Old CD’s: Games, Encyclopedia, Apps.

Reviews About Old Software on CD-ROM from the 1990’s

Philip Marlowe: Private Eye March 12, 2009

Adventure & Mystery

Philip Marlowe: Private Eye

Philip Marlowe: Private Eye (Simon & Schuster Interactive/Byron Preiss Multimedia) takes one of Raymond Chandler’s later novels, The Little Sister, and adapts it to CD-ROM. You are given the choice of playing the original plot or the “alternative plot,” which is so close to the original that you’ll need to be halfway through the game before you start noticing major differences. The setting is 1946 Hollywood; some of the major characters are starlets and fast-talking agents, the perfect ingredients for Chandler’s fixation with glamour and its always-present flip side, seedy crime. When a small-town girl named Orfamy Quest hires Marlowe to find her missing brother, he becomes involved in a case that starts with drugs and blackmail and ends, naturally, with plenty of murder. Philip Marlowe is a roaring success in terms of appearance, ambiance, and tone. The artwork is starkly atmospheric, the music is cool jazz, Marlowe is appropriately world-weary and sensitive, and shadows fall everywhere for no reason whatsoever. The disc fares less well, however, once you stop looking at it and start playing it. It’s so faithful to the book that conventional game-play aspects have often been completely ignored. You can move between day and night and day again, for example, simply by taking the scenes out of order. The disc’s dogged fidelity to its source material results in other, more serious problems. Chandler’s prose was hardboiled on the surface but tender underneath, and he managed to get away with tough/sensitive melodrama that shouldn’t have worked: a woman trading insults with Marlowe can suddenly fall into his arms and there is nothing comical about it. Philip Marlowe: Private Eye tries for the same effect, but here, it’s just funny. The surface details are right, but witty one-liners (“she was as hard to get as a haircut,” straight from the book) are as close as this disc comes to capturing Chandler’s true spirit. An original mystery scripted for CD-ROM would have been a better choice, because then the disc would work as a game, and not only as an elegant, heartfelt, but none-too-playable homage.

– October 1996

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