Weird and Rare – Private Eye – Atari 2600

 

What’s it all about?

Private Eye After looking through the ‘instructions’ (pictured below) I was left thinking that this game would be a complicated maze-type affair with lots of clues to piece together to get to my goal. Instead I was surprised to find an unusual type of arcade racer, where you have to guide your very well drawn sleuth-in-car around town collecting a few objects and taking them to certain buildings – all against the clock. The car is no ordinary car either, it can jump over obstacles strategically placed to take points from you and slow your progress. The jumping action also allows you to collect objects from the windows of buildings as you pass. Unfortunately for you, there are also things being hurled from windows, random birds, rats, oil puddles and falling masonry to contend with, all of which take your points away. One other interesting point about this game is that like most Activision titles, it also had it’s own patch. When originally released and you got to level 3 (verified with a photo) you could send off for the Activision ‘Super Sleuth’ patch which, because the game is fairly rare and the difficulty level was so high, is now one of the rarer ones to find.

What’s it like to play?

Graphically, they don’t get much better than this on the 2600, the main character is well drawn and animated, the ‘town’ is large and varied. The area you play in is made up of many, many screens (sometimes be reminiscent of other more famous games) and remembering where you are and where you need to go once something is collected can be difficult. This is where the game gets frustrating beyond belief. Trying to remember how many screens you went right before you turned left while the counter is running only to find that you are actually lost, you just ran over a puddle of oil reducing your score to zero and the items you so painstakingly collected now count for nothing made me want to personally take this cartridge to the nearest active volcano and throw it in. I had plane tickets booked and everything.

private-eye-instructions-sml

The 'Pitfall' forestThe Gun shop

The Police StationChanging levels

In summary

A great looking title, with an interesting concept let down by too steep a learning curve. everything is out to take points off you and even when you think you have it licked, you still need to find your way back and often can’t. I know this is how the gameplay is meant to be to be but in this instance it is just too hard, with way too much trial and error to be fun. Games are meant to be fun right?

3-out-of-5

 

 

Thoughts from Atari Attic

Private Eye is an Activision game that most of you would not have played or even heard of, unless you’re a collector. It’s one of the many titles that came out just before the market crash in 1983 and it’s clear why this title was lost in its own obscurity.

You play a French detective stereotypically named “Pier Touché” finding and collecting clues to capture each villain to progress to the next level – The premise could have been interesting as a basic RPG with the level mapping as vast as it is (albeit repetitive) or even a puzzle game that’s not trying to be a platformer.

Nice bright clean graphics with a few backdrops that will jog your memory thrown together with a neat animated main character in a bouncy car. Your good to go, but wait… the fact that your driving around in a car doesn’t seem necessary or add any fun to the game and the lack of direction (a basic level map would have been handy) leaves you feeling frustrated and in a constant state of déjà vu – am I on the upper level or lower level? Do I even care? What was I doing again? Why can I jump 50 feet out of my car?  Why do I need a frigging car if I can use myself as a trajectory in the face of adversity?

The game has no cohesion; it’s a bag of ideas through together and is poorly executed as well as one of the most frustrating Atari games ever!  You have to know where to go and in the right order whilst trying not to slip up and loose your points and or clues or get a brick in the head but the action is few and far between you have a few cameo Activision screens like the Jungle in “Pitfall” and the backdrop from “Crackpots” together with pots being pummeled at your head, but apart from that, avoiding a few darting birds and jumping up at windows for clues as RGC said its just not fun, and you expect that from Activision.

The irony is this Private Eye comes from the same programmer that brought us Chopper Command  – a nice little shoot em up. This was obviously an attempt as something more vast and cryptic but it’s missing a few basic tricks.

What would have helped is if the character could engage with enemies on foot or it turns into Keystone Kapers and you have an edge on the villain with a pimped out 30s bouncy car and 50 ft jumping advantage.

In Summary

As you drive through the Pitfall! Jungle with your big nose and bouncy car you will be wishing you were playing Pitfall! and had 20 minutes instead of 3 minutes to complete the level but with the option to turn one of the clues (a gun) on yourself. Why toss the cart into a volcano when you can end it all now. The game was clearly attempting to be quirky and funny with the parody screens, silly dialogue, characters big nose and French stereotypes like the main characters name  “Pier Touché” but falls short on playability and longevity. It plays like a bad dream to me that you can’t get out of.

If you like your games challenging and original this will be worth a few attempts, I only made level Three so maybe I’m a sore loser but hey finish that level and you would have got your self the “Super Sleuth” patch in the 80s.

Unlike Pitfall Harry Pier Touché will be lost in the gaming archives but not forgotten thanks to our weird game reviews. Private Eye is one for the collectors (R5) – Expect to pay £7-£15 loose £20-£40 CIB.

On to the next disaster-piece, it’s that all time classic that we all know and love “Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes” and that’s why we love Atari.

3-out-of-5

 

Links

Atari Attic website: http://atariattic.moonfruit.com/

Author: Ant Harper

Father, Husband, website developer, avid gamer since the mid-70s and collector of just about anything video game related. 8-Bit microcomputer and Sinclair specialist with a huge Sinclair related collection of his own. Blogs about retro gaming here but occasionally elsewhere when people ask. Bored of Mario and never much liked Zelda. Performs quirkafleegs for cold hard cash. Often found destroying ice crowns in the Lands of Midnight. Remembers: Lunar Lander. Plays: Steel Battalion, Gears of War

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