Format reviewed: Atari 2600
Developer: Bob Whitehead
Submitted by: Michal Mozejko
In the early 1980's Activision stamp was a sign of a quality. Bright, colourful creations, that made even Atari's in-house developing team games look bland in comparison, they also offered all the qualities the eager gamers were looking for: playability, great replay value and clever design. All that added up to challenging, but never frustrating experience.
That's also the case with Private Eye, forgotten over time, but in its qualities very similar to famous Pitfall!.
With its smart screen design, game wonderfully plays around system graphical possibilities, providing at the same time easily recognisable characters and landscapes. Protagonist, Pierre Touche, is incredibly funny looking character, but it's the feature that the game is build around, that clearly stands out – Pierre, on his quest to solve the police cases, goes around the town in a jumping 1935 Model A automobile. It's the golden touch, that not only gives you the opportunity to avoid obstacles on the road, but also makes the gaming experience unique.
The real highlights of the game are the villains, including the ringleader Henri Le Fiend, with their humorous, sneaky behaviour. It adds life to the game, and is what makes Private Eye so convincingly honest depiction of a fictional, cartoony world.
In order to complete the game, you need to collect the evidence and verify it at appropriate town building (you will soon get the idea – money needs to be taken to the bank, stamp to the stampstore etc.), to be able to finally grab the criminal, who is usually hiding somewhere in the surrounding forest, and take him down to the police station. With each difficulty level, there is larger area to explore, but don't let that fool you. While the game gives you the opportunity to travel around freely, that is a false sense of freedom – the time counter is merciless, and you certainly will not want to loose any precious seconds for just wandering around, as it will make your task impossible to complete.
Although Private Eye tricks you into thinking of it as an adventure game, first three levels serve only as a warmup before the proper adventure, where remaining two require a lot of patience and cartographic skills, as it is practically impossible to complete them without carefully crafted map. Can you see similarities to Pitfall! now?