Publisher: Access Software
Developer: Access Software
On the successful heels of Mean Streets, Access Software released a sequel, attempting to build off their charming private investigator Tex Murphy, thrusting him into another save-the-world case filled with beautiful women, ruthless villains, and post-apocalyptic mayhem. From a technical level, they improved the game in nearly every imaginable facet. Unfortunately (but not as a direct result), the story and characters themselves take a bit of a downturn.
Gone is the pointless and cumbersome flight simulation, allowing Tex to travel to any location at will. Gone are the laughable arcade sequences with the never-ending supply of bullets and bad guys. Gone is the need to find money (which, while not difficult, was not particularly interesting either). Gone is the clunky keyboard interface with mouse support allowing more fluid gameplay. Whether these improvements were due to fan demand, a change in the market, or simply inspiration, they are applaudable. Additionally, the digitized acting is expanded (in a year when it was still not used prevalently in adventure games) to help squeeze more personality out of a series that is known for just that.
The story revolves around the kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy megalomaniac, with Tex taking the case, despite premonitions of something more serious at play. The story gradually unfolds, taking place on several locations in California, Central America, and finally Mars where humans have done some minimal colonization in the 21st century. Gameplay involves interrogating witnesses and simple puzzle-solving. In fact, simple is an understatement, given the brevity of the game (five hours in my case, without a walkthough). There is an amazingly complicated maze (in a ventilator shaft), but it thankfully can be skipped. And should you find anything else complicated in the game, there are in-game hints which give away the answer to most puzzles (with gradual hints in some cases).
While your enjoyment of this game will largely depend on taste, general consensus in the community is that Martian Memorandum is the worst in the Tex Murphy series. I believe the reason lies with the writing. Dialogue and scenery are rather drab when compared to the previous game, without the edge needed to make it stand out from the dozens of adventure games already on the market. There is very little of interest to do outside of the game’s main puzzles (in other words, no swallowing the contents of that mysterious bottle or uncovering affairs between your confidants), and there are fewer interesting ways to die. There are also no alternate solutions to give the game any replay value. At least Tex has the opportunity to get lucky with one of his witnesses shall he play his cards right, giving him the only diversion from the case at hand. I also have to give props for one puzzle involving a bra, the only kind I’ve seen outside of a Leisure Suit Larry game.
I did enjoy Martian Memorandum despite there being very little that was memorable. It is still a must for fans of the series, but should be passed up by those not intending on playing the entire Tex Murphy franchise.