It is amazing what classic games were able to get out of the older systems. Sometimes developers were able to squeeze that extra bit of power out of an aging rig and construct a masterpiece in the process.
Saying a certain game is beyond its time might even be a cliche or trite statement but when it is true people should take note. This title not only pushed technology and narrative in video games but also is reminiscent of modern titles that use the same mechanics…
M.O.V.I.E. on the ZX Spectrum is just such a game. Published by Imagine Software in 1986 and written by Duško Dimitrijević and released for the Amstrad CPC, and ZX Spectrum, M.O.V.I.E. takes place in an appropriately noir 1930’s New York City setting and puts the player in control of a private investigator (PI) named Jack Marlow.
You can’t have a proper 1930’s detective game without Manhattan, right?
Jack Marlow is on the hunt for an audio tape held within mob boss Bugs Malloy’s compound. Along the way Marlow receives help from a girl named Tanya. The trick here is that Tanya has a twin sister named Vanya that intentionally misleads the player, leading to failure. Delivered from an isometric perspective, M.O.V.I.E. is an arcade adventure game of the classic variety. Marlow carries out in-game actions via a panel of icons rather than through a text based input common to many games of the investigative genre. Speech bubbles fill in for that old school PC game trope with the player filling in blank bubbles as part of the game’s speech mechanic.
The graphics were cutting edge for their time. Featuring detailed environments and easy-to-read action icons, M.O.V.I.E. went above and beyond what many games did to make itself accessible. This level of accessibility is reminiscent of later PC adventure games like Return to Zork. The colors vary from room to room but overall the presentation is monochromatic – simultaneously retro-chic and artistic at the same time.
Modern gamers should find a lot to love in this aesthetic. As M.O.V.I.E. is a ZX Spectrum game, there really is no soundtrack to accompany the main storyline. That said, a lot of the game’s main strengths lie in its ability to convey a story much deeper than many others one would have found on comparable systems.
M.O.V.I.E. presages the cinematic direction many games began to take after the runaway success of the Playstation’s Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil. Marrying unique gameplay experiences with cinematic storytelling and production styles have birthed modern videogames in many ways. Gamers that want to take part in a piece of history should certainly give M.O.V.I.E. a try at their nearest opportunity. It’s a game any avid fan of videogames needs to experience at least once.