Tex Murphy: Overseer




Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Access Software, Inc.

Released:  1998, 2011 (GOG) 







by flotsam


We have been GOGing at GameBoomers a bit lately, and this is another review of an oldie (released in 1998) that passed us by first time around. The key question to be answered is whether it is also a goodie.

Before considering that question, let's first consider Tex. Of a time when real life and well-known actors appeared in full motion video extravaganzas, the Tex Murphy series is noir at its heart and futuristic in its setting. The place is San Francisco, the time is after WW III has created a society split into Norms and Mutants.

Tex is a Private Investigator, rough around the edges and a hit with the ladies. Innocuous cases for platinum bombshells with a streak of bad somehow end up in places neither you nor Tex could have imagined - places involving shadowy organisations and large scale conspiracies. Willing suspension of disbelief is generally a prerequisite for setting off with Tex.

Overseer starts in 2043, shortly after the events in the previous game, The Pandora Directive. However the bulk of the game is, in fact, flashbacks to events which occurred in 2037, recounted by Tex to his girlfriend Chelsee. Nothing is ever simple in Tex’s world, so the story involves Sylvia Linsky (who was a client, then a wife, and then an ex) and quickly progresses to mind control and world domination. And chess.

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According to Wikipedia, the story is in fact the basis of Mean Streets, the very first Tex Murphy game, and Overseer was the result of a quick turnaround required by Intel so as to be able to bundle a game with some new hardware. Also according to Wikipedia, there are some significant plot differences, but as I haven’t played Mean Streets I can’t tell you what they are.

I can tell you though that I liked Overseer. The unfolding and ever more complicated plot was one thing, but the underlying personal story of what made Tex the person he eventually became added a whole extra dimension. Told as it was to Chelsee, and spurred by her frustration with his seeming inability to commit, it would have made embarking on the sixth Tex Murphy instalment after the cliffhanger ending that much more interesting. If only there had been a sixth.

There are many upsides to getting these old games via a site like GOG, not least of all that the tweaking to get them running on modern machines is virtually nonexistent. That doesn't mean there aren't issues; alt-tabbing out of Overseer caused the graphics to completely disappear, although I could still hear dialogue if a cutscene was running. The same thing happened if my screen went to sleep through lack of mousing. Both problems are easily avoided, but are worth knowing about. Otherwise, I experienced no glitches or technical issues.

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A big upside with this particular game is the lack of disc swapping. The original game came on five CDs plus one DVD, all packaged together. If you were lucky enough to have a DVD drive in your PC back then, the disc swapping I recall from playing Pandora Directive was presumably nonexistent. I suspect though that the bulk of players still used the CD version, and disc swapping could be abundant. I recall having to swap discs to look at certain inventory items, as well as to travel to various locations. If you make big bold games with a lot of data, it has to be stored somewhere, and it was something we were all used to at the time. It could be irritating nonetheless, especially if you were backtracking to try and find a clue, or rummaging through the inventory to try things.

Two things helped. The travel panel you accessed to select locations would indicate which locations were on the disc currently in the drive, which meant you could visit all of those before swapping discs. And as far as I can recall, you could back out of having to swap discs if you tried to do something requiring a swap. These were nice touches, and showed that the makers were conscious of the potential player irritation caused by all the swapping.

But getting back to where I started, disc swapping is eliminated in the GOG version of Overseer. Moving to a new location might involve a small load, but it’s a matter of a few seconds and then the game moves on. It’s a great improvement.

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Like many full motion video games, character interactions are a big part of what goes on. You ask characters about an ever increasing list of conversation topics, and propel the story forward through their responses. Your own responses as Tex generally involve a choice, but are not presented word for word. You get a short description of the type of response you can make, something like “be forceful”, “flatter her” or “appeal to her better nature”, and whichever you choose then plays out. I don’t think it affects gameplay, although the conversation trees might well go a different route to the endpoint.

The use of real actors in certain roles helps significantly in creating a credible and immersive experience. Not everyone used in the production is top-notch, but no one falls flat, and across the board the character portrayals are solid and engaging. Tex is one of the best and not in fact an actor; the role is played by Chris Jones, one of the original game creators. As the central character he needs to carry the production, something he does with a larrikin panache.

In the game world you have a huge degree of freedom of movement and can pretty much walk everywhere, look up and down, and lower or raise your eye level (think crouching or standing on tippy toes) to enhance your exploring. Numerous drawers and cupboards open and you will be well advised to search them all. This includes pulling the drawer open and then looking down to make sure you haven’t missed anything tucked into a corner, a hint of realism I rather liked.

I wasn’t as enamoured with the controls, although you have a number of options. The one I didn’t warm to was the “Movement Overlay”, a small panel of controls which popped up from the bottom of the screen. Clicking and holding the button of choice moved you around the environment, and different buttons on the panel operated the other movements available. It worked okay, but this floating panel between me and the world made it feel as though I wasn’t there, but rather steering some sort of avatar, and the immersion was lost.

Alternatively, you can use the mouse to move around by holding down the right mouse key and nudging the mouse in the direction you want to go. I quite liked it for getting around, but you still had to use the overlay panel for anything other than locomotion. You can use the keyboard as yet another option, and you can map actions to keys of your choice. I tended therefore to have the right hand nudging and the left hand doing, which worked quite well. I never could map changing my eye level, though, which forced me to utilise the overlay on occasion.


Interaction in the game world is with the mouse, and hovering over something that can be pushed or pulled or turned on or examined will result in a small number of icons indicating the actions available. Chess is an underlying theme, so a number of the icons include chess pieces or boards, and there are chess items littered throughout the game.

The game environments are reasonably detailed but graphically of their time, and they certainly show their age. The filmed cutscenes were a little blotchy but on the whole they were nicely constructed, with a cinematic feel. Interrogating someone could have been a little more dynamic - they usually just sit staring at you – but that would probably have required ten discs!

Puzzling is a mixed bag, with some too contrived, and some too tired. Many puzzles involve finding and using pass keys and codes. Some I liked – arranging bricks in a wall to create a square hole for Tex to crawl through. Some I didn’t like – searching a location to find eight stones to place on a diorama just seemed lazy. If you play on Entertainment mode you can solve puzzles (but you still have to find the stones) by entering 911, and you can access quite a good hint system. Gamer mode has no hints, and gives higher points for solving puzzles in a certain time limit. Plot wise there is no difference (as far as I know). If playing for points is your thing (and lots of these old games did that) there are 4000 to be had in Gamer mode and 1500 in Entertainment mode.

Accessing the menus and inventory is easy and clutter-free. Panels slide into view when you move the mouse to the relevant edge of the screen, and then slide away again when done. A little notepad overlay keeps track of conversations, and will readily identify a new topic of conversation. These are usually triggered by asking questions of others, or through research initiated via the vidphone in Tex’s office. Loading games is quick, and the introduction only plays when you start a new game (unless you want to watch it again, which you can do via the main menu).

In the pantheon of adventure gaming, Tex Murphy will always have a place. It's well worth the small price it costs to download Overseer and enjoy a character who has lived on long after his last adventure.


I played on:

OS: Windows 7

Processor: AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz

Ram: 4.00GB DDR2 400MHz

Gx card: ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb

Tex Murphy: Overseer is available via download at Good Old Games.

September 2011

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