Private Eye

Review by Jen

A game based on an actual Raymond Chandler book? How could I lose? Raymond Chandler is one of the greats in the detective novel business, if only because he was one of the first. For those of you who don't read detective fiction, Philip Marlowe, Chandler's detective, is the prototype hard-boiled private detective, later imitated by other greats such as Robert B. Parker in his line of Spenser novels (and the resultant TV show). However, I was in for a big disappointment.

When you start the game, you get a choice between the "original plot" and the "alternate plot." I guess if you're a huge Raymond Chandler fan, you wouldn't want to know the ending ahead of time. I chose "original plot" because I read all of the Philip Marlowe books about 15 or 20 years ago and forgot what they were about. I did not try the "alternate plot" and so cannot comment on any differences.

Your client, Orphamay Quest, appears in your office and asks you to look for her missing brother, Orrin, who disappeared after losing his job with an oil exploration company. You take a trip through the seamier side of Hollywood life in the 1940s, talking to police, mobsters, and would-be and has-been movie stars. You bumble into several ice-pick murder scenes and bumble right out again before the police arrive (how convenient for you!). You get kissed a lot but never succumb to the womanly wiles of the female characters, and they never seem too happy with you when you spurn them. But you're a tough guy, you can take it.

The game developers basically just sliced up the book according to venue and put various segments of the plot in each location. You get more locations as you get deeper into the story, and each location yields up one or two different scenarios. Using this method, the developers managed to keep the story pretty linear, and it felt pretty true to the original plot. The story was pretty strong in this game, being based on a classic of detective fiction, The Little Sister.

As to the gameplay, however, that is a whole 'nother story. This is really more of an interactive novel than an actual game. Basically, you click and watch, click and watch. Every once in a while, you have to make a choice from two different courses of action that you can take, but I suspect the end result is the same whichever path you choose. When you have to decide where to go next, either you get a very broad suggestion from the Philip Marlowe character or you get a phone call telling you where to go.

This game was copyrighted in 1996, and that was only two years ago, yet you have to switch your monitor to 256 colors before you can even start the game. Then, after you start, the graphics look like they only use about 16 colors. It is a cartoon-style game, and cheap on the animation sequences, like an old Japanese cartoon, where only the lips move. Some games manage to pull that off, but not this one—the drawing style is just not appealing to me, either. Some of the transition scenes are a little prettier than the main parts of the game, but their graphics were still substandard.

The music was pretty good, kind of generic period swing/jazz, but there was only one tune throughout, and the loop was not long enough. At least it didn't play the whole time. The voice acting was better than average, but there is a lot of Philip Marlowe talking, and his monotone got on my nerves after a while. The rest of the characters were just fine. I had a problem, though, that I believe was related to the CD—every time a character spoke, there was cheap-microphone hissing in the background.

Overall, quality is the element that is missing from this game. It just seems like a slap-dash effort to try to bring something to market. The whole thing only took about three hours to play because there were no red herrings or wrong moves of any kind and nothing to figure out. It was an audio book with cartoons added. It was not fun, not even a little bit. Next time, I'll just read the book. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Byron Preiss Multimedia Company
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 1996

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

486DX/66 MHz or higher
2 MB free hard disk space
SVGA graphics (256 colors with 640x480 resolution)
MPC-compatible sound card
Mouse or compatible pointing device
Windows 3.1 or later (Windows 95 compatible)

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.