It is the San Francisco of the future. Speeders fly across high-rise buildings. The bright lights of the city defy the nighttime sky. It is a city that lives despite the destruction of the war. It is the home of Tex Murphy, a penniless private investigator with a lot of attitude and a penchant for getting himself into trouble. But sleeping in his bed, Tex is far from finding rest and relaxation on this brilliant San Francisco evening.
Visions of the past haunt Tex Murphy in his dreams. Death at the Golden Gate Bridge… A man suffering from intolerable pain… Tex cannot find release from the memories of a time long past. Shaken and drenched in sweat, the private investigator wakes up to the sound of his video phone.
Chelsee is calling to remind Tex of their date. As usual, the tardy detective is running miserable late. Tex hurries over to Chelsee’s apartment. Settling down for some drinks, the couple starts a difficult conversation about their relationship. Chelsee confronts Tex about his past relationship with a woman called Sylvia. Before Chelsee and Tex can move forward as a couple, the detective has to come clean and explain what really happened and why he still has a hard time getting over Sylvia.
It is time for Tex to open up and tell Chelsee about his early days a private investigator. This will not be an easy evening for Murphy. Old memories seem to have a way of coming after him tonight. But sometimes in remembrance, one can find relief. Perhaps sharing the story with Chelsee will help Tex let go of his burdens.
As Tex begins his tale, we are taken back several years. Tex has just opened his own office as a private investigator. The furniture, the filing cabinets, the fancy phone, and the fax machine are all in place. Finding clients on the other hand is a whole different matter. Worried about the success and profitability of his business, Tex is trying his best to pass the time as he waits for a client.
Quite unexpectedly, a striking young lady appears at Tex’s office. Introducing herself as Sylvia Linsky, she expresses her interest in hiring the detective. Sylvia has recently lost her father Carl Linsky. The police have concluded that the scientist has killed himself by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet Sylvia is not buying this story. She is convinced there is something else going on behind the scenes.
Tex is initially reluctant to take on the case. He doubts there will be much more to uncover. Once he starts gathering information however, Tex will find himself in the midst of a great mystery. The investigation of what seems to be a simple suicide case leads Murphy to a daunting conspiracy. Between top secret research projects, cryptic clues, and extremely dangerous characters, Tex will need every ounce of his detective instincts to uncover the truth. The path is filled with dangers and the things are never as they seem. But Tex cannot afford to fail. There is much more at stake than what the private investigator realizes.
The intriguing plot is without a doubt among the greatest assets of Tex Murphy: Overseer. The investigation takes players to the early days in Tex’s career. At the outset of the game, the aspiring detective is full of hope and optimism. He does not yet carry the burden of years spent chasing criminals. The business may not be exactly at the level Tex wants it to be, but the detective is not about to give up on his dream. But things change as Murphy investigates Carl Linsky’s death. Tex witnesses events and uncovers facts that will change him forever. Perhaps the experience leaves the detective better equipped to handle future cases. But it also alters his outlook on life.
On one hand, Overseer is about an intricate conspiracy that involves many different factions. Between many different characters trying to guard their own interests, it is hard to know who can really be trusted. The escalation of events and the evolution of the investigation are expertly handled. Yet on the other hand, there is a much more personal side to the story. Overseer is about how Murphy became the sort of character he is in Under a Killing Moon and Pandora Directive. Sure, his tough-guy attitude and unabashed interest in any attractive woman seems to have been with the detective since day one. But events of Overseer are in a large way responsible for turning Tex Murphy into the kind of man he is in the earlier games of the series.
As the story progresses, the atmosphere shifts to create a more profound experience. There is always a sense of urgency and a desire to find the truth. The game fills players with questions, compelling them to unlock the mystery and reach the ending. There intense moments where you know that Murphy is in grave danger. One wrong move can be fatal. But there is also plenty of humor in Murphy’s sarcastic remarks or ever-insightful descriptions. And then there is a touch of sorrow as Murphy bears witness to tragic events. Throughout the course of the adventure, Overseer manages to maintain the thrill of a detective novel. But there is also an emotional aspect of the game that accentuates and enhances the experience.
Tex conducts his investigation in two primary ways. He either explores various locations for clues or interrogates other characters for any kind of useful information. During the early parts of the game there is somewhat of a heavier focus on the interrogations. Conversations with other characters are handled in two ways. Occasionally, players will be asked to respond to an event or remark by choosing an option from a list. Sometimes the list might include hints about the direction Murphy will take the conversation. At other times, players will be able to instruct Tex to perform specific actions during a cut scene. In many cases, your choices will not alter the ultimate result of the scene. You will simply have a chance to explore different paths of a conversation. But at other times, your decisions might be critical in determining whether or not Tex will be able to obtain information or even survive the scene.
One minor issue with this conversation structure is that players do not get to see exactly what Tex is going to say before selecting an option. While the game offers a short description as to the direction Tex will take the conversation, a little more information would have been helpful in eliminating unnecessary guesswork. Without some experimentation, it is also impossible to know if attempting a certain action during a cut scene will result in Murphy’s untimely demise. Fortunately, the descriptions are typically clear enough to give players a pretty good idea as to what Tex might say or do. Players are also allowed to save during these sequences so going back and selecting a different option is easy.
The second type of dialogue features more of a direct interrogation style. Tex’s notepad appears on the bottom right corner of the screen with a list of available topics. By selecting topics, players can find out whether or not the other character has any valuable information to provide. Once you discuss a topic with a certain character, it gets marked with a red checkmark. Thus, if you come back and talk to the same character again, you don’t have to worry about remembering which questions you had already asked. As characters provide you information, new conversation topics become available. Topics will also appear as Tex uncovers important clues while carefully examining various locations. As such, players are encouraged to revisit characters frequently and ask everyone all the available questions.
The characters in Tex Murphy: Overseer are brought to life by real actors. Throughout the course of the adventure, you will run into a wide variety of characters. From the chronically irritable police chief Eve Clements to the excessively helpful Delores Lightbody, the cast has a number of interesting characters. You will try to squeeze information out of corporate executives while trying to stay away from a notorious serial killer and trying to figure out the real motives of your client. The acting is not always stellar, the occasional line seems to be forced; some of the facial expressions are overdone. However, the overall performance of the actors remains sufficiently convincing throughout the game and perhaps even makes the game more immersive. Michael York’s portrayal of J. Saint Gideon is especially noteworthy as the actor successfully captures the complexity of his character.
When Tex is not talking to other characters, he will be visiting numerous locations and looking for clues that might provide leads on his investigation. Players will control Tex from a first-person perspective. By default, the arrow keys are used to move Tex around each location. Players can also make Tex crouch, look up, or look down. Since all the items are not conveniently located at the eye level, players will have to look at every corner of each location to make sure they have not missed anything. The navigation interface is intuitive and works smoothly. Players should hopefully not have any problems moving around the environments while conducting their investigations.
The mouse cursor changes into a cross when you bring it over an interactive object. Clicking on the object will open up a context-sensitive list of command icons. Tex will give you a description of the object if you click on the magnifying glass icon. If you are looking at electronic equipment, you might see an icon that will get Tex to operate the device. You will also have separate icons to pick-up items or open objects such as drawers, doors, or cabinets.
Dragging the mouse to the right side of the screen will open up the inventory. Here you can examine or combine items. If you select an item and click on an object in the environment, Tex will attempt to use the inventory item. In order to travel between locations, you can bring the mouse to the left side of the screen. A list of available destinations will be presented. Selecting an option and clicking on the ‘Go’ button is all that is needed to transfer Tex to a different location. Finally, moving the mouse to the top part of the screen will give you access to the game’s main menu. Here you can save your progress, access Overseer’s hint system, or change the game’s configuration.
Tex’s adventure in Overseer takes him to a variety of locations around San Francisco. Players will get to explore office buildings, abandoned warehouses, and a number of high-tech labs. Leaving the cityscapes, players will also have a chance to explore Anasazi ruins. Especially during the later parts of the game where the focus is more on exploration, the environments should keep players interested. The final portion of the game in particular offers a somewhat unexpected but welcome change of scenery.
Overseer is quite rich in puzzles. At each location players will find a number of important clues and inventory items. The game offers a good deal of inventory-based puzzles. As long as you have the correct items, these puzzles should be fairly simple and straightforward. The item combinations should not present too much of a challenge. However, actually locating certain inventory items might prove to be a bit difficult. While most of the objects you need to find are relatively easy to spot, there are a few items that might send you scrambling through various locations multiple times.
In addition to inventory-based puzzles, the game features a number of other challenges. There are a handful of puzzles where players have to put together the pieces of a torn object or document. Tex will also have to solve a few scrambled word puzzles, figure out a way to decode certain documents, and learn a thing or two about Anasazi religion. The game will put your ability to work with different time zones to test. Some basic understanding of chess may not hurt either. There is also one sound-based puzzle. If you are having trouble understanding how to operate a certain puzzle, hitting the F1 button will provide you instructions. A few of the puzzles do have to be solved within a time limit. However, the game lets players try again immediately if you fail to solve the puzzle within the allotted time. In addition, the time limits are usually on the generous side. As such, players should be able to overcome these challenges without too much frustration. The wide variety of puzzles featured in Overseer should be enough to keep players busy for quite a while.
It is worth noting that there are quite a number of ways in which Murphy can die in Overseer. As such, players would be well-advised to save frequently. On the plus side however, it is usually easy to tell when Tex is about to find himself in a dangerous situation, which might help you remember to save. Given the storyline, it also makes sense that Tex would find himself in life-threatening situations during the investigation. If you are breaking into places without permission, making some effort to hide from a guard or trying not to leave any traces behind seems logical. Sometimes, players will be given a chance to immediately try the section again if Tex dies. Unfortunately, this feature is not always consistent. Sometimes players will have no choice but to resume the adventure from a saved game.
At the beginning of the game, players have the option to choose between the ‘Entertainment’ mode and the ‘Gamer’ mode. If you are more interested in getting through the storyline and want to complete the game at a casual pace, ‘Entertainment’ might be the better option. In this mode, players have access to the game’s built-in hint system. It is also possible to skip puzzles altogether. If you choose the ‘Gamer’ mode, the hints are not accessible. Players do have the option to switch from the ‘Gamer’ mode to the ‘Entertainment’ mode during the game. However, once you make the change, you cannot go back to the ‘Gamer’ mode unless you start a new game. During puzzles, the ‘Gamer’ mode gives players a time limit. If they manage to complete the puzzles during the specified time period, players get bonus points. In terms of the storyline however, your choice will make no difference.
Overseer features a great hint system to help players that get stuck during any part of the game. Accessible from the main menu, the hints grouped into various categories. Depending on how much progress you have made throughout the game and how many tasks you have successfully accomplished, different hint topics will be available. Once you select a topic, you will see a list of the actions you already completed to accomplish the chosen task. Any actions you are yet to perform will be invisible. Players can click on the button for the next available action to obtain a hint. The hints might provide a great deal of help with various puzzles or locating inventory items. However, players should keep in mind that each time they view the hint directory or buy a hint; points are deducted from their score. By deducting points, the game discourages players from overusing the hint system.
Considering nine years have already passed since Overseer’s original release, it is especially worth noting that the game does have a cliffhanger ending. The storyline with the Carl Linsky investigation is fully completed. Players should have most if not all the answers they will seek about Sylvia’s case by the time they beat Overseer. However, the game also sets the stage for a sequel and leaves players with several new questions. With each passing year, the likelihood of a sequel to conclude the story seems to diminish. Of course there are still rumors going around about a potential sequel. Perhaps despite all the odds, one must never give up hope. Nevertheless, if you prefer games that do not leave any loose ends, Overseer may frustrate you.
Overall, Tex Murphy: Overseer is a great game with a very solid storyline, interesting characters, and a good variety of challenges. The strong elements of the game more than make up for its problems. Once you start getting into the story, Overseer is the kind of game that will not let you go until you complete it. The game does an excellent job of showing players Tex’s early days while laying a thick plot of conspiracy, mystery, and intrigue. Almost ten years after its original 1997 release, Overseer remains a highly playable and greatly entertaining adventure gaming experience. If you missed the game when it was released and if you can manage to get a hold of a copy, Overseer is most certainly worth a try.