Urban Runner is a French produced computer game developed by Coktel Vision and published by Sierra On-line. The game is an interactive movie or visual novel spanning four CD-ROMs.
You play as Max Gardner, an American journalist in Paris, investigating a story about a big drug dealer who is covered by some influential politician. To get the dealer talking, you offer him incriminating photographs in exchange for some information. When Max arrives at the meeting point, the drug lord is dead and Max is mistaken for the killer.
While evading the authorities, Max continues his investigation and finds an ally in Adda - the murdered drug dealer’s lover - and the two of them work to uncover the conspiracy behind the murders.
There are going to be a few FMV-based games in this series, and one thing they overwhelmingly have in common is terrible acting. Brandon Massey, who plays the main character Max, has 2 acting credits to his name … this and Police Quest: Open Season. I didn’t really go into this playthrough with high expectations … and this game did not disappoint (or it did … whatever).
The game world consists of a series of static screens you move your cursor around to uncover hotspots. Depending on the type of hotspot, you can pick up an item, examine an object, speak to a character or move to the next screen. Most screens don’t really give you too many options so it’s pretty easy to figure out what to do next, but unlike most FMV games you’re constantly on a timer.
When you first start the game you’ll have a hitman chasing you, who will eventually catch up to you if you take too long. There is no indication most of the time how long you have before you’re “caught” by whoever you’re trying to get away from, though some scenes do give you an event timer in the form of a depleting gauge at the bottom of the screen.
If the action stops momentarily for you to react (such as throwing a ball, rolling under a moving car or knocking a detective out as he leans into the trunk of a car), the amount of time you have is extremely limited and will likely end with you dying … so save often!
As this is more of a visual novel than a “game”, everything plays out in an extremely linear fashion. All character interactions are scripted and voice acted, and there’s generally only one way you can deal with any situation (since they only recorded one video to show you the outcome). The main problem I had with the actual “game” though was the quality of the static screens is extremely low.
The majority of the game plays out with you picking up various items, examining them to learn clues about who to call or where to go. Every “level” has numerous puzzles, and honestly most of these are pretty hard. I failed A LOT while playing through this game and found myself resorting to the walkthrough pretty frequently.
There are some pretty interesting puzzle solutions that really require you to pay close attention to what the characters are telling you, and then there are some that you just sort of “have to know” (or have read in the walkthrough). For example, to get a sleeping guard away from his desk you need to put his thumb in water. This will make him wake up needing to go to the bathroom.
This is the type of thing you maybe learned at summer camp as a kid … or from movies about kids playing pranks on each other in summer camp … regardless, it’s giving you a lot of credit as a player to have to figure that out as a solution.
You’ll eventually meet up with your love interest Adda, who is responsible for certain objectives throughout the game. You are given a choice periodically who’s story you want to progress, which creates the illusion of “control” - but you ultimately need to do both plot lines to advance the story. It does add some variety to the game, even if it’s only on the surface and doesn’t really do anything for the overall experience.
Though her acting is a little over the top at times, Adda is a good character and actually makes the story a lot more enjoyable. Seeing as you’re essentially just helping to move the movie along its scripted path, thankfully the underlying story you’re advancing is decent. Though the premise is a little absurd, your character is thrown into an impossible situation and has to keep a step ahead of the mysterious syndicate he’s gotten himself mixed up with.
If you can make it through the seemingly impossible puzzles, once you reach the game over screen you can select each character and get a summary of their involvement in the overall plot. I found this was actually a really clean way of closing out the story and tying everything together.
I love visual novels, but this one wasn’t great. Maybe I’m spoiled by more recent titles like Danganronpa that actually blend multiple gameplay elements into the story progression to make advancing the plot more entertaining. Urban Runner was “ok”, and I know there are some FMV titles on the list that are even worse (cough … Phantasmagoria … cough), so maybe I shouldn’t judge too harshly.
So far though I’m not loving these Coktel Vision titles.
See here for a refresher on how we’re scoring these games.