Sante Fe Mysteries: Elk Moon Murder
Review by Al Giovetti, 09/25/96
Price: $25-$30
Genre: graphic adventure
Release: July 1996
Developer: Activision
Producer: Shannon Gilligan and Diana Mack
Publisher: Activision
Phone: 310-473-9200
Media and System: Windows 95, DOS, Mac
Requirements: 486DX, 33 MHz, 8 MB RAM and 8MB Virtual Memory, 2X CD-ROM Drive, 16 bit (640x480) color graphics, System 7.5.1, Sound Manager 3.1)

History: Activision has for years made some of the most ground breaking adventure games in the business. Way back at the beginning of recorded microcomputer time, Activision was the with products like Planetfall, Zork, and Battletech, Crescent Hawk’s Revenge. More recently, Activsion revised the concept of the interactive move and developed a revolutionary new interface in Spycraft. Spycraft was a hit with both consumers and reviewers, selling well and garnering critical acclaim. Activision took that game engine out of the closet, dusted it off, added a few refinements and brought out the Elk Moon Murder (EMM).

Shannon Gilligan is known for her work on the Virtual Murder games (Who Killed Sam Rupert?, Who Killed Taylor French?, Who Killed Elspeth Haskard?, The Magic Death, and Comic Creator) and SFPD Homicide. Sam Eagan (Quincy) took time out to help create this game from his writer and producer duties on Northern Exposure (Trivia Quiz: How many Northern Exposure notables have also worked in or on computer games? - Ed.).

Plot: In the highly ethnic south western town of Santa Fe, New Mexico where during the summer you can fry more than an egg in the middle of the street a native American potter, named Anna Elk Moon, who’s life is not unlike some sordid romance novel, is killed by a bullet in the head and one of her pots is stolen. You play the Sante Fe homicide detective who must crack the case in five days with the help of your native American partner, John Night Sky, or the federal agents will come in and take over the case.

Anna Elk Moon was a colorful character and there is no lack of possible suspects (eleven of them to be exact - Ed.) who might have done her in for her political activities, her complex romantic entanglements, revenge, robbery or other reasons and motivations that may be lurking somewhere in the small town. You must talk to all people who knew Anna, sort through the lies in almost everyone’s testimony check out alibis, examine the evidence, ignore your partner, who thinks everyone you talk to did it, and solve the mystery.

It seems like everyone is sleeping with everyone else, which makes investigating who was doing what with whom at the time of the murder a virtual nightmare. Your final goal is to get an arrest warrant, and you will need motive, access to a weapon, knowledge of a weapon and lack of alibi to get a good warrant.

Game play: Asking a question, examining forensic reports, snapping a picture, tracing calls, running errands for your boss, and verifying alibis costs you fifteen minutes of game time each. The game also limits you to working within a totally artificial and unrealistic eight (8) hours a day for five days or 40 virtual hours. Spend too much time asking the wrong questions or performing too many duties and you will run out of time and loose the game, and have to start over and watch the video all over again. The game has a trick ending that has to be determined almost exclusively by trial and error, which causes more unnecessary and annoying repetition.

The personal digital assistant (PDA) is the only high-tech electronic device in the game and when compared to Spycraft’s toy chest, Elk Moon Murder comes up a little short. The PDA is a wireless electronic mail box, a telephone where you can get messages from your boss, the chief, a video recorder which automatically records and optionally reviews interviews and case notes, a digital camera that takes pictures of and optionally reviews evidence, and a data base file that examines and organizes data. Using the PDA uses up precious time, so its use must be judicious and planned.

Time dependent plots are not the most enjoyable for many people, who simply do not like to play against the clock. Time dependent plots are a divisive and often unappreciated means of attempting to increase play time by causing the game player to fail over and over again. Failing repeatedly forces the game player to watch the same video scenes repeatedly. All this does is make the game repetitive and annoy the game player. A better way to extend the length of play time is to add more plot to the game.

Once you figure out the correct path to pursue to the single conclusion of the game, it will only take you only a few hours to complete the five days that encompass the game (There is only one ending. - Ed). Now normally a plot this short would kill a product, and for some it just might. But I really surprised myself. I enjoyed exploring the plot twists and nooks and crannies in this most interesting and certainly hot town. A bypass for video, like there is in most adventure games, to prevent repetition would have helped, and not to have this feature is another major design flaw.

Graphics and animation: The full motion video scenes and the ultra-realistic pictures, such as the overhead oblique map of the town of Santa Fe look good enough to be movies or snap shots. The video is smooth running without glitches or jerkiness, a real class act.

Actors: Amanda Donohoe (L. A. Law, The Madness of King George) plays a sexy and very funny murder suspect. Mark Alaimo (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) also plays a part.

Music and sound effects: Movie quality music and sound effects. The music is not linked to the action.

Reviews: The disparity on this one between the European reviews and the American reviews is as vast as the distance across the ocean. Game players often disagree but we can only wonder if this is a reflection of a difference in taste or culture. Most of the American reviewers like this one. Jason does not like it at all. Read Jason’s review and try to get some insight on the matter. Arin makes an analogy to the works of Tony Hillerman all set in a southwestern theme. Mike says that "sometimes the replies given by the witnesses are longwinded and seemingly pointless."

Summary: The product combines good acting, an interesting and fertile setting, and an overall entertaining story and design to make this rather short product. Some will call this a movie and not a game, while others will really enjoy it. It seems like some people hate Elk Moon Murder while others love the product. Due to its subject matter, Elk Moon Mystery may appeal to women more than other products. At least Shannon Gilligan, Diana Mack and Sam Egan moved people to the extremes.

Future Plans: Activision and Shannon Gilligan are currently working on another interactive movie adventure thriller for Digital Video Disk (DVD). DVD is the size of a CD but depending on the format can hold up to 18 GB of information which is almost 30 times as much information as a standard CD. DVD will provide computers with the power to do digital quality full motion video on a computer. I cannot wait.

Tal Blevins,, (40%).
Andrew Baker,, (33%).
Jason MacIsaac,, 5/10 (50%).
Mike McGrath,, (83%).
John Voorhees, Computer Games Strategy Plus, issue 71, October, 1996, pg.104, 4/5, (80%-90%), John Voorhees,
Scott Gehrs,
Arinn Dembo,
Mike McGrath,, (83%)
Interview, Michael J. McTaggert, http://www.worldvillage/ature/inside/inside2.htm