Video Game: Tex Murphy

"Look, prophecies aren't in my job description, OK? I'm just a humble P.I. trying to save the world as we know it."
Tex Murphy, Under a Killing Moon

In 1989, Access Software developed and published Mean Streets, a noir adventure thriller for several different platforms. The game starred Tex Murphy, who represented the epitome of an old-fashioned, black-and-white noir private detective.

Access would go on to make five games; The sequel to Mean Streets, Martian Memorandum (1991), was released strictly for the IBM PC and was not terribly revolutionary. The third game, Under a Killing Moon (1994), was a whole different ball game: it introduced a 3D virtual world and made extensive use of full motion video cutscenes. The fourth game, The Pandora Directive (1996), included the same system and was Access' most ambitious effort. Number five, Overseer (1998), was essentially a replay of Mean Streets, but brought into the modern video game era with Access' usual movie work.

Tex Murphy's setting is a post-apocalyptic America after World War III. Tex, a gritty Private Detective who lives in San Francisco, is genetically resistant to the effects of radiation but lives amongst numerous mutants. He tries to tiptoe along the dangerous fault lines between the world of the mutants and the world of the "norms".

The plots of the five games can generally be summarized thusly: Tex is down on his luck, has no money and is largely reduced to eating dog food. A client appears and offers him a relatively simple job: Find a MacGuffin, track down my friend, etc. In the course of his investigations, Tex discovers that he is a pawn in a plot to bring about The End of the World as We Know It. He then saves the world, making sardonic quips along the way.

The final three games were, as mentioned, notable for their "interactive movie" quality. They featured solid writing, sharp acting and some surprising celebrity appearances. (Russell Means, Margot Kidder, James Earl Jones, Barry Corbin, Tanya Roberts, John Agar, Michael York, Richard Norton, Joe Estevez, Brian Keith and Clint Howard)

At least two additional games were planned, but they were binned when Microsoft bought Access in 1998 and sold it to Take Two Interactive. Take Two eventually shut down Access, apparently killing the Tex Murphy franchise. However, the original developers eventually formed Big Finish Games, acquired the rights to the series (via a clever loophole thanks to the novelizations that series creator Chris Jones had written), and teased fans with the announcement of "Secret Project Fedora".

After years of speculation they finally confirmed that Fedora was indeed a new Tex Murphy game and eventually released it as "Tesla Effect" on May 7th, 2014 after a very successful Kickstarter project. It was published by Atlus in addition to the Kickstarter backing.

You can get the Tex Murphy games at or (as of June 12, 2014) on Steam.

These games contain examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: In Mean Streets Klaus was just one of the 8 scientists working on Overlord. In Overseer he's an ally of the crypto-fascist Law and Order party and the mastermind behind the killings of the other scientists in order to obtain all 8 passcards to control Overlord.
  • Affectionate Parody: Every plot element from old-school, black and white, noir private eye films are lovingly re-created and mocked.
  • After the End: World War III came and went, leaving behind radiation and a completely shot ozone layer. Due to the latter governments have enacted a "time reversal": regular business hours are during the night while most people sleep during the day. It's much healthier that way.
  • Alignment-Based Endings: In The Pandora Directive, you can get up to eight different endings depending on where your Karma Meter is along the Nice Guy/Jerkass axis.
  • All There in the Manual: The first game, Mean Streets, is near-impossible without the leads first outlined in the manual.
  • Always Night: The Daylight Reversal Act mentioned in Under A Killing Moon caused by ozone layer damage after World War III. Everybody sleeps during the day, which is why it's always dark during gameplay.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Brotherhood in Under A Killing Moon.
  • Anti-Villain: J. Saint Gideon who is also a Magnificent Bastard.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class 4, biosphere extinction, is prepared by the Ancient Conspiracy in Under A Killing Moon.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: "Big Jim" Slade in Tex Murphy: Overseer as played by Australian-born martial artist Richard Norton.
  • Ax-Crazy: Jackson Cross from The Pandora Directive has shades of this.
    • Mantus and the Morlocks in Tesla Effect, as a result of going mad from the cryosleep process.
  • Batman Cold Open: The first day of Under A Killing Moon involves Tex catching a serial burglar with no connection to the main plot of the game, apart from a minor-but-vital part later where Rook agrees to give Tex a much-needed vintage silver dollar as thanks for solving that case.
  • Blah Blah Blah: Used as a date dialogue option in Martian Memorandum, which appears if you already chose the failing conversation track.
  • Big Bad:
    • Martian Memorandum: Thomas Dangerfield
    • Under A Killing Moon: Lowell Percival
    • The Pandora Directive: Jackson Cross and Regan Madsen
    • Overseer: John Klaus
    • Tesla Effect: The Translator
  • Big Good: The Big P.I. In the Sky, played by James Earl Jones. Steers fate in Tex's favour during the events of Under A Killing Moon, and berates him during the Have a Nice Death sequences.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Most games. Under A Killing Moon ends with Tex right back where he started, financially and romantically. The normal ending of Pandora Directive likewise, as opposed to the (canonical) happy ending and (jerkass) bad ending.
  • Brain Food: Fresh off the grill at the Brew & Stew.
  • Came Back Wrong: Tesla perfected cryogenic preservation, but the subjects are killed when they are frozen and revived after being unfrozen. This has some unfortunate side effects for most subjects. Most are turned into partially decayed, insane cannibals known as Morlocks. Charles Johansson avoided all of the more obvious side effects when he was revived by Gideon Inc., but came back with a dangerous dose of megalomania, turning him into the Translator.
  • Chess Motifs:
    • The first instance is in Mean Streets, where the possible passwords are anagrams of chess terms. In the same room where you find the encoded passwords is a chess set with a bishop missing.
    • Pops up everywhere in Overseer. Both John Klaus and J. Saint Gideon are avid chess players, though only Gideon goes as far as to decorate his entire mansion with chess motifs and use chess-related code names for each aspect of the STG Project
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Near the end of Overseer where "Big Jim" Slade betrays and kills his employer Dr John Klaus.
  • Cliff Hanger: The end of Tex Murphy: Overseer where Tex's speeder is stolen and he and Chelsee get a ride from a stranger who, after a few moments of pleasant conversation...turns around and shoots them!
    • The radio theater sequel reveals that Tex and Chelsee survived, but got wrapped up in a conspiracy, which also ended on a cliffhanger. D'oh!
    • Finally, all is explained in Tesla Effect, although Chelsee only comes back if you put in a lot of effort throughout the entire game trying to determine what her fate was.
  • Collection Sidequest: The Mike and Ike Hammer Candy Comic books in Tesla Effect. Collecting all 20 comic books and finishing the game creates a post-game file that unlocks the storage room in Tex's bedroom that allows you to watch the game's cutscenes and listen to songs.
  • Crapsack World: Post-apocalyptic San Francisco ain't a pleasant place.
    • The cause for this is revealed in TPD as the US military using untested Imported Alien Phlebotinum to blow up a Middle-Eastern country, which results in WWIII.
  • Creator Provincialism: While Tex himself is firmly based in San Francisco, mentions of Utah pop up with unlikely frequency (Access Software is based in Salt Lake City).
  • Cutting the Knot: Can't get an armoire to open and there's no key for it? Use C4 Chewing Gum to blast it apart.
    Tex Murphy: Uh... maybe that was a little overkill, but was effective.
  • Cyberpunk
  • Da Chief: Mac Malden comes off as this.
    Mac: You seem to have a habit of forgetting that I'm a cop. And right now I'm a tired, pissed-off cop.
  • Damsel in Distress: Emily Sue Patterson in TPD and Sylvia Linsky in Overseer
  • Dark Is Evil: The Translator, Dalton, Big Jim Slade and Tex Murphy (before having his memory erased) in Tesla Effect. They all wear black and aren't exactly the nicest guys.
    • Dark Is Not Evil: In Tesla Effect, Tex Murphy wears dark clothing and shoes in contrast to the previous games.
  • Deadpan Snarker: As the series goes on, Tex becomes increasingly snarky, to the point that in Tesla Effect, he has about twice as much snark as normal dialogue.
  • Death by Adaptation/Spared by the Adaptation: A few characters have different fates in Overseer than they did in Mean Streets. Most notably:
    • In Mean Streets Slade is just a hired goon and Tex kills him in a shootout about halfway through the game; in Overseer he has a more prominent role in the story, has a Climax Boss confrontation with Tex and Sylvia towards the end, and survives to menace Tex again more than two decades later in Tesla Effect.
    • In Mean Streets it's mentioned that Gideon tried to flee the country and was arrested by the authorities, while in Overseer he commits suicide after Tex gets the better of him.
    • A number of characters die in the novelization who didn't in the games, mostly in Killing Moon, namely The Colonel, Alaynah, Eddie Chang, and Eva in Killing Moon, as well as Ellis in Pandora Directive. Also, at the end of Tesla Effect it's strongly implied that Fiske and the Translator go down with the Immortal Coil, while in the game they're a lot further away when the explosions begin and escape unharmed. Also, Mantus survives in the novelization of Tesla Effect.
  • Dialogue Tree: In Martian Memorandum, only one path in the whole tree is useful. Don't worry, you get multiple tries.
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: The Pandora Directive.
  • Driven to Suicide: The fate of Carl Linsky, though as with most of Tex's cases, there's more to it than it seems.
  • Duel to the Death: Tex vs. NSA Agent Dag Horton posing as The Black Arrow Killer.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Mean Streets was scarcely in the same genre as the following games. Lampshaded in Tesla Effect, when Tex has a flashback to one of the combat sections from Mean Streets and says that he decided never to get into a shootout again.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Revealed to be the side-effect of the Translator's plan to merge Heaven and Earth in Tesla Effect. Fail the final puzzle of the game and you get to watch it happen in a pretty cool CGI sequence.
  • End Game Results Screen: Tesla Effect assigns you a rank based on your score at the end. Getting the highest rank after completing the "Somewhere I'll Find You" story path is an alternate means to unlock access to the storage room in Tex's Office if you fail to find all the candy comics.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: In both Under A Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive, Tex has to prevent this.
  • Faking the Dead: For most of Tesla Effect, it's assumed that Chelsee has been dead for a long time after the events of Overseer. However, it turns out Margaret and her allies faked her death to protect her, due to her actually being Margaret's daughter.
  • Fantastic Racism: Allegedly there's no longer any discrimination against races. Genetic discrimination against mutants has taken its place, however, and is a recurring theme throughout the series.
  • Film Noir: Although increasingly parodied as the series goes on.
  • Flying Car: All over the place. Tex has a really cool one.
  • Fun with Acronyms: NSA now stands for National Surveillance Agency.
    • And much more blatantly, C.A.P.R.I.C.O.R.N.
  • The Future Is Noir
  • Genius Programming: Mean Streets could do music and speech on PC speaker. Yes, that very PC speaker that's seemingly only capable of beeps and boops.
  • A God Am I: Dr. Dangerfield goes full megalomaniac in the finale of Martian Memorandum, believing the Oracle Stone will make him this.
  • Government Conspiracy: The entire plot of The Pandora Directive began with the supposed UFO crash at Roswell in 1947.
  • Graceful Loser: At the end of Overseer, after Tex destroys Overlord, a defeated Gideon graciously shares a final scotch and cigars with Tex, even giving him his lighter as a keepsake, before committing suicide.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Rook Garner, a crusty old WWIII vet with a face like a raisin and a tongue like a butcher's cleaver.
  • Hammer Space: Being an adventure game character Tex often carries items that are either too large or too plentiful to keep on his person. Lampshaded in one short cinematic from TPD when Tex pulls a 10ft bamboo pole out of his trenchcoat pocket.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Tex, obviously.
  • Hidden Depths: Gordon Fitzpatrick turns out to be a partial alien.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In The Pandora Directive, Tex comments on a book titled "Men are Imbeciles, Women are Erratic," saying "The author generalizes too much, and I think all people who generalize are idiots."
  • Improvised Weapon: A bra was used as a sling.
  • Informed Deformity: Chelsee is considered to be one of the mutants, but whereas all other mutants we meet are obviously physically deformed in some way, Chelsee not only looks totally normal but is very beautiful. Lampshaded in universe in that it's mentioned a few times nobody but her knows what her mutation actually is. Turns out that she's a norm who was given to mutants for adoption. Tesla Effect has Louie's niece Taylor, who like Chelsee looks perfectly normal. Although Taylor is never explicitly referred to as a mutant, so maybe it's possible Louie had a non-mutant sibling.
  • Jerkass: The player can make Tex a glaring example of this if he chooses the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" path in The Pandora Directive.
  • Karma Meter: A big part of TPD.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: In Mean Streets, Tex can take cash and valuables in the locations he searches.
  • Laser Hallway: Tex has to navigate through lasers on a hoverboard in Big Dick Castro's vault in Martian Memorandum. It's less fun than it sounds, with the camera only showing a small part of what's ahead of Tex. Another laser hall shows up in Tesla Effect, with rapidly moving beams and almost no margin for error.
  • Lethal Lava Land: In The Pandora Directive, in the Mayan temple, is a long chamber with a narrow maze above lava. Tex Murphy has to get to the other side and try to open one of the four doors (whichever one opens is random) — all while avoiding fireballs. This room is only available in Game Player's mode, though.
  • Limited Wardrobe: The classic depiction of Tex (established in Under A Killing Moon) is that his entire wardrobe consists of a dress shirt and tie, pants, overcoat, Fedora hat and sneakers.
  • MacGyvering: Combining random items into whatever crude instrument required to advance past a given obstacle is an absolute necessity in these games.
  • MacGuffin: The bird statuette in Under a Killing Moon.
  • MacGuffin Delivery Service: The end of The Pandora Directive.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot:
    • Mean Streets and Overseer: Investigating a suicide leads to stopping a Well-Intentioned Extremist and a corrupt political party from taking control of global politics.
    • Martian Memorandum: A kidnapping leads to preventing a madman from destroying Mars by unwittingly unleashing a Sealed Evil in a Can.
    • Under A Killing Moon: An art theft leads to thwarting an Ancient Conspiracy planning to wipe out all life on Earth.
    • Pandora Directive: Tracking down a missing person leads to a race to recover functional alien technology before it falls into the hands of evil government agents.
  • Multiple Endings:
    • The Pandora Directive was said to have eight endings. In reality there are six unique endings with two being recycled for different paths.
    • Tesla Effect also has multiple endings. There are a total of five endings, but only four unique endings (largely determined by whether you pursued one romantic interest, pursued the other one, stayed fixated on Chelsee's fate, or were too indecisive to stick to any one path) with the fifth being a slight variation of the fourth ending.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Lowell Percival is named after Percival Lowell, a 19th century astronomer and mathematician who among other things observed canals on Mars and formed the first theories about the existence of Pluto. Martian Memorandum also has a fitness instructor named Jane Mansfield.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: In Tesla Effect, most deaths go to a quick RIP sequence, and oftentimes the cause of death is not even explained. Some, however, have special FMVs. For example, if Tex throws the Tesla Egg out of the Coit Tower, instead of giving it to Slade.
  • Novelization: Two novels were written based on Under a Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive. A novel for Tesla Effect has also been released.
  • The Obi-Wan: "Colonel" Dobbs who taught Tex most of what he knows about being a private investigator.
  • Odd Job Gods: In UAKM (and some endings of TPD where Tex dies) there is The Big P.I in the Sky, the God of Private Investigators played by James Earl Jones.
    • At the beginning of UAKM, this god hilariously bemoans that all the great private investigators of the past have died of old age, meaning they're stuck with Murphy instead. James Earl Jones knows funny, people.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Tex" is a nickname that he receives as a kid after crashing through the ceiling with the hole looking exactly like the state of Texas. His real name is rarely, if ever, used. In Tesla Effect, his given name is revealed to be James Tiberius Murphy.
  • The Only One: Tex is a textbook case. Unfortunately, his enemies tend to notice this quality about him, frequently resulting in him being turned into an Unwitting Pawn. Tex manages to clean up his own messes in the end, though.
  • Pixel Hunt: Occasionally necessary, particularly in UAKM, where the pixelated graphics of garbage on the floor are difficult to tell apart from objects you're supposed to get.
  • Private Eye Monologue: Done straight on many occasions. Also parodied on many occasions.
  • Relationship Values: Utilized to a small extent in The Pandora Directive. Your actions and conversational choices help decide whether Tex ends up with Chelsee, tries to end up with Chelsee but strikes out, or ends up with Regan ( and ends up dying as a villain for his trouble). Likewise, in Tesla Effect Tex's actions will determine whether he ends up with Taylor, Ariel, Chelsee, or none of them because he was too indecisive.
  • Roswell That Ends Well: The catalyst of The Pandora Directive.
  • Schizo Tech: Tesla Effect makes lots of references to 2000's technology, yet Tex still has a fax machine.
  • Self-Parody: One of the series' main charms is that it doesn't take itself seriously at all.
  • Sequel Hook: Tesla Effect ends with the Big Bad and his Dragon escaping (although the Dragon is seemingly dealt with in the "bad" ending), and ends with a news report of the Nights Templar getting killed. There's also the sub-plot regarding J.T. Donnelly and Anastasia and the White Russians, which is indicated to be entirely separate from the Translator's plot and is never fully resolved. Tex mentions in the closing scene that it all seems to be part of something bigger, and he'd better be ready for it.
  • Shape Shifter Swan Song: The end of Under a Killing Moon.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A trenchcoat-wearing detective in a dystopian, near-future city in California, with monolithic buildings and flying cars? This seems familiar...
    • Rocky Bullwinkle is a bouncer for Big Dick, and is named after the cartoon.
  • Show Some Leg: Alexis can be instructed to make a distraction, and that's her preferred method.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: An unusual case where this is delivered retroactively: In Overseer, once Tex is done telling the story in flashbacks, he comments how the game's Well-Intentioned Extremist "was probably right". Chelsea's response: "NO. HE. WASN'T. You were!"
  • The Sociopath: Jackson Cross in The Pandora Directive.
    Jackson Cross (to Tex Murphy): I've always wanted to kill you. It's not that I don't like you. I thought you were a very resourceful fellow. I wanted to kill you because I enjoy killing people. I find it very satisfying.
  • The Starscream: Towards the end of Overseer, Slade kills Klaus and plans to auction off the 8 Overlord control cards off to the highest bidder. Tex stops him, though. Slade tries to do the exact same thing with the Tesla Egg in Tesla Effect, but this time he gets killed by a vengeful Mantus.
  • Time Bomb: In Overseer Tex must remove an implant from his skull before it kills him. Of course the plot requires that you remove it anyway (the entire game is a flashback, after all) so there's no danger of Tex dying permanently.
  • Time Skip: Seven years have passed until the beginning of Tesla Effect.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: The cryo tank puzzle at the end of Under A Killing Moon is this. In a hilarious subversion, Tex will complain to the Great PI In The Sky during the Have a Nice Death sequence how unfair it is, the Great PI agrees with Tex, and gives him a second chance without needing to reload a save game.
  • The Tunguska Event: The event wasn't a meteorite impact, but the result of a trial run of Nikola Tesla's Death-Ray.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Tex Murphy, Once per Episode.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: J. Saint Gideon plans to implant mind-control devices into the world leaders in order to speed up the peace process. If the program wasn't so easy to misuse for controlling the global population - and so likely to fall into evil hands - Tex might've supported Gideon.
    • The Translator wants to merge the living and dead realms into one. This would hedge into Blue and Orange Morality territory if every reliable source wasn't certain that all he'd accomplish would be blowing up the planet by accident. He doesn't even do much to directly harm Tex.
  • The Vamp: Regan Madsen.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ultimately, Dr. Dangerfield's goal in Martian Memorandum was to get revenge against a mass murderer, in the process putting a handful of innocent lives at risk. Even his A God Am I megalomania at the end after he got the Oracle Stone wasn't directly malicious against anyone. Unfortunately, his misuse of the technology would have blown up the planet if Tex hadn't stopped him.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: What did Tex do for seven years leading up to Tesla Effect?
  • With This Herring: Largely averted. Tex's clients don't exactly overwhelm him with aid when they enlist his services, but they usually pay him a nice retainer and give him solid leads to begin the case.
    • Although in The Pandora Directive Tex is so far in debt to various people and businesses in his neighborhood that simply paying them back so they'll talk to him eats significantly into his retainer.
    • In Mean Streets, there are plenty of false leads. One location even lampshades this with the suspect eating a red herring.