Full Moon in San Francisco

Developer/Publisher:  Alternative Games
Year Released:  2002

Review by Steve Ramsey (December, 2002)
First things first. There is a full moon, but there isn't really a San Francisco. It could just as easily be a full moon in New York or Toronto or London or Sydney. Or Boston.

However, long before you get to the full moon you will have realised that this is a game from out of left field. Way out. If this was Boston, left field would be in Fenway Park, and we would be over the green monster, across the road and down the street.

Wherever it is, it is a game with a good heart and a sense of outrageous fun. I don't know much about its making, but it seems like the sort of game a bunch of mates after a few too many glass of red might have made. A game in which too much is never too much and everything is over the top; where a French (or any other) accent is not a good accent unless it is verging on the Pythonesque; where names like Tiana Banana and Koblin Largearrow are common place; where your pet sends you messages and you keep your clothes in the fridge; and where animated cut out characters with a primary school quality take pride of place.

It's a game in which a small town girl or boy (you get to choose) leaves home for the big smoke, for a trial job as a private investigator with the firm of Copper and Mcintosh. On your first day every one else leaves for Scotland, leaving you to solve the case of the stolen painting. A killer that lops off heads in the same neighbourhood as the robbery is bound to make things a little more interesting.

Easy does it
Needless to say, the plot and the story are far from that simple, but you can discover the intricacies for yourself. Suffice to say that it all comes together from bits and pieces quite nicely, and has a few twists in keeping with the general style of the game.

Your passage through the plot is reasonably straightforward. For the most part the game itself will prod you in the right direction. For instance, it will provide helpful little messages when you try to exit a building such as "You haven't found everything here yet", or it might tell you "you don't need to go there yet" if you attempt to visit a location unnecessarily. As well, an in-game hint system is available which will tell you your next objective if you find yourself lost as to what to do next. Only once did I think an objective lacked any real clue that it was required.

The puzzles too are fairly gentle, consisting mainly of the find and use the right item or piece of information variety, with a smattering of stand alone puzzles thrown in. There is a (generously) timed jigsaw, a colour recognition sequence, a spell code to crack, and a few computer log-ins to solve. Discrete hints are available for many and none are likely to hold you up for too long. If all else fails, you can seek a hint from the maker's on-line forum.

Which doesn't mean you won't have to carefully search locations, put together two and two, and occasionally scratch your head. It's just that the pace of the game is pretty much in keeping with the maker's objective of "having a good time with a story that is both fun and exciting".

A picture paints ...
This too is given as the reason for eschewing sophisticated graphics in favour of a basic and rudimentary look, but I think that does the graphics a slight disservice. To me the graphics were an integral part of the over the top ambience of the whole thing. Pet pop-ups, the Full Moon interactions, and the underwhelming voice acting and excessive accents would have been totally out of place in a more sophisticated graphic environment.

Speaking of which, what are these things? Unless you disable them, your pet (which you choose when you create your character) will routinely share its thoughts with you via little pop-ups at the top of the screen. As for the Full Moon interactions, clicking on this icon when it appears will result in - well, who knows! Maybe it will be a piece of personal hygiene information, or a wacky event (being sucked into a vacuum cleaner comes to mind). Very infrequently it will advance the game play.

I actually thought that these were among the least successful aspects of the game. In fact, I didn't find the game all that funny. Good fun, yes, but not always funny. I had the occasional wry smile or chuckle, but the humour mostly missed my mark.

Having said that, the overall design of the game virtually dictates that there be a relentless barrage of silly stuff, and therefore despite my feelings on the humour, I did enjoy the overtly excessive feel of the whole package. And humour of course is very much a personal thing, so what didn't work for me might well hit the spot for someone else.

Gender reassignment anyone?
I said before that you get to create your character, an aspect which I liked. I was a 27 year old female called Saffron, with a balanced characteristic profile except for an awful aim. However the manual indicated using a weapon was not necessary so I allocated no points to that characteristic. My pet dog also gave me extra perception points.

How much these characteristics influenced the game is difficult to know, and will only really be apparent if the game is replayed. However, a brief foray as a different (male) character with almost no strength resulted in my being unable to force some doors that I had managed easily with Saffron, so clearly there is some direct impact. Also, the manual says that the game will occasionally generate a "random roll" (invisible to the player) based on the characteristics you have chosen, and that this will lead to different "roads" through the game.

As well, the conversation trees are said to determine the other character's response and actions towards you. If you make a person mad by choosing a particular response, he/she will stay mad unless and until you rectify the situation. Finally, my brief foray as a male suggested several game play differences, even in the short time I played. This all suggests replayability is not only enhanced, but is almost required.

Everyone welcome
The game mechanics are as straightforward as the gameplay, and even novice players will be able to slip right in. Everything is subtitled, save for some occasional private thoughts. The music covered the spectrum from grating to suitably moody; given what I have said already what else would you expect!

You can buy stuff at the alien superstore, and some things are a must. What else you buy is up to you. At times you might wish you had something, but you seem to be able to duck back at will. You start with a randomly generated amount of money, and Mel Copper will wire you more. I bought a minimal amount of things, and money was never a problem.

You can also buy food and your character will have to eat. Sleeping will also occur, as the game is played out over several days. What day and time it is may determine which buildings you can and can't visit. A map is used to get around, once you find it. Gameplay is punctuated by cut scenes and voice-over dialogue, as well as some on and off line research and the odd e-mail. Plus a prank or two.

You might die in the endgame, and as there is no "second chance" you will be well advised to save as you approach the finale. I don't believe you die elsewhere, but given the different roads that are possible, other actions might be fatal. The endgame, though, was the only place where I suffered such a demise.

All in all, Full Moon in San Francisco is a jaunty little frolic, which if approached in the right way will likely provide some fun. How much will probably depend on you to a greater degree than in many other games. I wanted to like it more, but enjoyed it enough to play it again, after a break and probably with one of my daughters (Clare in particular will like the pet pop-ups). It had modest and admirable aspirations and all up I thought it generally lived up to them. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98, Me, NT, 2000 or XP, Pentium II 300 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 16 MB video card, 12x CD ROM, 350 MB disc space, 600 x 800 resolution, 16 bit colour