One of the lesser known Activision titles, Private Eye is a unique multi-screened action/adventure game that defies categorization. You play the role of Pierre Touche, a French private eye who must track down and capture the villainous Henri Le Fiend. Private Eye is a strange mixture of action, adventure, and memorization, which puts it in a category all by itself.
Private Eye is separated into five different cases (difficulty levels): Safecracker Suite, Closed on Mondays, Dealing in Diamonds, Rare Stamp Roulette, and The Big Sweep. Each case has a set number of items you must find and return to its proper place before Henri can be captured (collecting evidence). The number of items, time limit, and size of the level depends on the difficulty of the case. While the first case may not be all that difficult, I have yet to see anyone who could beat "The Big Sweep".
Thankfully Pierre doesn't have to walk or the game would be over before you found your first clue. Pierre comes with his own car (a shiny new Model A!), which he can use to get around the city. However this isn't your ordinary car, it can jump! Whenever you press the fire button Pierre and his car will jump into the air, you can use this to jump obstacles in the road or to catch questionable characters hiding in upper story windows. Catching these characters is a good thing as they have the items your looking for. Unfortunately you have no way of knowing which one has your item, so poor Pierre must question each character until he finds the right one. Questionable Characters look like little spies with a question mark peaking their heads out of windows. After you catch the right character and recover an item, you must return it to the proper place (the gun to the gun store, vase to the museum, comb to the barbershop, etc.). However finding all these places is easier said than done. After all the evidence is collected you must go nab the crook and take him back to the police station before the timer runs out.
The game is set up as a set of large city blocks; the difficulty of the case determines how many blocks (screens) the current game is (from 32 to 248). Unfortunately for Pierre, the city is constantly undergoing renovations so roads will be blocked off from time to time. Thankfully there are secret passages which you can use to quickly zip from block to block, but watch out for dead ends and one way streets! Activision was kind enough to provide a map on the back of the instruction booklet, but it's rather crude and will only give you a general sense of where you're going. To solve the later cases you're going to need to draw your own map. Oh did I mention that the secret passages and roadblocks change from case to case?
Even though Private Eye's theme is full of violent items (guns, knives, shady characters), there's really no way to actually die in the game. If Pierre happens to take a knife in the head (ouch!), you'll only loose some points and a bit of time (he gets stunned for a second). However you still need to be careful as you are given a very short amount of time to solve each case, and any delay could mean failure. Also note that after you successfully return your first item the criminal element will be after you. Shady characters will emerge from their hiding places to throw daggers at you, and while these daggers may not be deadly, they will cost you any item you happen to be holding at the time.
Private Eye is a wonderfully creative game with sharp graphics, a huge map, and outstanding gameplay. Some gamers may be turned off by all the aimless running around between locations, but mapping out the game is part of the challenge. Private Eye isn't one of those games that you can just plug in and expect to know how to play; it takes time to learn the intricacies of the game. But if you're willing to take the time, you will be rewarded by a game with depth and a sense of purpose not found in most 2600 games.