Friday, 14 August 2020

URBAN RUNNER


I've played a fair few FMV games in my time and regardless of their overall quality, they all tend to share the same problem - a conflict between the game's design and the rigid nature of moviemaking. Published by Sierra in 1996, Coktel Vision's Urban Runner epitomises all that can go wrong when the two art forms collide.

From a technical standpoint, the FMV looks nice enough, at least for the era. The widescreen footage is positioned in the centre of the 4:3 screen with a metallic border which may sometimes display a countdown time limit if the section demands it. Sometimes a second video screen will pop up giving you a heads up on what's happening elsewhere. They actually put this tension-raising cinematic concept to good use, with one area requiring you to solve several puzzles while keeping an eye on your pursuer's position. Each room has been colour-coded so you can get your bearings a little easier.

The early puzzles show cheesy promise. Here you have to pay attention to the room colours to see
if the armed gunman is on your tail. It adds tension and a variety of grimaces.

That's about all the praise I can muster. They even screw up the one thing Urban Runner needed to get right - the storytelling. You play as Max, an American in Paris who just so happens to be an investigative reporter. His latest story involves an underground drug tracking cabal and their links to a corrupt politician. He has one major lead; an informant by the name of Marcos who just so happens to possess an incriminating roll of film. They decide to meet in a sauna where events quickly turn deadly. Marcos is dead and you've picked up the wrong locker key leaving you to run away from a gun-toting assassin in a dead man's clothes.

The plot is confusingly told in a voice-over desperately aiming for that film noir vibe. No sound team appears to have been hired when the footage was recorded. Any dialogue is silent and told in the third person by either Max or your new acquaintance/love interest/femme fatale Adda. This makes for a strangely disconnected experience. Plot points whisk by with little build-up or reason and characters are introduced as if you should already know who they are, then never heard of again. Even our two lead characters often act strangely at best, unethically at worst.

You go through a lot of lengths to get your way. Whether it be flaunting Adda's femininity (left) 
or drugging an alcoholic limo driver hired by a bereaved family at a funeral.

Adda, for example, is unafraid to use her sex appeal to distract leering adversaries while Max has no qualms burning bins or drugging a limo driver at a funeral. Then there's the old hand in warm water trick used on a sleeping security guard. The two even sleep together on their very first meeting, instantly falling madly in love.

At least the puzzles themselves seem to fit in with the setting, even if they're poorly implemented. A lot of them are timed giving you little time to carry it out. I do recommend saving often, but even if you fail the 'try again' option is fairly lenient. Because of this, however, I found most puzzles were solved through trial and error rather than logical thinking. Trapping one female thug in the toilet requires picking up a plank of wood, turn on a light switch, opening a door then hiding. All within a time frame that gives you little time to even find the hotspots. You'll need to know exactly what you're doing in order to succeed. The concept of this and other puzzles may be sound, but the implementation ruins them.

There are a few annoying puzzles, including a follow the queen card scam (left) 
and a timed jigsaw puzzle (right).

Take the street hustler performing the classic 'follow the queen' card scam. The visual quality and frame rate isn't good enough to visually follow the cards while the kid distractingly yabs like Sonic the Hedgehog afraid of silence. I found the only way to successfully choose the correct card is to play it so often I could remember the card's positions on the table. It took me far too long to get to that point. I've also read that the dialogue also gives clues, but other than doing the same memory trick but audibly, I'm yet to figure it out.

If you hover your cursor at the top of the screen, you'll be met with your mobile phone that acts as your menu. You have your game management - save, load, that sort of thing, a limited hint system known as Jokers, your 'memory' which gives you access to clues you've uncovered and another means to access your inventory. While you can also right-click to select an item, you'll need to get there this way if you want to combine it with something else. Then there's the 3D Viewer. Plonk an item over this and you'll get a close-up view of it allowing you examine the finer details and interact with it.

The story puts a lot of emphasis between Max and Adda's sexual tension (left).
That is until you choose whether Adda lives or dies (right).

This is a functional system, but when you put it in a game that falls into every trap the worst FMV adventures fall into, then I can't exactly recommend it. That is unless you want to laugh at it like a low-rent cult movie. The exaggerated facial expressions. The super-imposed gun flashes. The re-used sets with no attempt to hide the fake walls. The opening bodyguard's obvious fetish towards trains. It's so silly and often amateurish you can't not get a little ironic enjoyment out of it.

By the time you get to choose whether Adda lives or dies in the most arbitrarily dry and inconsequential way possible, you might think back on all you've been through fondly. Those random dead guys you're unsure whether you've met or not, the many poor attempts at flirtation and sexual tension, that creepy Halloween masks that randomly acts as a stand for some high-tech sunglasses. There's a lot of individual bizarre and memorable moments to look back on. While you in the thick of it, however, you'll get annoyed by how cumbersome it all is. And how many times you'll lose that bloody card game.


To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses ScummVM to allow the game to run on modern PCs. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 1.45 Gb.  Install Size: 1.9 Gb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download

Watch the Video Review Below!





Urban Runner is © Sierra On-Line
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


Like this? Try These...

http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/black-dahlia.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2020/02/byzantine-betrayal.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/hardline.html

23 comments:

  1. Ah yes I know of this game, I'm guessing you know Retsupurae on YouTube, years ago they watched a playthrough of this with hilarious commentary

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    1. I don't know them, but I'm sure gonna check them out. The game has a lot of content to mine comedy gold.

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  2. I have a question. Have you considered doing a chamber release of Transarctica?(also know as Arctic Baron in the USA). The premise alone of this one is fascinating and with how it infuses adventure/strategy management elements is reminscent of the 1992 Cyro Interactive Dune title but even more in-depth.

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    1. If I haven't thought about it before, I have now. I always thought the cover art was more inviting than the game itself, but I'm up for giving it a go. Not sure when I'll get to that one, but expect more Dune games before the end of the year.

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  3. Fun little bit of info.. The actor who plays Max in this game went on to play/mocap Detective John Carey in Police Quest 4: Open Season! ;)

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    1. I looked into that, but couldn't see much of a resemblance. PQ is of a lower resolution anyway. I tried to find the names of the other actors but they're not credited as far as I can tell. I think some of them, like the limo driver and the security guard, may have been members of the development team/film crew. That or interns. They look too young for their roles.

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    2. Brandon Massey is, I believe, the gentleman who both played John Carey and the role of Max in Urban Runner from my understanding... Here is a link to his IMDB.. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1083018/

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  4. Your superbly written/spoken reviews just won't end, and that's a very good thing for sure, Biff. In fact, if I didn't know better, I would say that you are/were writing for United Kingdom's maybe biggest gaming magazine pride, namely the EDGE, as a regular member of staff, of course, because I think you're too good for only being a freelancer - even if such a position would be fine enough in these times of precarious employment conditions which occur here and there.

    Well, about Urban Runner and my two cents on it...

    The fact that my mouse pointer wandered towards Urban Runner's game icon every once in a while during the past decade was now and then driven by the firm intention to start a fresh new game once more - just to then break it up again somewhere between the hotel and the burglar scene. But despite of it, doesn't that actually prove how much I wanted to like this game? I mean, with such a promising interactive intro and the subsequent "hunting season" part, I expected this one to be among my favourites within a genre (FMV) where highlights are generally in short supply. But far from it, because the flaming passion burnt out too fast by quickly sinking into mediocrity; and this even though the screenplay and staging had still shined such a thrilling light on the aforementioned first one and a half scenes, after which the game changes the tone to its disadvantage, unfortunately.

    By the way, rumour has it that it was only because of hellcat Adda that I kept playing Urban Runner for longer than I actually intended. ;-)

    Bye for now,
    Thomas

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    1. Thanks Thomas. I think there's some charm to the whole FMV craze, Urban Runner included. I wouldn't exactly call it a good game, but you can definitely syphon some entertatinment value out of it.

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    2. Well, I think I should really go the extra mile by playing Urban Runner up to the grand finale to form a definitive opinion. Maybe there'll still be the one or other halfway interesting scene coming up that compensates a little for the middle part of the game, which doesn't work with me too well.

      On a technical scale, I wonder if the reason for Urban Runner exclusively running under Windows 3.1 (and later Windows versions) and not DOS - which would have been still adequate for the time of the game's release - is due to those additional screens which pop up in a special little window every now and then and function as some kind of invisible monitoring camera to provide you with simultaneously occuring extra video footage whenever it is necessary.

      Which, in my humble opinion, was a fine technical achievement that raised the level of tension to new heights by means of a promising video engine that I would have liked to see in action with more FMV games. And while I'm not able to assess if (or how) this cleverly implemented "second camera" technology could also have been done with DOS, it is surely undoubted to manage such a task with Windows 3.1 - which was already thousands of miles ahead of DOS in terms of multitasking operations - far easier.

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    3. I do like how that second camera and how it looks and acts exactly how smartphones would over a decade later. You'll notice that they never play over another video, only a static screen. I think that's how they got around it. If you go to move, it will cut off the surveillance video.

      Still, any kind of video was seen as a technical achievement back then.

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    4. Taking into account that the game only works within a Microsoft Windows environment (up to its 98 release, at least), it actually should have been no problem to avoid exactly those technical limitations that you've mentioned. In fact, wasn't it a major discipline of already early Windows versions to run two or more videos/programs independently at the same time?

      Actually, the only reason I can think of why Coktel Vision's developers didn't fall back on said advantages that Windows has always stood for, is because of the hardware requirements which then maybe would have been gone beyond of what a 486DX2-66 machine was capable to properly perform. In terms of the sole technical realisation, however, I hardly see any restrictions (if any) that could have been held back the programmers from interspersing a small video screen into the heat of the action taking place on the main screen.

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    5. Biff, one question: Since Urban Runner offers two variants regarding its provided colour palette when choosing a traditional Windows 3.1 or '95 installation (with either 256 or 32000 supported colours), I'd like to ask if your latest ScummVM driven installer comes up innately with the latter "True Colour" variance.

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    6. Silly me confused "True Color" (16,78 millions of colours, 24/32 Bit) with "High Color" (65536 colours, 16 Bit / 32768 colours, 15 Bit (Macintosh)).

      Hmm, I now wonder if it could possibly be that Urban Runner provides even more than the aforementioned 32000+ colours at its highest setting...

      Grumble grumble. ;-)

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    7. Hey, ScummVM runs the game at True Color. I believe they aim for the highest setting possible.

      https://wiki.scummvm.org/index.php/Urban_Runner

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    8. Well, that clears it up. So in this case, there's no need for going the "hard" way via a DosBox meets Windows 3.1 setup anymore. Thanks for the clarification, Biff. :-)

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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  5. Sierra FMV games in particular shared the problem of having a kind of serious or ambitious plot and really low production values, which makes them appear a bit like a high school theatre play rendition of something, and I include my beloved Phantasmagoria 2 and Gabriel Knight 2 in these. Urban Runner was more Coktel, right? Part of those weird adventure mixes they had with The Last Dinasty or earlier Inca games. In any case, how clunky it is.

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  6. Collection Chamber installer for The House of the Dead (PC) trilogy would be super awesome.

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    1. Love these games. They've been on the back of my mind for a while, but I'll have to cheack if any of them are still sold somewhere. I know the first seems to have been ignored by SEGA since launch.

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    2. The OG versions of House Of The Dead 1&2 aren't digitally being sold albeit the third one is still being sold in a bundle with Overkill and HOTD4.

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    3. All 3 seem to be available at myabandonware and old-games.com.

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  7. Hi,
    thanks alot for this :) I like FMV games but I didn't even know about this one.
    I have two suggestions (not sure if I made one of them awhile ago already lol) for similar games:

    1.) The Vampire Diaries (1996), also an FMV game. I used to have it on Windows 98.
    2.) Sabrina Spellbound, not really FMV but with the original voices. Runs on Windows 10 directly from the CD but you can't save because of the non-working setup.

    Also, unrelated, but maybe just for completness sake: How about the Star Trek Omnipedia (with Update): It seems to be the only old Star Trek game you don't have up yet.

    Thanks for considering my suggestions, keep up the great work! :)

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    1. Not heard of the Sabrina game, but I have the CDs for Vampire Diaries around somewhere. Don't remember much about it other than it being very cheesy. There are loads of Star Trek games that I have in the works (not tried Omnipedia though) but I'm not organised enough to tell you when they'll be ready.

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