Tex Murphy: Overseer

Developer/Publisher:  Access Software
Year Released:  1998

Review by Rosemary Young (March, 1998)
over.jpgI've been waiting forever for this game, right from the minute I finished The Pandora Directive, Tex Murphy's last adventure. My anticipation was acute as the release date approached, and fuel was added to the fire when it took us a few weeks to get our hands on it. In the meantime I heard a few grumbles regarding the graphics and the general behaviour of the game on some systems, so I want to say first up that I'm not complaining. I do have a few niggles, though, but as they are far outweighed by the 'good stuff' I'll get them over and done with.

Beginning with the graphics then: Are they a bit below par or, more to the point, less impressive than those in The Pandora Directive? Of course, any judgement on this aspect will only have meaning if you have played Tex's last adventure but, just for the record, they probably are less impressive. To be honest, though, I'm not even sure that I would have noticed if it wasn't drawn to my attention. In my book graphics are not top of the criteria list for judging a game, gameplay takes that esteemed position, and Overseer has plenty of this.

So I'm certainly not grumbling about the graphics, but I will note that there is a bit of disk swapping that could have been avoided, even allowing for the fact that there are five CDs. However, as with Pandora, there are also opportunities to limit this irritation. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have DVD, then Overseer comes complete with a DVD disk, and it all fits on one lonely disk in this format hence disk swapping isn't an issue. We don't have DVD, so these comments all relate to the CD version.

Another point on the debit side of the ledger, movement was jerky on my system at the optimum setting. To alleviate this I found it necessary to re-size the picture screen (there are plenty of options). There are also numerous other options available to tweak performance to suit your taste, all easily accessible from within the game.

Though movement was occasionally irritating, this was compensated for by the new movement/action system. By this I mean that Overseer does not have the separate modes for movement and actions as per Under a Killing Moon (UAKM) and Pandora. This time around these modes are integrated which allows for more control and a much smaller learning-curve. All in all, Overseer behaved very well on our Pentium 200. I had, maybe, three or four lock-ups that required a re-boot, but the quick save feature zapped me straight back into the game where I continued on my merry way. I do know, however, that some players have not been so lucky and I'd recommend a visit to the Access help line if you have any problems.

The bright and shining side
Despite the above, if you are a mystery/detective fan then you are in for a real treat with Overseer. Tex is a PI of the 21st century (although he's a hundred years or so out of phase) and, in his own words, he's a 'naive optimist'. Well, once upon a time he was a 'naive optimist', he's a bit more cynical now and this game goes some way to explaining why, as the story is told in flashback and reveals something of Tex's tormented past.

It is a first-person perspective adventure incorporating full motion video cut-sequences and, as with Pandora, there's a twisted tale to unravel as Tex relates the circumstances of his meeting with Sylvia, his much-maligned ex-wife. As for the story, I'm not going to spoil a thing. Suffice it to say that Sylvia is the damsel in distress (though she's never quite as distressed as Tex) and it all begins when she hires him to investigate the mysterious death of her father. Thereafter, it will keep you busy and keep you guessing as the boundaries of good and evil get mildly smudged towards the end.

Chris Jones once again plays the role of Tex and he'll surely accumulate a few more hearts after this one. His portrayal is perfection in my book and he is ably supported by a string of actors including Michael York, Rebecca Broussard and Suzanne Barnes as Chelsee.

Of late, the inclusion of full motion video with real actors into computer games seems to have lost favour, mainly because it is generally intrusive and unpopular. With this series Access have continued the experiment. Why? Because they actually got it right in the first place, slotting it seamlessly into the gameplay and using it to advance the plot and bring the characters to life. Once again it works very well in Overseer whilst still allowing for plenty of exploration and puzzle solving.

The puzzles and exploration
As anyone who has played UAKM or Pandora will know, the 3D environment of these adventures invites you to interact intimately with the gameworld. Here you can really step into the part and peer into cupboards and drawers to your heart's content. The options for looking up and down, crawling around, and standing on tiptoes allow you to search everywhere, from every perspective. You can look behind, under, and on top of objects, the experience is very satisfying and is heightened still more by the cursor signalling when you can open, close or pick up items, etc.

Diligent searching occupies a large proportion of this adventure, as does conversation because you'll want to learn all you can. In conversation mode there are options to choose different questions although, unlike Pandora, they don't lead you through different paths. My advice, try as many questions/responses as possible. The writing is very professional, and witty, and you'll miss a lot if you don't.

As for the puzzles and problems, Overseer once more presents a range from inventory-based adventuring puzzles to the more manipulative, abstract variety. There are numerous passcards and passwords to find plus many other items to help you out when the time comes. The more abstract puzzles are similar to those in Pandora, fitting together torn paper, etc., and there are some new ones as well. If my memory isn't playing too many tricks they are not so difficult this time, but there is one aural puzzle (recognising the tones) that gave me a lot of grief.

Once more there are a few 'real-time' sequences; a couple where you must work out a strategy so you are not caught in the act of snooping, and another where you must cross a room avoiding the moving security sensors in the floor. Although I know these may be annoying to some adventurers they are not too difficult. Just remember to save incrementally, that's how I saved my skin. And there's also a Mean Streets Arcade game, which gave me a bit of a jolt, as I'm an abysmal arcade game player. I tried, but failed to accumulate more than 10 points for this little exercise, it made no difference whether I simply watched my character get mowed down or whether I annihilated a few opponents. My hope is that adventurers are not penalised for lack of arcade skills, and that 10 points was the maximum reward no matter what.

Added extras
So you've guessed, there's a point system in Overseer, a little touch that I always appreciate. There's also two playing modes, Entertainment and Gamer, with a maximum of 1,500 points for the former and, for the latter, 4,000 points. In this instance both modes appear to have the same gameplay. I played it in Gamer mode and didn't have time to complete the game both ways, but as far as I could tell the extra points in Gamer mode are accumulated for completing puzzles within a set time frame and also by the mere fact that these puzzles are worth more.

As usual there's also an excellent hint system available in Entertainment Mode which can be disabled if the temptation is too much. So, if you are anything like me and hate that ticking clock (it's too much like school examinations) then my advice, even for experienced players, is swallow your pride if necessary, play in Entertainment mode and disable the hints.

Other goodies to mention: Overseer has the facility for a number of games to be in progress as you can save to different directories ... and you can effortlessly save as many games as you like. Also, though it is mouse controlled for manipulating objects, there is the option to use mouse or keyboard for movement. And last, but not least, there's text available for all who appreciate this facility.

Face the music and play
I can only say that, despite its minor imperfections, Overseer is well worth playing both for experienced and novice adventurers. As with Pandora, it really is an excellent game with an interesting story, lots of engrossing gameplay, and well-written, witty, and intelligent dialogue. Oh no! I'm already hanging out for the next one, I'm sure I detected a little hint that there might be another :-) rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1998. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
P133 16 MB RAM, 4X CD ROM, 640 X 280 resolution, 2 MB video RAM, 16-bit sound card, Win 95, 35 MB free hard drive space.