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"Look, prophecies aren't in my job description OK? I'm just a humble PI trying to save the world as we know it."
In 1989, Access Software developed and published Mean Streets, a noir adventure thriller for several different platforms. The game starred Tex Murphy, who represented the epitome of an old-fashioned, black-and-white noir private detective.
Access would go on to make five games; The sequel to Mean Streets, Martian Memorandum (1991), was released strictly for the IBM PC and was not terribly revolutionary. The third game, Under a Killing Moon(1994), was a whole different ball game: it introduced a 3D virtual world and made extensive use of full motion video cutscenes. The fourth game, The Pandora Directive (1996), included the same system and was Access' most ambitious effort. Number five, Overseer (1998),was essentially a replay of Mean Streets, but brought into the modern video game era with Access' usual movie work.
Tex Murphy's setting is a post-apocalyptic America after World War III. Tex, a gritty Private Detective who lives in San Francisco, is genetically resistant to the effects of radiation but lives amongst numerous mutants. He tries to tiptoe along the dangerous fault lines between the world of the mutants and the world of the "norms".
The plots of the five games can generally be summarized thusly: Tex is down on his luck, has no money and is largely reduced to eating dog food. A client appears and offers him a relatively simple job: Find a MacGuffin, track down my friend, etc. In the course of his investigations, Tex discovers that he is a pawn in a plot to bring about The End of the World as We Know It. He then saves the world, making sardonic quips along the way.
The final three games were, as mentioned, notable for their "interactive movie" quality. They featured solid writing, sharp acting and some surprising celebrity appearances. (Russell Means, Margot Kidder, James Earl Jones, Barry Corbin, Tanya Roberts, John Agar, Michael York, Richard Norton, Joe Estevez, Brian Keith and Clint Howard)
At least two additional games were planned, but they were spiked when Microsoft bought Access in 1998 and sold it to Take Two Interactive. Take Two eventually shut down Access, apparently killing the Tex Murphy franchise. However, the original developers have since formed Big Finish Games, acquired the rights to the series, and teased fans with the announcement of "Secret Project Fedora". After years of speculation they finally confirmed that Fedora is indeed a new Tex Murphy game, scheduled for release in late 2012. There's currently a Kickstarter project in place to help raise preorder funds for it.
In the meantime, you can get the Tex Murphy games at GOG.com.
These games contain examples of:
- Affectionate Parody: Every plot element from old-school, black and white, noir private eye films are lovingly re-created and mocked.
- After the End
- All There in the Manual: The first game, Mean Streets, is near-impossible without the leads first outlined in the manual.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Brotherhood in Under A Killing Moon.
- Anti-Villain: J. Saint Gideon who is also a Magnificent Bastard
- Apocalypse How: A Class 4, biosphere extinction, is prepared by the Ancient Conspiracy in Under A Killing Moon.
- Arrogant Kung Fu Guy: "Big Jim" Slade in Tex Murphy: Overseer as played by Australian-born martial artist Richard Norton.
- Batman Cold Open: The first day of Under A Killing Moon involves Tex catching a serial burglar with no connection to the main plot of the game.
- Blah Blah Blah: Used as a dialogue option in Martian Memorandum.
- Big Bad: Under A Killing Moon: Lowell Percival, The Pandora Directive: Jackson Cross and Regan Madsen, Overseer: John Klaus
- Big Good: The Big P.I. In the Sky, played by James Earl Jones. Steers fate in Tex's favour during the events of Under A Killing Moon, and berates him during the Have a Nice Death sequences.
- Bittersweet Ending: Most games. Under A Killing Moon ends with Tex right back where he started, financially and romantically. The normal ending of Pandora Directive likewise, as opposed to the (canonical) happy ending and (jerkass) bad ending.
- Brain Food: Fresh off the grill at the Brew & Stew.
- Chess Motifs: Pops up everywhere in Overseer. Both John Klaus and J. Saint Gideon are avid chess players, though only Gideon goes as far as to decorate his entire mansion with chess motifs and use chess-related code names for each aspect of the STG Project
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Near the end of Overseer where "Big Jim" Slade betrays and kills his employer Dr John Klaus.
- Cliff Hanger: The end of Tex Murphy: Overseer where Tex's speeder is stolen and he and Chelsee get a ride from a stranger who, after a few moments of pleasant conversation...turns around and shoots them!
- The radio theater sequel reveals that Tex and Chelsee survived, but got wrapped up in a conspiracy, which also ended on a cliffhanger. D'oh!
- Crapsack World: Post-apocalyptic San Francisco ain't a pleasant place.
- The cause for this is revealed in TPD as the US military using untested Imported Alien Phlebotinum to blow up a Middle-Eastern country, which results in WWIII.
- Creator Provincialism: While Tex himself is firmly based in San Francisco, mentions of Utah pop up with unlikely frequency (Access Software is based in Salt Lake City).
- Da Chief: Mac Mulden comes off as this.
Mac: You seem to have a habit of forgetting that I'm a cop. And right now I'm a tired, pissed-off cop.
- Duel to the Death: Tex vs. NSA Agent Dag Horton posing as The Black Arrow Killer
- Deadpan Snarker
- Dialogue Tree: In Martian Memorandum, only one path in the whole tree is useful. Don't worry, you get multiple tries.
- Dismantled MacGuffin: The Pandora Directive.
- Distressed Damsel: Emily Sue Patterson in TPD and Sylvia Linsky in Overseer
- Driven to Suicide: The fate of Carl Linsky, though as with most of Tex's cases, there's more to it than it seems.
- Fantastic Racism: Allegedly there's no longer any discrimination against races. Genetic discrimination against mutants has taken its place, however, and is a recurring theme throughout the series.
- Film Noir
- Flying Car: All over the place. Tex has a really cool one.
- Fun with Acronyms: NSA now stands for National Surveillance Agency.
- And much more blatantly, C.A.P.R.I.C.O.R.N.
- Government Conspiracy: The entire plot of The Pandora Directive began with the supposed UFO crash at Roswell in 1947.
- Grumpy Old Man: Rook Garner, a crusty old WWIII vet with a face like a raisin and a tongue like a butcher's cleaver.
- Hammerspace: Being an adventure game character Tex often carries items that are either too large or too plentiful to keep on his person. Lampshaded in one short cinematic from TPD when Tex pulls a 10ft bamboo pole out of his trenchcoat pocket.
- Hardboiled Detective: Tex, obviously.
- Hidden Depths: Gordon Fitzpatrick turns out to be a partial alien.
- Jerkass: The player can make Tex a glaring example of this if he chooses the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" path in The Pandora Directive.
- Karma Meter: A big part of TPD.
- Laser Hallway: Tex has to navigate through lasers on a hoverboard in Big Dick Castro's vault. It's less fun than it sounds.
- Limited Wardrobe: The classic depiction of Tex (established in Under A Killing Moon) is that his entire wardrobe consists of a dress shirt and tie, pants, overcoat, Fedora hat and sneakers.
- MacGyvering: Combining random items into whatever crude instrument required to advance past a given obstacle is an absolute necessity in these games.
- MacGuffin: The bird statuette in Under a Killing Moon.
- MacGuffin Delivery Service: The end of The Pandora Directive.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot:
- Mean Streets and Overseer: Investigating a suicide leads to stopping a Well-Intentioned Extremist and a corrupt political party from taking control of global politics.
- Martian Memorandum: A kidnapping leads to preventing a madman from destroying Mars by unwittingly unleashing a Sealed Evil in a Can.
- Under A Killing Moon: An art theft leads to thwarting an Ancient Conspiracy planning to wipe out all life on Earth.
- Pandora Directive: Tracking down a missing person leads to a race to recover functional alien technology before it falls into the hands of evil government agents.
- Multiple Endings: The Pandora Directive was said to have eight endings. In reality there are six unique endings with two being recycled for different paths.
- Novelization: Two novels were written based on TPD and Ua KM.
- Odd Job Gods: In UAKM (and some endings of TPD where Tex dies) there is The Big P.I in the Sky, the God of Private Investigators played by James Earl Jones.
- At the beginning of UAKM, this god hilariously bemoans that all the great private investigators of the past have died of old age, meaning they're stuck with Murphy instead. James Earl Jones knows funny, people.
- One-Man Army: Tex single-handedly saves the world in UAKM and TPD.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: "Tex" is a nickname that he receives as a kid after crashing through the ceiling with the hole looking exactly like the state of Texas. His real name is rarely, if ever, used.
- Pixel Hunt: Occasionally necessary, particularly in UAKM, where the pixelated graphics of garbage on the floor are difficult to tell apart from objects you're supposed to get.
- Private Eye Monologue: Done straight on many occasions. Also parodied on many occasions.
- Relationship Values: Utilized to a small extent in The Pandora Directive. Your actions and conversational choices help decide whether Tex ends up with Chelsee or Regan.
- Roswell That Ends Well: The catalyst of The Pandora Directive.
- Self-Parody: One of the series' main charms is that it doesn't take itself seriously at all.
- Shapeshifter Swan Song: The end of Under a Killing Moon.
- Shout-Out: A trenchcoat-wearing detective in a dystopian, near-future city in California, with monolithic buildings and flying cars? This seems familiar...
- Shut UP, Hannibal: An unusual case where this is delivered retroactively: In Overseer, once Tex is done telling the story in flashbacks, he comments how the game's Well-Intentioned Extremist "was probably right". Chelsea's response: ""NO. HE. WASN'T. You were!"
- Technology Marches On: Laserdiscs, VHS Cassettes, and Fax machines aren't as ubiquitous today, a mere 10-20 years later. There's no way you'd expect a VHS or laserdisc player in the board room of a research company, and not having a cellular phone is far more debilitating than not having a fax machine.
- The End of the World as We Know It: In both Under A Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive, Tex has to prevent this.
- The Future Is Noir
- The Obi-Wan: "Colonel" Dobbs who taught Tex most of what he knows about being a private investigator.
- The Only One: Tex is a textbook case. Unfortunately, his enemies tend to notice this quality about him, frequently resulting in him being turned into an Unwitting Pawn. Tex manages to clean up his own messes in the end, though.
- The Vamp: Regan Madsen
- Time Bomb: In Overseer Tex must remove an implant from his skull before it kills him. Of course the plot requires that you remove it anyway(the entire game is a flashback, after all) so there's no danger of Tex dying permanently.
- Trial and Error Gameplay: The cryo tank puzzle at the end of Under A Killing Moon is this. In a hilarious subversion, Tex will complain to the Great PI In The Sky during the Have a Nice Death sequence how unfair it is, and then receive a second chance without needing to reload a save game.
- Unwitting Pawn: Tex Murphy, Once Per Episode.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: J. Saint Gideon plans to implant mind-control devices into the world leaders in order to speed up the peace process. If the program wasn't so easy to misuse for controlling the global population - and so likely to fall into evil hands - Tex might've supported Gideon.
- With This Herring: Largely averted. Tex's clients don't exactly overwhelm him with aid when they enlist his services, but they usually pay him a nice retainer and give him solid leads to begin the case.
- Although in The Pandora Directive Tex is so far in debt to various people and businesses in his neighborhood that simply paying them back so they'll talk to him eats significantly into his retainer.
- In Mean Streets, there are plenty of false leads. One location even lampshades this with the suspect eating a red herring.