We have been
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb
is available via download at
Good Old Games.