Tex Murphy: Overseer

As far as live-action adventure games go, Tex Murphy is possibly the best of the bunch. That distinction could have been given to Overseer as well, if it were not for some technical issues that marred the final product. Simply put, you couldn’t finish the final game on any computer in its day without doing some serious surgery in the configuration files. But lets assume the game worked flawlessly on your system. What would you expect?

6Pretty much a standard Tex Murphy game, to be short. These games, along with the last Gabriel Knight adventure, take the concept of an “interactive movie” about as far as it could go with the technology of the time. Set in post-atomic-war San Francisco, the Murphy saga combines a loving homage to the hard-boiled detective classics with a science-fiction edge, projected in a noir visual style. You can roam, walk behind objects, look up, look down, and look under furniture. This kind of virtual environment is much more common in 1998 than it was in 1994, but it still smacks of technological magic.

Other qualities you’ll appreciate if you’re new to these games: the literate, snappy dialog (including the groan-worthy puns) by Aaron Conners; the easy, lived-in portrayal of Tex by Access VP Chris Jones (who is able to hold his own in the company of veteran professional actors such as Michael York and Kevin McCarthy); a rich cast of supporting characters; the sometimes-bizarre but always logical puzzles; the surprising twists and turns of the plot.

On the other hand, if you’ve been playing Tex Murphy games all along, you may well conclude that Overseer marks no advance over The Pandora Directive, and is, in some respects, inferior. The narrative is shaped as an extended flashback (Tex describing his first case to his mutant girl friend, Chelsee), and every time you get hooked by it, you hear the disembodied voices of Tex and Chelsee discussing what’s going on, reminding you that what you’re engrossed in actually happened six or seven years ago — which ultimately ruins the illusion of suspense regarding the hero’s survival.

Moreover, the story branches in so many directions, throws out so many contrived red herrings, and introduces such a burdensome number of characters, that it’s almost impossible to stay focused on the over-arching goals of the case. By the time you reach the final and winded revelations, you’ve almost forgotten why you came. The flashback structure simply cannot sustain the weight of such a convoluted plot.

1Even the puzzles display a limp, spiritless quality. There’s one hilarious bit involving a blow-up sex doll, but most of them require a dreary succession of “security passes” and “computer pass keys,” with far too much pointless travel back and forth to acquire items that could all have been found on one trip, even by someone as easily distracted as Tex. And, as much as I hate to carp on the technology, there’s nothing in this game, for all its multimedia requirements, that looks better than what we saw in Pandora. As much as Tex Murphy games are highly appreciated, one can’t help but Overseer is the black sheep of the series.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win98

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