While I hate to admit it, over the years I have realised that I lack any real skill when it comes to adventure games. I don't solve problems, I usually make them and then run away from the inevitable fire and potential dismemberment. But that has never stopped me from trying, and to this day the genre is one of my absolute favourites. There is never a time where I don't have a few adventure titles on my hard drive. Most of my first games were adventure titles, on the PC at least, like the Monkey Island series, the classic Sierra landmark games like Kings Quest and Space Quest and yes, even Leisure Suit Larry (although looking back I was clearly to young for LSL, and it probably speaks volumes about my disturbed mindset now). Now thanks to developers like Telltale I'm still able to enjoy excellent quality adventure games. With digital distribution outlets like Steam and GOG I'm also able to relive my fond memories of the old classics. However, and this is thanks to GOG specifically, it also reminded me of one adventure sub genre which I had never really invested much time in: FMV adventure games.
It wasn't that I actively avoided them or had some inexplicable deep seeded resentment towards them which could only be dealt with through extensive and expensive therapy. They just never took my interest. At the time these games had their golden age I had drawn a very definite line between the thespian enterprises I witnessed on my crappy TV or in my local cinema and games. Even then it was a silly line, and now the line has been smudged beyond recognition, but forgive me, I was an ignorant child. It didn't help that I simply didn't think they looked very good, aesthetically. FMV quality wasn't exactly the best and the characters often contrasted starkly with the CG environments. This was all despite the fact that one of my first PC games was a fantastic FMV adventure called Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective..
For those that know it I need say no more, but not everyone will have had the good taste to play it. It was more of an interactive story driven by interviews conducted by Holmes than a traditional adventure game. There were three cases, unique to the game and all were exactly the sort of thing one would expect Holmes to be involved in. Investigating was pretty simple stuff, you would interview witnesses, suspects and anyone else that could help, gather evidence in your notebook and read the paper for new clues. Nothing ground breaking, but the FMV quality was quite good and it was all FMV, so there were none of the dodgy CG sets some games were plagued with. At the end of your investigation you would go before a judge, he would ask you questions about the case and if you answered correctly then you "won". Just like British courts today! Looking back it seems a bit arbitrary and silly, as even if you had answered everything correctly and it was clear you had solved the case there was always a final question and if you were wrong that was it, you'd have to go back to investigating until you could answer it, even if you knew who committed the murder and could prove it. But at the time it didn't really bother me, I rather liked the fact that even though you had solved the crime you still had to prove it to the Judge. It made it seem a lot more immersive. But as much as I liked it, that was my one and only brief foray into FMV games. Until last year.
The wonderful bastards at GOG always seem to remind me of the classics I missed and it was no different when they released the Tex Murphy games, specifically Tex Murphy: Under A Killing Moon. Now, I was aware of the existence of said game before GOG added it, but as biased as I was when it came to FMV games I had never really taken notice. The premise should have sold me, but I was a fool. Tex Murphy is a sarcastic, bitter, somewhat sleazy, cliche of a PI which a penchant for fedora's, flasher macs and hideous white tennis shoes (they are rather comfy). He's awesome. His beat is San Francisco, but not the happy go lucky San Francisco of today, rather the radioactive, mutant ridden San Francisco of the future. The reviews were just as glowing as they had been back in the day, people still adored the game and it was on sale. I had nothing to do and I was pretty bored of playing the same sort of crap over and over again, so I decided to take a risk and get it. The risks I usually take often end in disaster, like buying a car from a homeless guy or agreeing to carry someones suitcase through customs. So imagine my surprise when buying Under A Killing Moon didn't end up with me either in a car accident or in prison for smuggling drugs and organs.
I've played few games which are such a perfect mix of self aware cliche and cleverness. It's got everything you'd expect from an adventure game, lots of dialogue, puzzles, problem solving and a good dose of kleptomania. The dialogue (and the acting) is all fairly terrible, but oh so very self aware. Every line is full cliches from film noire and detective novels but also a surprising amount of wit, Tex is hilarious and often brutally sarcastic and the other actors do a good job of being memorable. The over acting, which is rather prevalent, seems perfectly at home in Murphy's bizarre world, and it helps make the game feel more alive because the FMV really shows it's age. The case is mutilayered and has a good amount of twists and surprises, it's all well paced and the puzzles are all logical, often rather fun and most of them are easy, which is good because as I mentioned before, I'm a bit shit at these games. It's got everything one could want from an adventure title: elephant trunk-nosed snitches, dead clowns in barrels of toxic waste, the hero committing credit card fraud for shits and giggles, tennis shoes and a crusade against mutants (where the fuck are the X-Men when you need them?). Now the flood gates have opened and I grabbed Gabriel Knight 2 (I've played 1 and 3 and loved them, even if 3 was very flawed) and Phantasmagoria. I could wax poetic about these games for quite some time, but I've written enough for now.
So I ignored these games for most of my life due to the aesthetic and now that the aesthetic is terribly dated and completely out of fashion I adore them. Either I'm becoming a dirty rotten hipster or I've suffered a revelation. Regardless, if you never really got into FMV adventure games you should give them another chance, or at the very least give Under A Killing Moon a chance. I'm sure you won't regret it, and if you do, don't blame me. I'm an idiot.
I knew it was late. It wasn't that I had any real concept of time, I didn't, but I vaguely remembered chatting to a mate on Steam at 2am and that seemed like ancient history. If anyone had come across me at this ungodly hour and asked me, in that annoying, condecending way people always use when you are up late, what time it was, then I would have replied "1561". So at least I knew what year it was, at least in Shogun 2. In the back of my mind I recalled a meeting I was meant to go to in the afternoon, but that didn't really seem important in the grand scheme of things. My mundane responsabilites would have to take a back seat to my dreams of conquest.
In my role as the Daiymo of the Shimazu clan I was a pretty solid leader, perhaps even Shogun material. I rapidly expanded our territory and swiftly wiped out all of the weak clans on Kyushu but didn't stand for looting after capturing cities. I was a fair and merciful leader. Of course that all stopped when those bloody foreigners started to manipulate my weak-minded citizens. My enemies had created ports and churches which encouraged that dasterdly foreign religion known as Christianity. Before I knew it I had rebellions coming out of every perceivable orifice. "Enough is enough!" I said. I actually did say this, I stomped my foot, punched my wall and slapped my PC and yelled it loud enough so that my flatmate joined in by punching his wall. At least I think he joined in. He might have just been telling me to shut the fuck up in punch code.
It was winter and three of my provinces had rebel infestations. I had refused to lower taxes, I wouldn't train any priests and I was trying to stem the tide of religious conversions. I had a lot of rather miffed members of the JC fan club. So I did what any wise, fair and generally intolerant leader would do. I burned down the churches, I destroyed the ports and I gathered my troops and slaughetered my own people. This violent and generally unecessary crusade was rewarded with an event which sped up the conversion of my large Christian population to Shinto-Buddhism. Job done, back to domination.
As I continued on my march to Kyoto my foes did everything they could to slow down my steamroller style progress. They used small armies as bait to lure me into ambushes, during battles they always seemed to find a way to the high ground or forests where their plethora of hidden archers could rain down hell on my exhausted troops, they actually bothered to flank me (AI actually flanking!? In Total War!?), they would split up their forces to attack from all directions and attack in well thought out phases. They really were a wily bunch. But they were AI and this was still Total War, so I soon had Kyoto in my sights.
Unforuntely, our dear Shogun was of a nervous and paranoid disposition. He had got it into his head that I was about to take over Kyoto. Smart chap. Within a turn I had gone from having one almost wiped out foe to having every single clan, apart from my one ally, gunning for me. A smarter, more patient fellow would have slowed down, consolidated his forces and slowly chipped away until he created a buffer zone between his foes and Kyoto. I'm stupid. So I decided, fuck caution, I carved a straight line through my enemies towards Kyoto, ignoring everything else.
It all went rather well. That is, if "rather well" means I was cornered into a city with few defenses and surrounded by nine armies belonging to three different clans, with reinforcements on the way. I managed to hold on to the city until the battle ended. Most of my archers were dead, fleeing or out of ammunition. I frantically searched for a button that would allow me to throw dead bodies or simply piss on the invaders, but alas. Despite the losses I'll admit to a certain cockiness after such a close victory. I had another army on the way, and my one ally was sending reinforcements. I actually thought I could hold out. I would, at this point, like to reiterate something I mentioned earlier. I'm stupid.
My reinforcements were ambushed on the way, they managed to come out of the battle victorious, only to be defeated by a second army which had fled after the failed siege. The reinforcements from my ally turned back to free one of it's cities which had been conquered by a very sneaky army. I was fucked. I took a deep breath, lit a cigarette, saved the game and switched of the PC. I looked up for the first time in a while. It was 7am. I took a shower, had breakfast and made my meeting. I didn't think about Shogun 2 at all.
Now I'm venting.
The venting is now over.
Shogun 2 really is Creative Assembly at their peak. While Rome remains my personal favourite, that is as much due to the historical period as anything else. Objectively, I do feel that Shogun 2 is the best game in the entire franchise. It's quite a relief to see that, after creating the worst Total War game, they went and made the best. It's a ridiculously addictive, intuitive, smooth and pretty goregous game and I just felt like sharing my experience with it so far. Because, underneath all the strategy and warfare, it's also a game where you can craft an epic story. I think it does that better than any other Total War game and, indeed, I can think of few examples in the entire genre that do it so well.
On a slightly more serious note, despite the levity of this post's title, my heart goes out to everyone in Japan and everyone who has friends and loved ones over there.