PRIVATE EYES LIVE TOUGH THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
The air was so thick with suspense, you could have spread it on a slice of Wonder Bread, Scisco called me into his office. "Got an assignment for you," he said, tossing a dark package across the room.
"Mean Streets," he explained. "New one from the guys at Access. Make a lot of big claims. Could be a COMPUTE! Choice if they're on the straight and narrow. Check it out and give me a report."
I headed back to my office, box in hand. "An interactive detective movie," the cover claimed. Well, there had to be something to Mean Streets, because the package weighed me down like sandbags an a hot air balloon. I sat down at my desk, shoved aside the falcon statue Sam Spade gave me, and spread out the package contents.
Something was definitely out of the ordinary. The box had the usual manual, quick-reference card, map, and information sheets. But it also had a pamphlet explaining something called RealSound and six disks.
They say a good detective always starts at the beginning, so I installed the program on my VGA PC's hard drive. As the computer gronked away, copying six 5¼-inch floppies. I wondered why, if bad detectives start at the end, they don't finish the job sooner.
I figured I should get some background on this case, so I checked out the manual. Seems I was supposed to be Tex Murphy, a twenty-first-century private detective on a murder case. Seems the whole mess started with a visit from Sylvia Linsky, the beautiful daughter of Professor Carl Linsky. She had the face of a doll and eyes bluer than CGA cyan—if this was any indication of how this game was going to go, I thought, this could be fun.
Old man Linsky had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, but Sylvia didn't think it was suicide. Her story didn't convince me that it was a murder, but the tears running from her shiny, almost glassy eyes persuaded me to look into the matter. The 10 Gs something to do with my decision, too.
Armed with the info Sylvia gave me, five clues, a list of possible questions from the manual, and my trusty .38 Special. I booted the game. Apparently the guys at Access wanted to make sure I was really Murphy—I had to type in a word from the manual before I could get into the program.
When the opening screen came up, I was as pleased as a cop with a jelly doughnut. It wasn't the blood-red VGA sky that threw me for a loop, it was the sound. Having been up and down PC Boulevard many limes, I expected beeps and bloops. Instead, I heard a digitized rock tune. It was nothing to make Tommy Dorsey nervous, but it was worlds ahead of what I was used to hearing on DOS machines.
The story opened in the driver's sent of my Lotus Speeder. This baby was nothing like the old Packards that 1930s detectives drove. The autopilot and altimeter were dead giveaways that driving this set of wheels would be a lot like flying a DC-3.
I needed some help getting the speeder off the ground. Hitting H on the control panel brought up a screen that explained the controls. Since I had the list of five Nav Codes from the manual, I called up the Navigation Computer. It displayed a map of California, highlighting my current position. I punched in the Nav Code for Sylvia Linsky, figuring I'd ask her a few questions about her father. A crosshairs pointer highlighted her location and then the computer returned to the cockpit view.
I could have used autopilot to fly to my destination automatically, but I wanted to see how this baby handled. So, I took off an manual.
The mutants' hideout is just one of the many colorful setting you'll encounter.
The speeder was surprisingly easy to fly, and I had a fantastic view through the windows. Looking down over San Francisco, I noted that the solid-fill, 3-D flight-simulator graphics in Mean Streets were as good as in most dedicated flight simulators. If the rest of the game was this good, it might just be COMPUTE! Choice material. Not only was this machine easy to fly, it was also faster than a jack rabbit at the dog track. I made it from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just over a minute.
I brought the speeder down on the landing pad outside Sylvia's place. I hit kind of hard, but this thing was crashproof. Good thing, too. I was glad I wouldn't need flying lessons to drive this beauty.
Once I got out of the speeder I really fell into my role as Murphy. The graphics in the speeder cockpit were great, but when I saw the digitized picture of Sylvia's apartment, I couldn't believe I was playing a computer game. Then Sylvia popped up onscreen. She was 256 colors of animated beauty. As she winked at me and moistened her lips, I was astonished. I'd never seen digitized graphics that good.
But back to business. I was there to ask questions, to get leads. According to the Mean Streets manual, I could ask people about any names I had run across and about eight mysterious terms: MTC Corporation, Gideon Enterprises, Overlord, passcard, password, NEXUS, Law and Order, and insurance. While that seemed kind of limiting—Philip Marlowe made up his own questions—it did make the questioning process much smoother.
Watching Sylvia's responses to my questions, I developed a healthy respect for the guys who put Mean Streets together. When I asked Sylvia about her old man's insurance, she got real defensive. She had a big frown on her face. I asked about a happier subject, and she smiled. All the while she blinked her baby blues. These guys had paid attention to detail.
I thanked Sylvia for her time and hopped back into the speeder. After questioning a few other people, I went over my notes. So far, Mean Streets had lived up to its hype. Everywhere I went, there was a fantastic digitized background. Each character was as realistically animated as Sylvia. However, each had a distinct personality and reacted differently to my questions. Some of them volunteered information freely, some had to be bribed, and a few had to be threatened into spilling their guts. I learned early on, though, not to threaten the wrong people. Delores Lightbody, the professor's ex, didn't take kindly to my pushy behavior; the digitized picture of her kicking Murphy was enough to make me flinch in real life.
As I cruised over to Professor Linsky's place on automatic pilot, I reconsidered my initial enthusiasm for the speeder. While it was an impressive mode of transportation, this case required a lot of travel. Sitting in the speeder for more than a minute, waiting to get to your next destination, was about as exciting as staking out a mortuary. On the other hand, I could catch up on True Detective Monthly while the speeder flew itself.
When I got to the professor's place and stepped out of the speeder, I wasn't greeted by the usual digitized picture. Instead, I found myself in a dark alleyway. I started to make my way across the screen when two trench-coated creeps jumped out and sprayed me with Tommy guns. Luckily, I could duck and get off a few rounds of my own that literally shattered the bad guys. Before I could move more than a few feet forward, two more thugs popped out. It wasn't going to be easy to get into this place. Two screens and about 50 rounds of ammo later, my way was clear. If I had many more encounters like this, I would need more ammunition.
You'll have to explore this subterranean laboratory carefully to find vital clues.
In the apartment, I found another suprise. Unlike the other places I had visited, there was nobody here to question. Instead, I was in a 3-D graphics adventure scene. I moved my animated figure around the room using the cursor keys. Whenever I got near an object, a text description of it appeared at the bottom of the screen, along with a choice of actions, such as Open or Get.
The first time I explored the room, I found a lot of locked doors and cabinets, but no keys. I had to be a better sleuth if I was going to uncover any clues, so I tried moving some objects and looking under them. It's amazing where some people will drop keys, and you find the most unexpected things under fax machines.
While checking out the professor's belongings, I accidentally set off an alarm. I had ten minutes to find the switch to shut it off or I'd be arrested for breaking and entering. Unfortunately, I didn't find it the first time around. But, fortunately, I had saved the game before entering the room. The second time around, I found the switch. I figured that there couldn't be obstacles like this in every room. I figured wrong.
I found a lot of stuff in Linsky's apartment. When I got back to my speeder and looked at my inventory, I discovered I could pawn the objects I had picked up. Since the bribes had eaten up a big chunk of my 10-G advance, I decided this would be a good idea. The problem was how to tell if an object was an important clue or if it should be pawned. Trial and error showed me that it was usually safe to sell the stuff that was worth big bucks, but that I'd better hang on to the rest.
At this point, I had a lot of names without addresses. I called up my trusty assistant, Vanessa, on the videophone. She popped up onscreen, blew me a kiss, and said. "Hello, Tex." Coming from my HeadStart III's speaker, her voice was about as lilting as Dr. Ruth's through a cheap transistor radio. I made a note to buy Access's $9 cable that would connect my PC to a stereo before I played any more games with RealSound. My PC's speaker just wasn't good enough to get the full effect. Vanessa faxed me a few of the addresses I needed, and I bought the rest at ridiculous prices from Lee Chin, my informant.
The investigation became comfortably routine. Whenever I talked to a new person, I asked about all of the names I had gathered, plus the terms from the manual. As I collected more and more information, it became obvious that this wasn't just a routine murder investigation. Several other prominent scientists had died mysteriously. Two major corporations, the Law and Order political party, and several people in low places were tied in, too. I was hot on the trail.
After interrogating about 40 people, surviving a number of gunfights, and exploring several locations, I could put everything together, solve the case, and save the world. But not before I made a lot of mistakes. I was glad I had saved my position on disk frequently—I've never died so many times in my life.
Climb in your Lotus speeder and fly over the Golden Gate Bridge at high altitudes.
With the case behind me, it was time to write out my report for Scisco. Mean Streets was definitely COMPUTER! Choice material. The digitized graphics, animation, and sound broke new ground for PC games. It had all kinds of action, with elements of text-based and animated graphics adventures, plus arcade sequences. And while it took a lot of time and thought, the case was solvable.
The program had few had points. Because it came of six 5¼-inch or three 3½-inch disks, I would have been in for some fancy floppy swapping if I hadn't been using a hard disk. The game was fairly slow on XT-class machines, and while the game was breathtaking on a VGA screen, the Hercules, CGA, EGA, and Tandy graphics were only a little above average.
Satisfied, I walked into Scisco's office and tossed the report onto his desk. "Guilty. It's a COMPUTE! Choice, all right."
"Good job, Atkin," he grumbled. "Oh, by the way, somebody stole that Maltese bird off your desk."
Sigh. A detective's work is never done.
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