The Big P.I. In The Sky
MS DOS was rough stuff. Kids today are spoiled with their OS Warp and their Long Horn. Yet sure as rain I still remember plenty of my favorite DOS commands as though it were yesterday, the same as most folks who once treasured their 386 or 486. Monkey.exe, can't forget typing that in. Wolf3d.exe was a good one. Vikings.exe, sure. However my favorite words to type into that foreboding monochrome prompt had to have been moon.exe. As soon that golden Access Software logo started spinning around you couldn't wipe the grin off my face even if you smacked me upside the head with a crowbar. Or a convincing Inspector Burns costume.
Under A Killing Moon got less than favorable reviews on the whole back when it was released in 1994. Although it's been a few years since I've taken the title for a proper spin due to incompatibilities with my current setup, I'm left with the memory of one of the most engrossing, well written, funny, interesting and atmospheric games of it's time. A futuristic noir adventure where you play a private detective down on his luck in post World War III San Francisco? And it's full of great dialogue, an amazing lead character, a 3D world to explore, humor, suspense, interrogation and clues, plus plenty of great puzzles to push the mystery along? The whole thing works much more often than it should on many different levels considering the era it was created. If you can forgive a few shortcomings and B-movie tendancies, UAKM will almost certainly secure a place in your list of classic Adventure games.
Sure the acting got rough in places, but usually with amusing results. The actors were, after all, Access employees for the most part. Ardo Newpop for instance, bless his slow soul, is so bad he steals every scene he's in. Thankfully Chris Jones, the co-creator of the game and Tex Murphy himself, is instantly likable and believable - the memorable character he creates is unquestionably the heart of the game and it still holds up today. For this and other reasons, UAKM was an example that FMV games could work if done right. The technology completely added to the experience and made the universe come alive with personality.
A key to any great adventure game is the dialouge, and UAKM has some great breanching conversations with interesting characters. Technical limitations keep things rough around the edges but if you can look past the glitches and awkward pauses you'll have few complaints with the overall experience. The story is well paced, enjoyable and epic while remaining wholly original throughout. The control scheme combines first person movement with the hallmarks of point and click adventures - it feels very natural for the genre and the UI is pretty fun to use, if a bit excessive. Music is varied, well composed and appropriate even if it is a MIDI soundtrack.
Tex can always interact with or comment on a good deal of his surroundings, and the challenging puzzles are memorable and well implemented inside impressive (for it's time) 3d environments. Some pixel hunting is required, but no more than other Adventures, and a built in hint system is always there as a safety net. And the chapter screens.. the swell of the sax, oh man.. gives me shivers just thinking about it. It's woth noting that James Earl Jones plays God, and when you die he tells you why you just messed up before sending you back to earth. That's always a plus in any game.
The slightly more popular sequel Pandora Directive took the fledgling series to a new level, no doubt. The acting improved, the storytelling was tighter and more polished, most everything great about its predecessor was in there as well. But there's still something magic about Under a Killing Moon, the risks the developers took to try and create a cinematic experience and it's surprising success, technological and financial limitations be damned. It almost feels like an indie game, a group of friends with a dream and a greenscreen. Tex Murphy is a still a great character, maybe one of the most underrated game heroes of all time, and it's sad that his legacy seems to be gone forever at this point now that Access has been swallowed up and their IP's shelved. Overseer was supposed to be the start of a whole new direction for the series but as it stands, Polarity, Trance and Chance will forever be unrealized save for inside the minds of Aaron Conners and Chris Jones. For shame, Microsoft, for shame.