Under a Killing Moon (PC) – Retro Gaming Review
Hi, I’m Pam and I’m here to talk about
retro video games. I am a self-professed fan of FMV or Full Motion
Video games. I’ve reviewed a number of them on this channel, but none of them were that
good. So, it’s time to review one that I think is actually a good game rather than
just an interesting relic of gaming’s past. It’s Under a Killing Moon.
Under a Killing Moon was developed by Access Software and released for PC in 1994. It is
an FMV adventure game where you play the private investigator Tex Murphy who unwittingly gets
involved in stopping the crusade of a dangerous cult.
Right from the start the game has gravitas due in large part to the voice of James Earl
Jones, as the big PI in the sky, who bemoans that Tex is next in line to save
the world, and quotes some Poe for good measure. As we first meet Tex, he tells us that the
year is 2042. Nukes used in World War 3 had split the population into 2 classes – mutants,
who were affected by the radiation, and norms, who escaped unscathed. Tensions between the
two groups are rising. And Tex, well he’s down on his luck. Broke, hungover, jobless,
his first goal, and yours, is find a new case. As soon as you gain control of Tex, it’s
clear that this is not your typical adventure FMV game. While most FMV games around this
time, like Night Trap, Phantasmagoria, or Gabriel Knight 2, use set background that
can only be viewed from one angle, under a Killing Moon lets you roam around a 3d environment
in first person view. While in 2017 the textures leave something to be desired, it looked pretty
amazing in 1994. Especially, as this insert from the box will
tell you, if you had 16 Mb of Random Access Memory… Memory.
Moving through the world does feel a little awkward now, you move with your mouse (tip:
turn sensitivity way down) and look up and down with the arrow keys, or adjust your eye
level with shift and control. This isn’t the most usable layout and takes a little
getting used to. However, there are ways to get around having to move a lot in most areas
as the game features a great fast travel system that can take you where you want to go.
I’m a big fan of the game’s interface. While movement mode is done in full screen,
pressing space to switch to investigation mode changes things up considerably. Your
current view is in the top left, where you can interact with objects and people on the
screen with captions for dialogue underneath. You can see your inventory, or topics of conversation
in the top right, and commands in the bottom right. Everything you need is easily viewable
and accessible. So, while Under a Killing Moon touts itself
as an Interactive movie and there are certainly an abundance of cutscenes, there is also a
lot more player interaction and actual gameplay than a lot of other FMV games.
It doesn’t take long to find Tex a case – Rook’s Pawnshop has been robbed and a
pricey bracelet stolen. You have to look for physical evidence and question the people
of Chandler Avenue to crack the case. The residents include Chelsea, the streetwise
owner of the newsstand who always has the inside scoop, and Clint, who lives in a dumpster
and is nursing a wicked chocolate addiction. Once you’ve found enough information about
your culprit, you can plug it into your CrimeLink computer, a cool idea that is sadly never
used again, and set up a trap for the perpetrator. This first case really just eases you into
the game mechanics and Tex’s world. It’s on day 2 that things really open up after
Tex gets a new fax machine, which brings in a much more important and complicated case.
The vision of the future the game has is an interesting one. While there are off-Earth
saloons and flying cars, there are also fax machines and photographs that need to be developed
before you can see them. If we’re still using fax machines in 2042 I’m going to
be pissed. Tex’s new case introduces him to a wealthy
Countess who’s looking for her stolen property – a crystal statuette of a bird – much like
the one we saw being discovered by cultists in the game’s opening. Gee, I hope it won’t
be used for anything sinister (whisper: spoiler alert, it will).
It will From here, we’re off to the races. Tex has
to track down the statuette, break into a high security apartment, infiltrate a corporation
that does genetic research, and uncovers a vast and evil conspiracy which aims to wipe
out all the mutants and leave the Earth to the genetically pure.
This is why you have to punch Nazis. Tonally, the game could have been a mess.
A crusade for genetic purity is a very heavy topic. There’s an obvious influence from
40s film noire, especially those featuring hardboiled detectives, and stories full of
murder, betrayal, and femme fatales. But at the same time, it’s rather funny. Tex has
an amusing quip about every object you can examine, and every person you can talk to.
There are also a lot of puns and jokes about pop culture. From 1994. . There are some cutscenes
which are downright goofy. Somehow it all comes together with a good balance of serious
moments and comic relief. Speaking of comedy, amusement in FMV games
is often, shall we say, unintentional? Bad acting, bad writing and silly action scenes
(husband from Phantasmagoria, blood draining in Night Trap) combine in a way that’s cringe
worthy and make us laugh at it, rather than with it. Under a Killing Moon features decent
writing and competent main actors. It’s not without a certain cheese factor, but it
demonstrates a lot of self awareness. You get the feeling that when it’s being corny,
it’s doing it on purpose. While the performances of smaller characters
differ in effectiveness, the game really relies on Tex, who is played by Chris Jones. The
same Chris Jones who directed the game, designed the game, along with Aaron Conners, and was
CFO of access software. A finance executive and game designer deciding
to star in his own game, what could possibly go wrong?… Nothing. Nothing went wrong,
he did good. The cast is bolstered by some more well known
actors. Brian Keith plays Tex’s estranged mentor, the Colonel. Russell Means plays the
Chameleon, a shapeshifter who’s also after the crystal statue, and Margot Kidder plays
a bartender in a sketchy saloon Tex finds himself in.
The game’s music is fantastic and really fits the mood of the game. The intro to each
day in particular is perfect. That jazz sax. In terms of difficulty, I think the challenge
the game provides is ideal. There are inventory puzzles which are fairly straightforward.
There’s not a whole lot of moon logic here. Even when we’re orbiting the moon. There
are also puzzles like reassembling torn up notes, code cracking and guessing passwords
to get into safes. There aren’t a ton of these, but the ones available are enjoyable.
There’s only one puzzle I thought was bad, and it involved reviving someone who had been
put in stasis. You have to deliver O2, different drugs and increase temperature in the correct
order to get the revival right. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the only way
to do this is trial and error, which gets tedious.
There are also conversational puzzles. Conversation options are well done, rather than list out
exactly what Tex will say, the text option will give an idea of the attitude Tex will
display. You often need to choose the correct options in order to progress and get the information
you need, like when tricking a security systems expert into telling his secrets. Sometimes
failure isn’t a big deal, and you’ll get to try again, but sometimes it can result
in a game over, and being admonished by James Earl Jones for being foolish.
If you do get stuck, the game has a great hint system. You can get very specific, step
by step hints about what you should do next. It’s a great way to get a nudge in the right
direction without revealing the entire solution to something.
For me, the biggest source of difficulty was usually due to missing something I was supposed
to pick up. Though it never gets to the point where you need to pixel hunt, some items can
be difficult to see.
and a good adventure game. Though there could be more puzzles (and there are in the next
game in the series) the game is full of likable characters, funny quips and has an exciting
story. Tex is one of my favourite game detectives and I recommend this to any FMV or adventure
fan. This, along with all the other Tex games are available on GoG.
If you want more FMV check out my review of Phantasmagoria or if you want more cinematic
detective games, check out my review of Snatcher. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next