Urban Runner, 1996, Sierra. Live action, combining slides and full-motion video on four CDs. There is the barest minimum of disc-swapping, and the game can be started with your current CD in the drive. And any game that opens with two guys wearing only towels sitting in a sauna is going to get a thumbs-up from me!!
This is such a _____________ game! I just have no idea what adjective to put in that blank! (goofy? cheesy? funny? fun?)
The blurb on the front of the box describes it as a “real time, 100%-interactive video thriller,” so I'll go with that. It really is more of a movie than most games, with its very long cut scenes. I am not going to attempt to give a plot summary here – the story is very complex (I think it's just a bit too
complex). But for a bare-bones outline: you're on the run from the police for a murder you did not commit.
You play Max, an American investigative reporter. Later on he gains an accomplice, Adda, and there are a few places in the game where you're allowed to choose which of the two you'd like to direct the actions of. When you finish that person's mission, you're automatically brought over to the other person. There are no conversation trees, you just click on other actors, sometimes with an inventory item, and your character conveniently knows what to say. Inventory is handled in a realistic fashion, meaning you don't end up carrying 425 pounds of stone tablets and swimming underwater a la Riddle of the Sphinx, and some documents you find are committed to “memory” when it would not behoove you to steal them. Most items disappear when they're no longer needed.
Note the “real time” phrase in the description above – it's not just hype! Time actually passes for these people. Heck, they even change their clothes day to day, (although Adda seems to prefer this tight black number with past-the-elbows gloves). This is a nice detail I wish more game developers paid attention to, although I can guess why they might not as I saw a few continuity errors. “Real time” is integral to the game, meaning, and this might scare some people off: a great many of the puzzles are timed! If you don't figure out how to work that water pump before the gunman finds you, you're gonna get killed! If you don't find a good hiding place for that incriminating evidence, you're gonna get arrested! But, not to worry!
If you flub it, you're immediately given a chance to either load a saved game or go right back to the beginning of your last scene. Trust me on this – don't worry about the timed aspect. Also, the timer isn't ticking if you're manipulating inventory items or consulting your “memory.” This quick pace certainly adds to the sensation that you're in a movie. (CUT! Ok kiddo, you're going to have to find a different place to hide that forged ID. Take six – aaaaaaaaand ACTION!) As an added bonus, (and this is the first time it's been so apparent to me in a game), I do believe that every single puzzle realistically fits into the context of the game – no deciphering of alien numbering systems or having to solve slider puzzles to open doors! And I would say that over 90% of the puzzles have logical, fair solutions (translation: I hardly had to use the walkthrough!) There is a 36-piece jigsaw puzzle which is not too hard (this is not a timed puzzle).
The game has a built-in hint system, and you're allowed to ask for help three times during the game. Purely in the spirit of scientific research (ha-ha), I asked for a hint, then reloaded a saved game. Whaddayaknow?! I was still down to two hints! You have to do an uninstall/reinstall and then restart your game to get back to three hints. So don't be trying any shifty tricks, GameBoomers!
This game is supposed to take place in Paris, although it could be any large city as no famous landmarks are seen. Also, everyone speaks perfect English, and only Adda has a trace of an accent (she is supposed to be German). Actually, you hear very few of the voices other than Max and Adda, as the majority of the exposition is done in the form of narration by Max. The sticker on the box proclaims Urban Runner is “The Smash Hit from Europe,” and I got the feeling the voices were dubbed by watching the lips. Some of Max's narration is quite obviously spoken by a different actor.
I am quite certain that we in the US are not seeing the entire game that the Europeans did. There are a number of very abrupt scene changes that make me think sections were deleted. For instance, in the poolhall, Max is challenged by Sergio to make three “very difficult shots,” yet we never see them (or have to do them ourselves). And there is one lock with three keyholes (seen after defeating the card hustler) that have to be manipulated in a certain pattern. This is the only puzzle where we have not gotten a clue previously, so I was mightily stymied. I used one of my three hints, and the game told me to “remember the document I found when I searched Marcos's house” – yet I never went to that location! I had to use the w/t to get past this section. This is a pretty bad oversight by whomever was responsible for editing this game. (Also, neither the manual nor the game itself list the actor's names; more poor editing.)
One weird semi-glitch: you can examine inventory items up close, but when I was running
(that's a joke, get it?) in 32-bit colors, the close-up shot was like a TV tuned to static. Switching to 16-bit color fixed that problem.
As usual for me, I found incredible lapses of realism in the plot:
*Max is supposed to be an investigative reporter, yet he gives some photos that are damaging to a politician's career to another reporter, Freddy. Why would be give away a scoop like that?
*Why did the police release a sketch of Max to alert the public that he was suspected of killing someone? They found the ID he left behind when he discovered the dead body – they had his picture!
*Three punks jump you when you walk into a building because they think you're an eviction officer. They never ask you, and you never try to explain yourself; you just have to figure out ways to outsmart and evade them.
*A woman wearing only a bathrobe allows a stranger with a bottle of champagne into her hotel room, and the next scene shows them waking up in bed next to each other. (Well, maybe that is realistic, and I'm just jealous some people have it so easy.)
*A corrupt policeman tries to force you into the trunk of his car at gunpoint, but waits for you to fish a bottle of ink out of your pocket, open it up, and spill it on a blanket in there. “Hey that blanket is brand new!” he cries and bends over to inspect the damage, while you, of course, push him inside the trunk.
*Max and Adda are on separate missions. Max finds a piece of paper with a code on it that Adda needs. Somehow this ends up in her “memory” too.
*Max is 20 years younger and over a head taller than one of the villains (who walks with a cane), yet the bad guy easily wrestles away from Max, grabs a gun, and shoots another person in the room. Instead of then shooting Max, he locks him in the room and releases some poisonous gas. I was having flashbacks to that campy 60's Batman show and the ridiculous death traps his villains always put him in!
*This REALLY cracked me up: In the opening scenario, you lead a bodyguard on a rooftop chase through the city as he's firing a gun at you all along the way. You eventually wind up in a random abandoned factory. You run into the basement, and the bodyguard amazingly happens to have a key to that very door and locks it on you! Then the bodyguard gets knocked unconscious-
Do you take away his gun? No!
Do you tie him up? No!
Do you get the key from him so you can get out of the cellar? No!
What you do is....................take a nail file from his jacket pocket!
(During this long chase scene (and every other cut scene), there is no on-screen cursor. But the manual says that you can still control Max's run by left/right clicking the mouse at certain “key points.” They don't change your final destination; you just take a different route there. It tells you three of these points, but it's unclear if there are more during this chase or at later points in the game. Has anyone else ever found any alternate paths?)
As much as the gaping plot holes in Ripper
bugged me (and they really, really did), this game just made me laugh. I can almost kid myself into thinking the producers purposely went for some really outlandish situations, but I have to admit I think they were playing it straight. The significant difference between this game and Ripper is that Ripper was such a downer, taking itself so desperately serious with its excessively crude dialogue and sour characters. Urban Runner is a much more light-hearted and enjoyable whodunit.
It's quite a short game. The gamebox promises “20 hours of interactive video on four heart-pounding CDs,” but I completed the game in less than five on a super fast run-through once I knew all the puzzle solutions. I skipped a few slight deviations, but no way did I jump over 15 hours of story! (Can you even fit 20 hours of video on only four CDs?) This is another reason I think the US version is an edited one. I imagine most people can finish the game in two or three sittings. Even with its faults, which I'll euphemistically call quirks, I enjoyed myself. While I wouldn't recommend that you pay big bucks for Urban Runner, if you can find it cheap, pick it up and settle down for a weekend of fun.