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
Watch the Video Review Below!
Urban Runner is © Sierra On-Line
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me