the Narcotics division. The 2nd part is more lenient towards following police procedure, but a big mistake can still lead to a game over.

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Not even the beach is free from crime

The objective after becoming a Narcotics detective is to investigate and arrest the eponymous Death Angel, a newly arrived drug baron to Lytton. And you do it by arresting criminals, following leads and clues and interrogate suspects.

And near the end, there’s a poker mini-game in which you’ll need to win enough money to progress through the game (TWICE). And because there aren’t any poker instructions in the manual; the first time I played the game, I had to ask my dad to pass the poker part, which then prompted a half-hour long lecture about the dangers of gambling addiction.

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Two pairs. Break the house!

Because of all the situations and the strict procedures, the game feels quite long; perhaps it’s even the longest AGI Sierra title at the time.

And like other successful AGI titles, it was also remade using the SCI engine (SCI 1.1).

Police Quest I: In Pursuit of the Death Angel VGA was released in 1992 for DOS. With a new cover included:

148819-police-quest-in-pursuit-of-the-death-angel-dos-front-cover

Are you trying to “cast your evil shadow over the city”?

Again with the big title almost filling the cover! Is someone trying to compensate? And the bottom image this time is more generic. It’s just an ominous face with orange eyes overlooking a city, nothing more. I prefer the original cover over this one.

But check out the game for yourself:

The intro this time around looks even more like a TV crime show intro. And the new soundtrack isn’t half bad!

The remake not only has better sound and graphics (as to be expected) but it also simplifies all the puzzles and the procedures. A little too much simplified in my opinion.

Even the driving section is simplified to the point that it’s hard to commit mistakes. Although the driving controls to turn are a bit confusing. It’s easy to mix left and right when driving in the opposite direction the controls are oriented.

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Believe me, it looks smaller on the inside

The game also presents a small window for interior locations which reduces the playing area and therefore makes it easier to spot objects and people to interact with, but it also bundles everything together or makes some locations look somewhat empty. And the main characters now have portraits during dialogues, but most of them are badly drawn.

The procedures to follow are also simplified, reducing the chance of mistakes and making the game easier to play. Even the poker mini-game is optional now, but you won’t be rewarded its points if you choose not to play it. Between Space Quest I’s slot machine, Leisure Suit Larry I’s blackjack and this game’s poker, I wonder if Sierra is responsible for an entire generation of gamblers. But seriously now, gambling addiction is no joke!

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“10-4, heading south on 9th. At least that’s what my on-board display is telling me”

There’s a better visual and sound presentation over the original and while it definitely looks and sounds better, the gameplay is so oversimplified that it feels empty in comparison with the original. And although the story and the dialogues have been somewhat rewritten, they’re basically the same. It’s hard to see the difference in that aspect. Although all of this makes the game easier and more attractive, it also makes it shorter than the original.

So, if you don’t mind the EGA graphics, the text parser and the harder puzzles, then I recommend the original version over the remake. But if you’re a novice graphic adventure gamer and prefer VGA graphics and the mouse interface then go for the remake, although personally I prefer the original AGI version.

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“Nothing to see, people. Just another random accident.”

You can get both versions along with the rest of the series up to (but not included) Police Quest SWAT here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

So, did you like this review? Leave your comments below and share it with your friends.

Just one more review to finish our retrospective and next time, we’ll go back to fantasy, but not as you’re thinking.

Until then, be careful out there and keep on playing!