First posted on 06 August 1999. Last updated on 21 May 2014.
Use the auto pilot. You quickly get tired of flying the speeder manually.
Take notes. Note every new location and person (navigation code) and all important keywords.
Examine and move everything you can when searching a room. This sometimes results in immediate death, but this way you are guaranteed not to miss anything important.
Check your spelling. The interface only recognizes correctly spelled full names of characters in the game.
Save early, save often!
The premise behind Mean Streets is simple. What can be better than a modern sci-fi story like Blade Runner or an old-fashioned Agatha Christy murder mystery? The answer is obvious—the two combined! Take a post nuclear war Earth, a classic detective noir, a mysterious foe, a femme fatale, and an evil plot to destroy mankind; mix the ingredients, stir, and voila, you have a fantastic adventure game called Mean Streets!
The year is 2033. Earth has survived World War III, but the radiation from the nuclear war has left most of the Earth inhabitable. A small percentage of the survivors have developed a natural immunity to the mutating gamma rays, but most of the populations have been poisoned by the radiation. They are the Mutants and are referred to as "Freaks" by the Norms.
Tex Murphy is a young private investigator, who is still wet behind the ears after just starting his own detective agency. He is a Norm who is immune to the lethal radiation. One day, a beautiful seductive lady named Sylvia Linsky walks into Tex's office offering him an unusual case. Her father Carl Linsky, a prominent professor at the University of San Francisco, has supposedly committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. Until his death, he has been working on a classified project with a company called MTC. Although a suicide note is found, the reason behind his death remains far from clear. Police investigation has turned up an eye witness to Carl's death, and this has convinced the police to close the case. Sylvia, of course, is not too happy about this. She does not believe that her father has killed himself for no apparent reason. Equally, she is not pleased about the fact that the insurance company has chosen not to pay her father's million dollar insurance, so she decides to hire Tex to uncover the truth and prove that her father's death is a "legitimate" murder. Considering Tex is now in deep financial debt, he decides to take on the case, much against his own instinct. Tex has no idea that his investigation soon uncovers much more than a simple murder. The fates of the entire mutant population and Earth itself are in imminent danger, and the only man capable of saving the world is having his usual breakfast fit only for a private dick—a cigarette!
Mean Streets uses the standard 256 color VGA graphics. It seems that the artists have not taken full advantage of this medium. Most background shots are grainy and most characters are poorly animated. Only a few digitized shots are of photographic quality. The sole highlight is the game's quasi-3D environment in where you navigate your speeder. Although the modeling of the flight simulator (your craft) is very simplistic, implementation of such a travel system is still quite a sight to see back in 1989. RealSound is a proprietary technology developed in-house that allows digitized speech and music to be played through the PC speaker without the use of a soundcard. Over time, progress in hardware has gotten better of this technology which has since faded away. Moreover, RealSound does not work at all in Windows and is known to mysteriously cause hang-ups even when running in DOS.
Akin to most of the earlier adventure titles, this game employs a text interpreter for typing in commands. All interactions are done using the keyboard without the mouse or joystick. The parser can only understand a very limited list of vocabulary and names of the game characters, so be sure to spell both commands and names correctly.
When you first start your investigation, only a few leads are open to be followed. As you progress further in the game, more leads open up in the form of navigation codes. Tex's speeder has a navigational computer. Once you enter the code of the place or person you wish to visit, the destination is automatically locked in for you. You can then fly your craft manually or let the autopilot take over. The flight simulator is very simple and easy to learn. There are only a few important keys to take control of the speeder. You can press "H" while inside your craft to bring up the help screen, where you can find the keys to use for controlling the speeder, the navigational computer, the autopilot, and calling your informants.
At times, your investigation may appear to hit a dead-end. This is when your informants can come in handy. They can usually find out locations or secret hideouts of people you need to see. In addition, your secretary Vanessa can search the archives for information, but only through strictly legal channels. Unfortunately, this makes her a limited resource to count on later in the game when you must rely more on leads obtained from Lee. Lee is a very resourceful informant, although her prices for her information are fairly high. Do not worry about the money. You find plenty of objects you can pawn for cash in the game.
There are basically 4 types of play. The first type is a simple shoot-'em-up arcade. You must advance along a long corridor and shoot down the thugs who try to stop you. Such gameplay may not fit well in an adventure title, but it is forgivable. Luckily, you can set the difficulty level to the lowest, making the fights effortless to win. This arcade play is always followed by one of 3 other types of play. The second type features the traditional searchable rooms. You find yourself in a room (most of the times with the alarm system already triggered) where you have to examine and manipulate objects you see and touch. This is here you can find valuable objects which you can later pawn to obtain cash. Sometimes you have to deactivate the alarm system in order to search for important clues. The third type is the basic interview scene. You face the interviewee to whom you can ask questions. If simple asking is not enough, an added emphasis with some money or an elegant punch in the face may prove fruitful. The fourth type is non-interactive, where you are simply given a description of the place of interest.
A common fault that can ruin an otherwise great adventure game is that the story is too linear. Fortunately, this is absolutely not the case in Mean Streets. There is no "line" in this game at al. There is no single-minded path that leads you on. There are more than 50 locations available to visit, including many nonessential ones thrown in for red herrings. If I have to characterize this game in a single word, it is be the word "unique". I have tried to find a game which I can compare with Mean Streets, but I can find none. While the game may not qualify as adventure game of the year (not even in 1989), the gripping story and the unusual game interface make this game an impossible title to forget. Apart from the few technical inadequacies, the shoot-'em-up arcade sequences may not be favored by adventure fans, even though they can be a refreshing distraction after hours of mind numbing investigation.
Mean Streets is an adventure game that every adventure fan must play, if for no other reason than to experience the beginning of the Tex Murphy saga that is among the greatest adventure game series ever created.