Saturday, 18 May 2013

Game 31: Mean Streets - Final Rating

Mean Streets was unlike any other game I've played so far for the blog, and it's for this reason more than any other that I'm not really sure what score it might end up with. I have a feeling that it will suffer the same way the Manhunter series does, being a clearly flawed yet still entertaining game. I imagine the technical advancements might push it a little higher though, so let's see whether that turns out to be the case.

Puzzles and Solvability
It’s not going to be very clear cut when rating categories for Mean Streets, as the game has contrasting sequences. The puzzles in the game can be split between finding the information you need through questioning leads, and searching for items you need through more traditional third person perspective investigations. I enjoyed both sequences, but it’s not difficult to pick them apart. The questioning sections follow a very strict format. Ask a lead about a topic. If they give you a new name or nav code, then write it down. If they’re unwilling to answer, then try bribing or threatening them. Repeat until you run out of relevant questions. That’s pretty much all there is to it.


Even failed threats usually mean you can just walk back in and try something else

The more classic adventure game sections also rely very heavily on trial and error. Move to each section of a room and use the look, get, move, open, on / off nd taste actions on each item. Continue until there are no more items left, then move on to another part of the room. What makes it even more simplistic is that 90% of “puzzles” are solved using items found within the same room, and the player has no ability to “use” any of the items they pick up. If you have the right item, it will be used at the right time, and often the player is not even informed. All of this makes the game sound very simplistic, repetitive and boring, but somehow it’s not (well, it’s not boring anyway)! I’m not even sure I can explain why, but I guess it has to do with the unfolding story, the wacky characters, the smatterings of humour, and an indescribable X factor. I can’t deny that the puzzles are pretty average though, so I have to do the right thing here.
Rating: 4


Combinations are generally hidden within arms reach of safes, which is disappointingly unchallenging

Interface and Inventory
Let’s start with the flying sequences. There really isn’t any other category to discuss this in, so I’ll deal with it here. The truth is that flying the speeder is initially a little daunting (for those of us unaccustomed to simulators anyway), but in the end it’s really quite intuitive and simplistic (there’s that word again). After a few dodgy flights, I found myself getting from one location to another (and landing) without much thought for controls. The problem is that it’s utterly, mind-numbingly boring!  The scenery is almost non-existent, and it generally involves getting yourself to an appropriately high altitude (so you don’t run into things), pointing the speeder in the right direction, pushing the throttle to the max, and then sitting back and waiting for literally minutes. In the end I decided to save my sanity and use the autopilot, and spent the time doing some other task such as looking for new music to listen to or starting the next Adventure Gamer post. From an interface point of view, there’s no problem, but I’m punishing this category for the existence of the speeder sections in the first place.


 I rarely saw this screen as I was off doing something else

The questioning sections are straight forward and the interface really can’t get in the way. The same can be said for the shooting sections, although once again they are repetitive and boring. That leaves the room investigation sections of the game, which is where the real adventuring was to be had. The interface for these parts of the game is actually pretty clunky too. I could generally do what I needed to do, but it didn’t always feel intuitive (having to press the down key to make the cursor move to the right hurt my brain) and while not having a USE action didn’t stop me from achieving my goals, it made the game far more basic than it would have been otherwise. This is where we get to my biggest issue though, which is the inability to access the inventory when not in the speeder. This was very annoying, particularly as there were quite a few times where picking up a container while in a room meant I couldn’t see what was in it until I departed the room. I had to remember to try opening everything before I picked it up or it was too late. An example of this was Big Jim Slade’s hit list, which wasn’t available to view once I’d picked up the binder. Even ignoring that issue, the inventory itself wasn’t particularly user friendly, so I can’t be very generous here either!
Rating: 4


Picking up the binder removes the hit list as an option to look at, but there's no sign that one is contained within the other

Story and Setting
As is likely obvious when reading the gameplay posts for the game, Mean Streets’ story is revealed bit by bit, with lead’s answers and notes found in rooms gradually giving the player enough information to piece together what’s really going on. Putting it all together was nowhere near as difficult as it was in the almost indecipherable Manhunter 2, but it still required being thorough and trying to understand character’s motives to progress. Some people seem to have an issue with the amount of red herrings that delayed this progress, but I personally think they added a nice realistic touch, and would likely have had a more positive effect if it wasn’t for the amount of time it took to travel to useless locations.


They're not always as obvious as this one mind you

The downside for this category is that the player is repeatedly given the same information over and over again by multitudes of leads, meaning you’re basically sifting through the same stuff hunting for something new to act on. The plot is also often contrived and corny, but it wasn’t always clear whether that was intentional or not (it certainly was in some instances but I can’t give it the benefit of the doubt all the way through). Finally, I should point out that I broke the story flow on a couple of occasions, visiting leads in an order the game wasn’t expecting. I guess the static answers given by each lead (regardless of what you already know or where you’ve gone previously) is the reason why the designers were forced to be so repetitive, making things much more linear than they initially appear. Overall, the story kept me coming back, but the implementation of it was far from perfect.
Rating: 5


It's also pretty obvious who the target audience for Mean Streets (and adventure games in general back in the 80s) was.

Sound and Graphics
Mean Steets is renowned for pushing the boundaries of technology for its time. The sound quality is reasonably high, with recorded effects and a few instances a voice. There’s not much of it though, with only occasional effects and one repeating music piece that’s at first quite catchy but tiresome after a while. The graphics are also quite advanced and the introduction of quasi-video and real life actors was a bit of a surprise for a game released in the eighties. As mentioned earlier, the outside world is also reasonably impressive for the time, but shouldn’t really be there to begin with. The room sequences are quite detailed and attractive, despite being mostly labs, but the animation quality isn’t the best. Watching Tex walk around the room is like watching a one-legged penguin trying to prove they're not inebriated. He doesn’t look the least bit comfortable, and it doesn’t resemble his fast walk towards enemies in the side on shooting sequences in the slightest. I won’t be too harsh here though as overall the game looks and sounds pretty damn good.
Rating: 6




It's not a big thing, but it also annoyed me that items I'd already picked up still appeared in the room (the metal pole leaning against the wall in this instance)

Environment and Atmosphere
Mean Streets was highly influenced by Blade Runner, yet the actual world doesn’t feel like it in the slightest. Flying my speeder around should remind me of it, but the colour scheme and the lack of any other life whatsoever mars the affect. I guess it’s too much to ask for other vehicles to be flying around, but that sure would have made things less boring. The backdrops to the questioning sections are much more convincing, bringing the San Francisco landmarks to life in a way Manhunter 2 couldn’t achieve. For the most part I felt like a detective, having to deal with many of the things a real detective would have to do. One cool feature that helped on this front was being able to call on my secretary Vanessa and my informant Lee Chin whenever I needed to find someone. As mentioned earlier, I feel the dead ends are also a plus rather than an annoying negative, and I didn’t mind them at all. The atmosphere is certainly strange, which is mostly due to the futuristic setting containing many things we now consider to be retro, as well as the oddball characters (the two-headed Larry, the obese Delores, the one-eyed Ron) and humour. It all adds up to a unique and surprising experience, despite the repetition in the gameplay elements.
Rating: 6



Their purpose was very limited, but I still really liked having Vanessa and Lee Chin just a video call away

Dialogue and Acting
There’s more dialogue in Mean Streets than any other game on the playlist so far. That’s probably a sign of things to come, so I may have to alter my posting approach if I don’t want to get bogged down for a month at a time. Given the volume and how important dialogue is in the game, it’s testament to the writers that it remains interesting for the most part. This was achieved by giving each of the characters distinctive personalities and quirks, and by injecting heaps of humour into the mix. I was consistently surprised by how funny the game was, and the completely unnecessary yet rewarding details that were incorporated make the whole thing more satisfying than it would have been otherwise. We’re not quite at the point where I can actually consider acting as part of this category, since the real life actors are really just made up of repeating, cartoonish frames. It certainly beats static images, but shouldn’t be judged the way future FMV games in the series no doubt will be. In the end I think this category is one of the game’s strengths, despite the repetition of information that occurs as a result of the game mechanics.
Rating: 6


All the characters have their own wants and fears, and the images reflect their emotional state adequately

So that's 4 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 6 + 6 which equals 31 divided by 60 equals 51.6666, which is 52 when rounded up. I'm happy to see that Mean Streets has cracked the 50 mark despite having many aspects that deserve criticism. Since I personally took a lot of enjoyment out of the experience (probably more than some of the higher rated games), I'm also going to add another mark to the score.

Did anyone out there predict 53? Hmmm....yes! In fact, we have another tie on our hands between TBD and Alfred n the Fettuc. It's time for a draw to see who wins the first Space Quest Collection (containing Space Quest 1, 2 and 3!) I'm off to the Random Number Generator. If the result is odd, then TBD wins. If it's even, then Alfred n the Fettuc wins. And the number is...4! Congratulations Alfred n the Fettuc, the prize is yours. I've got your email address, so I'll send it across. Now, what the hell is Neuromancer all about!?

100 CAPs for Lars-Erik
•    Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with free games
•    What’s Your Story Award – 20 CAPs – For answering the What’s Your Story questionnaire
•    Legend Award – 20 CAPs – For playing the game with me and finishing it without assistance
•    Sleep Deficiency Award – 10 CAPs – For correcting my Earthrise category error
•    Technical Assistance Award – 10 CAPs – For finding a solution to my screenshot issues
•    Kickstarter Award – 10 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on Kickstarter
•    Bad News Award – 5 CAPs – For informing me that I was going to have to put up with DOSBox again
•    Genius Award – 5 CAPs – For doing the obvious when I hadn’t even thought of it (checking reviews for release dates)

60 CAPs for Deimar
•    Mistress of the Dark Award – 30 CAPs – For solving my Elvira riddle, even if I didn’t realise it
•    Legend Award – 20 CAPs – For playing the game with me and finishing it without assistance
•    Mistress of the Dark Award (The Sequel) – 5 CAPs – For reminding me to include Elvira on the playlist
•    Attempted Help Award – 5 CAPs – For trying to help me with my screenshot issue

55 CAPs for Laukku
•    Death Gate Award – 30 CAPs – For solving my Death Gate riddle
•    Bloody Helpful Award – 10 CAPs – For alerting me to the fact I could check game files for release dates
•    Police Quest 2...no...1 Award – 10 CAPs – For alerting me to my complete stuff-up
•    Attempted Technical Assistance Award – 5 CAPs – For trying to help me with my screenshot issue

45 CAPs for Ilmari
•    Legend Award – 20 CAPs – For playing the game with me and finishing it without assistance
•    Bug Alert Award – 10 CAPs – For alerting me of potential item disappearance bugs
•    Les Manley Appreciation Award – 5 CAPs – For reminding me to include Les Manley on the playlist
•    Serious / Silly Evaluation Award – 5 CAPs – For categorising the playlist into Canageek’s language
•    Schimming Correction Award – 5 CAPs – For correcting my error...twice

30 CAPs for Canageek
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on GOG
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on Steam
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on Steam
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on Steam
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on Steam
•    Serenity Denialist Award – 5 CAPs – For denying the existence of Serenity, for personal reasons

20 CAPs for Aperama
•    Legend Award – 20 CAPs – For playing the game with me and finishing it without assistance

20 CAPs for Reiko
•    What’s Your Story Award – 20 CAPs – For answering the What’s Your Story questionnaire

20 CAPs for Jarikith
•    True Companion Award – 5 CAPs – For informing me that Deimar had answered my riddle
•    Another Monkey Island Award – 5 CAPs – For posting about a Ron Gilbert rant
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on Steam
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on Steam

15 CAPs for TBD
•    Tex...Lower Award – 10 CAPs – For informing me of what Sylvia really said at the end
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on GOG

10 CAPs for mpx
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on GOG
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on Steam

5 CAPS for boukensha
•    Non-Prediction Award – 5 CAPs – For not predicting I would need assistance

5 CAPs for Zenic Reverie
•    Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For commenting about an adventure game sale on GOG

5 CAPs for Corey Cole
•    Physics Beatdown Award – 5 CAPs – For telling me to stop my whinging over flight speeds of 1340 km/hr

5 CAPs for Draconus
•    Granny Smith Award – 5 CAPs – For starting the war to end all wars

5 CAPS for Josh
•    Kentucky Fried Movie Award – 5 CAPs – For picking the reference to Big Jim Slade

20 comments:

  1. I think that the game would have been far easier - and also far, far shorter - if you'd simply had a list of dialogue choices (instead of having to type out a very limited selection of names et al every other time) to tap through. Obviously, the lack of speeder/action scenes would also make the game lose a lot of its anger to me.. But there again, it wouldn't be the same game if the interface was fixed. Still, you made the game more interesting than I found it to play.. which is a really, really strange thing to say. :)

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  2. Well, I must say I'm surprised. I expected that Sound and Graphics and Dialogue and Acting would both score higher.

    The graphics look significantly better to me than other games that have scored higher and I thought the first attempt to have real voices would make an impact. The dialogue also seemed better to me than previous games based on what we saw.

    Then again I thought Interface and Inventory would have scored a bit lower.

    Just goes to show how different things work for different people, which I'm glad for seeing as I'm one of the ones who picked the right score. :)

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    Replies
    1. I also thought it would rate higher in those categories, but when I really thought about it, had to downgrade. The fact is that there are only a handful of very short voice snippets, so that hardly comes into it, and for the most part the game is pretty much silent apart from clicky footsteps. I also think the graphics look much better in screenshots than they really are, for two reasons. Firstly, a lot of the game is entirely static, and secondly, the small amount of animation is pretty poor. For example, if you look at a screenshot of the shooting sections, you'd probably be pretty impressed, but it's not all that impressive when you play it.

      There are definitely technical advancements, but Mean Streets has none of the polish of Hero's Quest or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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    2. This tells me you need to start recording video like Chet does.

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  3. Pleasantly surprised to see that Mean Streets got into top ten. I was one of those that guessed a fairly low score in the beginning, but that was before I actually played it again. Now I'd actually score it even higher than what you ended up on. :p

    That being said, I feel you overlooked something in both your playthrough and your summary post; the taste verb. As far as I know, this is one of the first adventure games that includes a verb that has no other purpose than for entertainment. You don't need to use it at a single point during the game, but it can lead to a fair bit of humorous feedback depending on the items you taste.

    Still, your playthrough was thoroughly enjoyable, and it'll be interesting to see what lurks behind the next corner. I've started to dabble a bit on Neuromancer already, and so far that'll be in a completely different difficulty class.

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    Replies
    1. I know. I did actually use the taste action lots of times, and laughed at the results over and over. I certainly couldn't list all the responses in my posts, but I definitely should have mentioned it at some point. Rest assured that I included the taste action responses very much when talking about the humour in the game.

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    2. Awesome, I was afraid you missed out on a great part of the game. It did result in me dying a few times as well though, but it was worth it.

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  4. Woo.. just one more game until Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon!

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    Replies
    1. I kind of wish I hadn't already played SQIII before. It has been a while though, so who knows how much I remember.

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  5. Replies
    1. Curses! I'm falling behind! I think you missed that some of those sales were new games, which I thought were worth more then a sale? I could easily be wrong though.

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    2. I on the other hand, got (barely) to the top 10! Just like the game. :-)

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    3. I posted a Ron Gilbert rant? When did I do that? I don't remember doing that.. are we sure I did that? I am getting old, I suppose I may have done that and have forgotten.

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    4. Ah, it was JosephCurwen! You can keep your CAPs for honesty, but I better dish out another 5 to Joseph. :)

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    5. Oh joy! A non-prediction award for me :D

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  6. Interesting that we are having three unconventional adventure games in a row with similar futuristic/dystopian theme. Even if I didn't enjoy Mean Streets as much as you did, I must admit it is technically quite impressive for its age. I am sure Neuromancer will be a refreshing cold shower on that front (did you say something about tiresome repeating music?).

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  7. I just realised that I didn't award TBD 10 CAPs for also predicting the correct score for the game. I'm adding them now.

    (I should have given Alfred 9 for predicting 53 after TBD did, but I'm not going to take one CAP off him now)

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  8. Mean Streets had a Saturday Crap Shoot about it: http://www.pcgamer.com/2013/07/13/saturday-crapshoot-mean-streets/

    It also led me to this interview with the designer that I thought some of you might like, if anyone reads posts this far back: http://www.unofficialtexmurphy.com/chatlogs/chatlog.php?id=11

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