Martian Memorandum – PC Review

As I stumbled
toward the
window,
trying to regain
my bearings in the
Rembrandtesque
shadows of my office,
I realized that
I must have slept
the entire day
away in my office
chair. Almost getting
iced will take
its toll on a person
and last night was
nearly the end of
the line for yours
truly.
The view from
my window didn’t help, either. The
San Francisco skyline was
emblazoned with a psychedelic red
that seemed like a Haight-Ashbury
leftover — not the normal washed,
ruddy hue but a thick malicious deep
red, almost the color of blood. Maybe
I’m just being superstitious, but who
knows… maybe it’s a foreshadowing
of what’s about to come?
If You’re Goin’ from San Francisco
Martian Memorandum, Access Software’s latest release, takes
the player from San Francisco (in the year 2039) to the farthest
reaches of humanity’s expansion, Mars. As private investigator Tex
Murphy (who originally appeared in the 1989 release Mean Streets),
the player must question suspect after suspect and witness after witness
in order to unravel the web of intrigue, deception and murder
which the designers have crafted. Murphy will have to deal with a
“booby-trapped” safe, thwart a man-eating snake and conquer quicksand
pits.
Over the course of his investigation, it should become obvious to
Tex that he will not only have to rescue the kidnapped daughter of
his client (Alexander Marshall, the President of Terraform Corp.), but
he will also have to recover an ancient Martian artifact that is somehow
linked to the missing girl.
Adventure Noir
As one begins Martian Memorandum, the player will find his or
her character in a dingy, 1940s-style office complete with venetian
blinds and an overhead fan. Even though the game takes place in
the year 2039, the mood, characterizations and ambience (as
created by the original music score) are set in the typical style of the
classic ’40s-era Hollywood detective movie.
Martian Memorandum is a fairly straightforward adventure game.
It has a beginning, middle and an end, as well as various ways to arrive
at each juncture. The plot holds together and the story even has
a message. One can tell that the designers spent a lot of time
developing the storyline before any programming actually took place.
Unlike other games in the adventure genre, the player does not
have to be a “nursery rhyme maven” to complete this game. In fact,
the game comes complete with an on-line context-sensitive help system.
The company claims that there should be no need for a hint
book or any desperate phone calls to tech support. To obtain a hint,
the player simply selects the HELP icon from the command bar and then clicks on the object that he or she needs help with. Players will
note that hints are given at different levels from vague to specific.
The first hint is general, subsequent hints are more detailed. If a
player wants more information, he or she re-selects the object.
Access continues to make innovations, the most notable of which
(in this outing) is Brent Erickson’s technique of retrieving mass
amounts of compressed data rapidly. He actually has developed a
technique of storing more than 24 megs of data in a 7.2-meg space
while producing restorations of saved games and screen changes
(complete with digitized sounds and graphics) instantly. The game allows
the player to visit at least 50 locations and interact with more
than a dozen non-player characters. Actors were cast, videotaped,
audio-taped and digitized to create all the characters. The sets and
artwork are phenomenal. It is obvious that many man-hours went
into the design of this product.
The Plot Beckons
Warning: This portion of the article contains specific hints on
game play. Readers who prefer to solve puzzles on their own should
avoid this section.
The command bar across the bottom of the screen allows the
player to initiate ten different actions by using mouse clicks or function
keys. As the game begins, all objects found in the office should
be inspected (using the LOOK command). The player might even
want to try to use the comlink (found in the chair). It will soon become
apparent that Tex should visit his new client, Alexander Marshall.
During that visit, the circumstances surrounding the case will
be laid out; the player’s character will be given a list of suspects to investigate
and the adventure will begin.
Players should be certain to move Tex to the far left and right of
each screen. This is required, since several screens scroll right or left
and failing to do so will keep the player from seeing the entire playing
field and hence, severely limiting the player’s ability to complete
the game.
Film for the camera may be obtained from Jocques Sparrow, the
photographer. (Note: When looking through the camera, one can find references to various Alfred Hitchcock films: North By
Northwest, Rear Window and Psycho.)
Players should make sure that they give the rose from the gift shop
to Rhonda Foxworth some time during the date at the restaurant.
(She will be much nicer after dinner is finished.)
The dagger found at the murder scene should be given to Mac Malden.
(This will be needed to lead Tex to the murderer).
After Mr. Alexander’s body is found, Tex should go back to his office
and search his safe. (What he finds will be very important.)
When in the jungle, the game should be saved often, as the
hazards are very deadly. Specifically, the quicksand sequence is very
unforgiving. One should make sure that he or she is on a stone
before stepping.
Players should make sure that they complete all the puzzles on
Earth before traveling to Mars. The addresses for many of the Martian
characters will be found on Earth. Players should think carefully
about all the items they acquire and look for references to additional
locations they may need to search.
The invisible beams in Dick Castro’s safe are not impossible to get
through, but infrared glasses can be obtained from Bradley Ericson
that will make the task much easier.
The key to the game is to get a suspect or witness to answer your
questions honestly, truthfully and completely. This is accomplished
by either talking with them in a manner that befits the situation,
giving them something that they want or passing along something
that they perceive as having value. It is also advisable to return and
speak to the characters more than once. As Tex attains certain items
and clues, the answers which may be given by the NPCs will often
change. This reviewer found it helpful to set up an information sheet
with characters’ names, what they do, who they are, what object they
give, what leads they provide and what information they divulge.

This tool will help the player to follow a logical course throughout the
game. Another sound piece of advice is to take notice of the expressions
that witnesses and suspects give as they are questioned. These
expressions provide clues as to a character’s veracity.
Closing the Case
The on-line help system was really appreciated. Not having to purchase
a hint book or frantically call tech support (at the player’s expense)
to finish the game is a welcome marvel. Perhaps the onscreen
hints could be rated (i.e. first level, second level and third
level), thus more clearly providing the player with an option of how
far to pursue the hint.
The game allows the player to select sound and music devices
separately. Using the Roland MT-32 for music and RealSound for the
speech/sound effects was found to be the most consistent. Overall, it
provided a spectacular outcome. Unfortunately, this combination did
produce, on occasion, music that was so loud and overpowering that
the speech/RealSound was indecipherable. When using the AdLib as
the speech/sound device, this reviewer found unreliable results.
Some characters sounded spectacular, while others were muffled and
barely audible.
The yellow background text, used from time to time to establish
the storyline, was very difficult to read. The player is encouraged,
however, to read the text throughout the game, as the humor will provide
many a chuckle. [Note: Access is encouraged to hire a
proofreader for reasons that will become increasingly obvious to the
players as they move through the game.]
Martian Memorandum produces hours of enjoyment, provides a
tremendous challenge and even offers an important message:
“Revere life, protect the living things and recycle.” The game offers
quite a different perspective on Mars than the red planet depicted in
the fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Ray Bradbury, but it is definitely
a planet worth visiting.

Written by: Brent

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