Under a Killing Moon
First posted on 26 April 1996. Last updated on 09 May 2012.
|Tex, a hero in disguise!|
|Tex gets down to business and investigate!|
|Tex gets clues to solve the case from the resourceful Chelsee.|
|Tex ponders on the future of mankind.|
|Kidder is among the many Hollywood talents in this game.|
With the release of Under a Killing Moon, Access Software has upped the ante in the genre of adventure gaming. Making a return appearance from Martian Memorandum as a hardboiled private investigator, Tex is ready to fumble his way again to solve a conspiracy involving a secretive organization with an agenda to destroy the world. With the incorporation of live action sequences, Tex has finally come alive in the form of Chris Jones who is also the producer and designer of the game. By using a brand new graphic engine developed in-house specifically for this title, the post apocalyptic San Francisco can now be fully realized on screen. Together with a tight story and great puzzles, adventure gamers are ready to save the world in Tex style!
The year is 2042. After World War III, cities have crumbled under the massive showers of radiation. In old San Francisco, Mutants are populated among the ruins of a deserted city. Norms, who have developed natural immunity to the radiation, have cast their hatred upon these Mutants. Yet, living among the Mutants is Tex Murphy—a hardboiled, bourbon drinking, down on his luck Norm working as a private dick in this wrecked town. Hired to trace down a stolen bracelet, Tex soon fumbles his way into a more hideous scheme to commit genocide against the Mutants. You, as Tex, must uncover this evil crime by helping CAPRCION to disable the Moon Child computer and prevent the total annihilation of mankind (and save the girl, of course). Can Tex finally get his dream date with Chelsee after this heroism?
Under a Killing Moon is among the earliest attempts to develop the subgenre of interactive movie in adventure gaming. Following the success of Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum, Access Software succeeds in developing a more immersing game environment by combining live action sequences with a 3D environment within which the player is allowed to freely explore. This experience is made possible by the use of the propriety Virtual Reality Engine that has been developed in-house. It offers true 6 degree of freedom from a first person perspective when moving about in a pseudo 3D environment and interacting with various objects that lie within this virtual world. The quality of the graphics in this game is largely limited by the amount of system memory, and window screen sizes can be adjusted depending on system resources. To make the game a believable interactive movie, Access Software has acquired multiple professional Hollywood talents to play the lead roles. These include Brian Keith (The Parent Trap, The Wind and the Lion, Hardcastle and McCormick), Russell Means (The Last of the Mohicans, Natural Born Killers), Margot Kidder (Superman I, II, and III), and voice-over by James Earl Jones (Star Wars). In fact, over 30 actors and actresses have been cast for this game. The live action sequences are then digitized and laid over pre-rendered backdrops via a chromakey process. Audios are recorded in full fidelity 16-bit 22Khz digital sound and music soundtracks are recorded in MIDI format. Given the fact that Access Software is the pioneer of RealSound which allows playback of digitized speech even without a sound card, the speech playback in the game is both crisp and clear. The MIDI music is credited to the Fat Man who has also composed the music for The 7th Guest. Installation is idiot proof with a multitude of options, including subtitling. The game is also the first title to support the use of a multi-CD changer (a rarity in 1994). The support of multi-CD changer avoids the frustration of repetitive disc swapping that is a norm for this massive game. Interestingly, a printing error on the box indicates the game is shipped on only 3 CDs. Indeed, it has been the original intent of the developer to ship the game on 3 CDs, rather than the 4 CDs on which the game is actually shipped.
In Under a Killing Moon, gameplay unfolds over 7 days or chapters through 2 modes of play—"Movement Mode" to navigate around the environment and an "Interactive Mode" to interact with objects and people. While most puzzles are inventory or logic based, there are few action sequences that test the player's dexterity. The online "Hint System" is both multileveled and context sensitive, providing progressive degrees of help to the player as needed to solve the puzzles. Playing this game is a truly interactive experience. The player gets a multitude of wisecracking comments from Tex on virtually any object that can be touched. Tex's bumbling character is actually quite lovable. His sense of humor, whether intentional or not, brings delightful moments of comic relief even into the deadliest of situations. Jones must be credited for a decent performance in his amateur acting debut. Likewise, the acting and voiceover of the Hollywood cast are believable. Despite heavy advertisements that the game features a number of Hollywood stars, their guest appearances during the game are exceedingly far and few. Interaction with the game characters is via a preprogrammed dialog tree. There are 3 choices given at each branch of the dialog tree. Each choice then prompts a different response from the characters, often in humorous manners.
While there is no doubt that the majority of disk space is occupied by the large number of digital video clips, this in no way translates to a reduction in the amount of gameplay. This game is long, far exceeding the length of play found in other comparable titles. The puzzles are both logical and well integrated into the storyline. These puzzles are at most moderately difficult, since there is a complete hint system that can help the player to solve the tougher puzzles. The hint system is well built and a delight to use. The system even checks off automatically all key actions the player has already completed, thus providing periodic feedback on the game's progress. An Easy Play option also allows the player to start at the beginning of each game day, with all the inventory items and information necessary to complete the game from that point on automatically be made available.
The only imperfection of this game is technical performance. As with any graphically intensive game engine, the speed and resolution of the graphic rendering demand substantial amount of memory and system resources. Loading time for each virtual set is quite long. To the developer's credit, options to switch to smaller window sizes may allow slower systems to run the game with acceptable frame rates. The virtual world is not truly 3D. Rather, it is created by piecing multiple texture mapped flat bitmaps to create an illusion of depth. Likewise, objects are flat bitmaps that do not change perspectives when viewed from different angles.
Under a Killing Moon is truly a technological marvel in both design and production. It is a piece of well written interactive fiction that does not sacrifice on gameplay. Jones makes a decent acting debut in this title, commanding a performance that surely delights even adventure fans who are already familiar with the series.