Under a Killing Moon
It's hot, sticky and the relentless drizzle outside doesn't look as if it's ever going to stop. The windows are shut and badly steamed and the world outside seems a long, long way away. The Boss leans back on his chair, and draws heavily on his big fat cigar. He'd normally blow circles but he has other things on his mind, like the package on the desk in front of him.
"God damn it, we've gotta run with this thing," he murmurs. "But there are only three days to go 'til deadline and it ain't ready." "We can't... we just can't do it, Boss," I reply. The others shake their heads in agreement. "Sure, but if we don't act fast, this thing's gonna be on the streets before we know what's hit us. We've got a duty to the public, let's roll with it."
And so it came to pass that the next three days of this reviewer's life would revolve around that package on the desk.
Yep, Under A Killing Moon did indeed arrive just before our going-to-press deadline. Unfortunately our review copy is not the final version. The game is finished: the graphics, sound and music are there, and the gameplay is just about what you can expect when the product ships, but with just a slight problem. Actually a rather major one, but more on that later.
us Gold is describing Under A Killing Moon as an "interactive movie", but wait; don't turn that page just yet. This really is a game which comes close, if not matches, that description. You play longtime unemployed private investigator Tex Murphy, a side of your personality you may well remember from previous releases Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum. You're a 'sos-style American cop locked in the 21st century - 2045 to be exact. An unpredictable scenario spoilt a little by the fact that the world (yawn, yawn) has been devastated by a nuclear holocaust and is filled with normal humans and mutants. It wouldn't be fair to give too much of the plot away as it would be like describing the storyline to a real movie before you've had chance to see it.
Suffice it to say that as Tex Murphy, you're dragged back into action my the mysterious reappearance of the Colonel (Brian Keith) - the detective - who was once your mentor. Thing is, he lost his licence because of you. What's he doing back? The tasks, and sub-tasks, involved become apparent as you go along: solve a burglary, find a missing statuette, free the captured girlie, save the Earth. All in a day's work... Well six, actually.
The game features a handful of (semi-) famous American stars who you may well recognise, even if you can't actually put names to the faces. Aside from Brian Keith, there's Margot Kidder, Russell Means plus the voice of James Earl Jones - ring any bells? It seems strange that they've used actors from an older generation, although, having said that, there are a few bimbo-type characters included among the rest of the 25-strong cast to satisfy the twitching right hand of your average teenage male games player. The lead role is taken by Chris Jones, vice-president of Access, the development team. He also co-designed and directed the game. A giant ego trip? Actually his acting, and that of the rest of the cast, is very good. Seeing "real" humans in computer games, however, already seems a little old hat, and despite the fact that the video overlaying has been done very well (the only down side being that only one character moves at a time) the acted scenes aren't the most impressive part of Under A Killing Moon. The best feature is undoubtedly the main 3D environment, which is so special that it's difficult to draw direct comparisons with other games. It's certainly not like that other "interactive movie", 7th Guest, where you wander along set paths in each room.
With Under A Killing Moon there's a cinematic mode which allows you to wander into every nook and cranny of each of the 30 or so 3D locations using a mouse. Use the cursor keys as well and you can look up or down and zoom in and out, peering into drawers, over ledges, up at ceilings and so on, and all this created in real-time.
The digitised characters are present as you walk around and they even appear animated, albeit slightly. Stop to talk to them, though, and you switch to full(-ish) screen sequences. It all ties in very nicely. What's more, you can stop the movement when you want then change to clue-seek mode where you interact (no, really) with the environment by examining and picking up objects. Wow! Of course, in this sense, the game is more like a traditional adventure, as you'll spend a lot of time moving the cursor around the screen examining anything that seems unusual, and "just in case", anything which appears quite ordinary. Manipulating certain objects can trigger an entertaining cut-sequence. Once found, you need to examine the collected items, combine them, offer them to characters and generally do the same as you would in any traditional two-dimensional graphic adventure. The real beauty is that when you go back to movement mode, the 3D environment updates like you'd expect it to. Objects disappear when you've picked them up for example. 3D interaction? You bet your arse.
As for the gameplay, well the puzzles are standard fare. You'll need to use certain objects at certain locations at certain times, and displace objects to reveal secrets. Move the shield and it reveals a switch, flick the switch and it turns off the laser beam - you know the sort of thing. Points are gained for getting things right. Hints are available, although using these will cost you marks.
Sound familiar? While the interactive movie tag may, to some, still seem a little over the top, there's no doubting that this game is a step forward, and at the very least, a ground-breaking 3D adventure. Once playing, it's very easy to take for granted things that simply weren't possible two or three years ago: features like the spoken description of every object in every location, the movie-style sound track and the digitised actors.
Unfortunately one side of the interaction that Access hasn't been able to improve upon is the actual conversations with the other characters. It's still the age-old multiple choice format and, sadly, if the conversation doesn't go the way you want it, you need to simply start it over. This grinds after a while, especially as you're not shown what you're going to say, just the style: "humorous",
"threatening" or whatever, and the fact that some conversations are simply dead-ends. Guesswork and perseverance are something you'll need to rely on. It's not surprising that Access claims there's 50-60 hours' worth of gameplay in her'e - the minutes soon tick by trying to get the right information. But that's really a fairly minor criticism, and ignoring the fact that the plot, especially the jokes, are geared towards Americans, this is a first-class production. Besides, you're going to have to get used to the latter, with these mega-budget productions.
So why haven't we marked it? Well, basically, although we're not entirely happy with what we've got to to review, by time you read this the game should be in the shops. We figured you'd want to know whether it was worth buying or not, especially as the asking price is not cheap. What we're not happy about is the fact that our review copy requires a massive 16Mb of ram, whereas us Gold is promising the released product is only going to need 4Mb. Obviously, this could have a significant effect on the performance. As it stands the game is a little sluggish on the 16Mb 486 used for testing - a new location takes around 20 seconds to load, and the moving around in 3D mode is a one-way ticket to Flickertown Central. A warning was given on installation that the video card was too slow, but it's an Orchid Fahrenheit so what's it going to be like with a Trident? Admittedly, there is an option to change the size of the viewing window in the game, but if you need a Pentium and a super-charged (dos) graphics accelerator to get maximum picture size and a decent frame rate, I'll be disappointed. Tune in next month for an update and a rating based on the final product. Those of you with a ninja pc, should get down the shops immediately.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode