The year is 2042. The San Francisco of the future is a dark and dangerous place to live. The evening skies are ruby red thanks to high levels of radiation. Many areas of the once beautiful city are no longer accessible. Wars have ravaged the face of the entire planet. Falling victim to radiation, many people have suffered horrible genetic mutations. Called norms, some lucky people show natural immunity to these mutations. Private investigator Tex Murphy is one of them. But he refuses to live in New San Francisco with the majority of the norms.
Detective Murphy would rather identify himself with the mutants. Down on his luck, miserably broke, and without any cases to investigate, Tex has pretty much hit rock bottom. He fits better among the mutants, the other outcasts of society. Despite his remarkable success in the Martian Memorandum case, things have not been the same for Murphy after he separated from his wife. Alone and depressed, Tex is beginning to wonder just how much worse things are going to get. Yet a meeting with his old mentor might change everything.
Tex’s old instructor shows up at the detective’s office with grim news. Colonel is working on an exceptionally dangerous case and he has somehow heard Murphy’s name in connection to it. The old man warns Tex to stay out of the investigation if he wants to stay alive. Of course the talented private investigator Tex Murphy is deeply insulted by this underestimation of his detective skills. Murphy resolves himself to find a client before the end of the day. He wants to put an end to his bad luck and prove that he has what it takes to successfully crack a case. The private investigator may not know it, but he is about to get involved in a great conspiracy that may well threaten the entire world.
The game begins in Murphy’s office. Upon hitting the streets to meet the detective’s neighbors, players will quickly find a small case to investigate. Under a Killing Moon has an excellent way of giving players an immediate task they will have to overcome while dropping hints of the greater plot along the way. The initial investigation involves a simple robbery. However, as you go through Tex’s neighborhood and start discovering some evidence, you will be quickly introduced to the game’s setting and the underlying social problems in the world of 2042. When you complete the initial investigation successfully, you will be assigned another task which reveals more about the game’s greater plot.
The adventure offers quite a few twists and turns along the way to keep players interested. The simple foundations of the story laid during the first day successfully transform into a much greater adventure with a thick plot. Over the course of the six day adventure, Tex will be gradually immersed into an intricate case that threatens many lives. As he gains some success through his detective work, players will also observe a change in Murphy’s character. The detective will never lose his wisecracking tough-guy attitude. But the game somewhat subtly shows how Murphy gains an increasing sense of confidence.
The intricately weaved story is perhaps the strongest element of Under a Killing Moon. This is not a simplistic detective tale or your run of the mill ‘reluctant hero saves the world’ story. Under a Killing Moon is about what people are willing to do in the name of their belief systems. It is about the extremes prejudice can take people. Underneath the interesting science fiction setting and the solid detective story, the game has a deeper foundation. The game manages to grab your interest from the beginning and keep you playing until you reach the end of the exciting adventure.
Despite the overall serious storyline, Under a Killing Moon does have a great deal of humorous moments. Tex Murphy’s occasional clumsiness and childish behavior makes for rather interesting accidents. Yet completely at odds with his clumsy moments, the detective also demonstrates a truly astonishing accuracy with crossbows that throw suction darts. Murphy also has a number of great witty remarks throughout the game. The down-on-his-luck penniless detective with a serious attitude manages to make for an interesting and charming character to control.
Under a Killing Moon is played from a first-person perspective. The game features two modes for controlling Murphy’s actions. In the interactive mode, you can examine and pick-up objects using the mouse. This is where Murphy will access his inventory to combine items, open doors, and use inventory items on other objects. Hitting the space key on the keyboard switches the game to the movement mode. In the movement mode, players can move the mouse left and right to turn Murphy in the corresponding directions. Moving the mouse forward will make Tex start walking in the direction he is facing. Moving the mouse backward will make Tex walk backwards. While in the movement mode, players can make Tex look up or down using the arrow keys. It is also possible to make Tex crouch. Especially due to the need to switch between the interactive mode and the movement mode, it might take a few minutes for players to get used to the control structure of Under a Killing Moon. However it will not be long before you are easily navigating the environments and interacting with objects.
The first part of Under a Killing Moon mostly takes place around the neighborhood where Tex has his office. But as you get into the later chapters of the game, you will visit a number of additional locations. For instance, Tex will have to overcome a rather tough security system at an apartment building. He will also have to navigate his way through a series of offices while avoiding detection. The game spans over a fairly large area and has players visiting interesting locales around San Francisco. Travel between the different locations is accomplished through the game’s map system. Clicking on the travel button on the interface brings up a map where the currently accessible locations are labeled. Some of the locations indicated on the map will have smaller areas Tex can explore. After discovering these areas for the first time, players will be able to ask Tex to travel to them directly. Thus, the map system can be a good time saver as you get through the adventure.
The characters in Under a Killing Moon are brought to life by real actors. Between the attractive newsstand owner Chelsee Bando, the grumpy pawnshop owner Rook Garner, and the oversized fire safety enthusiast Ardo Newpop, you will encounter a host of colorful and quirky characters throughout the course of the adventure. Interaction with these characters will play a great part in your investigation. In Under a Killing Moon, dialogue works in two ways. During certain sequences, the character you are talking to will ask Tex a question or make a statement. Players will have to choose from one of the three types of available responses. While you cannot see the exact wording Tex is going to use, you can gauge where he will take the conversation from the answer options listed. Tex will also frequently get a chance to directly interrogate other characters. A list of available topics will appear on the top right corner of the screen. Players will choose one of these topics. If the other character knows anything about the topic, Tex might uncover some vital information to help with his investigation. Important clues you discover while exploring locations or conversations you have with certain characters will add new topics to your questions list.
Unfortunately, the quality of acting in Under a Killing Moon most definitely leaves something to be desired. The lines are frequently delivered rather forcefully and some of the acting feels over the top. However, the solid story and the engaging atmosphere of the game greatly diminish the problems with the acting. Once you start getting into the core story of the game, it should become easy to overlook the acting and enjoy Under a Killing Moon.
The puzzles in Under a Killing Moon are typically inventory-based. Tex will have to thoroughly examine each location and collect evidence that may give him a lead on the case. Players will also frequently have to interrogate the right people to advance the story. In general, the required items are fairly easy to spot, but a couple of them may elude you the first time you visit a location. The game also features a small number of puzzles where players will have to put together pieces of an important document. Tex will figure out the password for a couple of safes throughout the adventure as well. In addition, there are several dialogue puzzles where players will have to select the correct responses to get information out of key characters. Overall, the challenges in Under a Killing Moon are fairly easy, but a few of them can have you searching through locations multiple times or thinking for a while.
If you do have problems with the game’s puzzles, Under a Killing Moon has a great hint system to help players. Each time you uncover an important clue or successfully complete a challenge, you will earn a number of points. These points can be spent to purchase hints. The hint system offers a directory with a listing of all the important tasks players should currently be trying to accomplish. Each task is divided into a series of steps. The hint system identifies successfully completed steps with checkmarks. If you are missing one or more steps, you can purchase a hint to see the next one you can complete. Once you use the hint to complete the indicated step, you will be able to purchase another hint to help with the task.
There are a number of ways Murphy can die during his adventure in Under a Killing Moon. However, the game does typically give players a fair warning before they can perform the action that will lead to Tex’s untimely demise. For instance, if you have just broken into an apartment and Tex says he can hear bodyguards talking outside one of the doors, it stands to reason that something bad might happen if you open that door. Yet regardless of the obviousness of the decisions that might get Tex killed, players are recommended to save their progress often.
Twelve years after its original release, Under a Killing Moon remains a greatly entertaining and surprisingly playable game. The engaging story should maintain your interest throughout the course of the adventure. The game offers interesting locations, a multitude of different characters, and plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied. The acting is over the top, a couple of the hotspots are easy to miss, and it might take a while to get used to the controls. But Under a Killing Moon offers an overall excellent game play experience that more than makes up for its problems. This is a hallmark title that all fans of the adventure gaming genre should consider trying. Even though Under a Killing Moon is the third game in the Tex Murphy series, it is not even necessary to have played the previous titles. To make things even better, Under a Killing Moon can be played on a Windows XP system with the help of the MS-DOS emulator DOS-Box. If you like adventure games with a solid storyline and a focus on character interaction, and if you never had a chance to play this game, definitely consider finding yourself a copy of Under a Killing Moon.