Under a Killing Moon review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Adventure

Under a Killing Moon game image

When I first played through Under a Killing Moon back in 1994 I realized one thing; here finally was a game worthy of the oft used (but rarely deserved) catchphrase ‘interactive movie.’

During the early 1990s there were a spate of CD-only releases promising that elusive mix of gorgeous graphics and gameplay to match, unfortunately almost all of these titles failed dismally offering nothing more than corny acting, grainy video footage and almost no gameplay. Under a Killing Moon finally broke this trend and was a triumph of technology which showcased the capabilities of modern PCs.

One thing was certain – Tex had issues with his ex-wife…

Under a Killing Moon shipped on no less than 4 CDs (mind you, Phantasmagoria shipped on 7 CDs a year later…)! These had to be swapped at certain points in the game (although not enough to become too annoying) reminding me of the days when PC games were played directly from floppy disks.

Under a Killing Moon was essentially a detective yarn along the lines of Blade Runner meets the Maltese Falcon meets the Naked Gun. You played the character of Tex Murphy – a struggling Private Investigator with a pathological complex about his ex-wife. The game was set in the year 2042, where racial intolerance had been replaced by social unrest between “Mutants” and “Norms.” Mutants were people who had suffered physical deformities due to exposure to excessive amounts of radiation, Norms were those who were immune to radiation. While Tex was a Norm, he preferred the company of Mutants.

Under a Killing Moon was basically an adventure game but it had a number of unique qualities which set it apart from anything previously seen in the genre. The game featured digitized video footage throughout, but most importantly this footage fitted seamlessly into the game as a whole, serving much the same purpose as animated cut-scenes in older adventure games.

Under a Killing Moon also incorporated a fantastic 3D game engine allowing you to move around freely, interacting in some way with almost anything you could see. This engine was rendered in beautiful SVGA (although you could also play it in VGA) and the detail of the majority of locations was quite stunning (by 1994 standards of course).

Gameplay was a cinch to learn and consisted of gleaning information from a huge variety of colourful characters using the intuitive conversation interface, collecting objects (which went into your inventory for later use) along with plenty of adventure game puzzles thrown in for good measure.

One of the first PC games where the voice-acting didn’t actually suck!

One of the best things about Under a Killing Moon was the quality of acting. Access hired a number of Hollywood actors to star in the game and they included “Brian Keith” (who played the Colonel, Tex’s former mentor), “Russell Means” (who played the sadistic chameleon) and “Margot Kidder” (who played the barmaid from Hell). I can honestly say that none of the acting made me wince at any time and that was a big first for PC games of this era!

The video footage itself varied in quality from pretty good to better than anything I had yet seen in a PC game. The sound effects and music were superb and really gave the game a cinematic feel, especially if you had a good 16-bit soundcard hooked up to quality speakers.

Under a Killing Moon was basically a comedy, although there were a few scenes which might not be suitable for very small children i.e. the discovery of Rusty the clown’s remains, Pug’s head in the water cooler and the Colonel’s stabbing. The emphasis was always on humour though with absolutely no bad language and violence of the “Three Stooges” variety.

Back in 1994 I remember giving the game a perfect score for two reasons: firstly because Access had really put in a huge effort for Under a Killing Moon – their installation program and built-in hint system were fantastic and I had played through the entire game with absolutely no bugs, which was amazing considering the scope and scale of this title! The second reason was that in 1994 there quite simply had never been a game like Under a Killing Moon, the quality of the visuals, sound, gameplay were unrivaled in the adventure game genre.

Any way you look at it Under a Killing Moon was nothing less than a watershed PC game!

Review Summary
Score: 98%
Info: Wow how time flies – I first reviewed this game back in 1994! There was a lot happening that year in PC gaming – UFO: Enemy Unknown had come out along with System Shock, Ultima 8 (I had just interviewed Richard Garriott as I recall) and Wing Commander III – Under a Killing Moon capped it all off nicely.
The Good: Amazing (for the era) visuals. Great voice-acting. Involving storyline. Funny as hell. Lots of funky FMV.
The Bad: Originally shipped on 4 CDs so quite a bit of disc swapping was required.

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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