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The FMV Gumshoe

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.
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About Fraser Brownone of us since 2:44 PM on 07.16.2010

Fraser Brown is that bearded, bespectacled Scotsman that covers PC gaming who is not Alasdair Duncan.

Got a splinter stuck in his hand nineteen years ago and just left it in there. True story.

He lives with this thorny burden in Edinburgh, Scotland, drinking a lot of whisky and playing a lot of video games to soothe the pain.

He has sexual feelings for strategy games, adventure games, and has been known to dabble in the murky world of MMOs.