From: "Julian Arnold" (

NAME: Gumshoe PARSER: Inform standard
AUTHOR: Mike Oliphant PLOT: See below
PUZZLES: See below SUPPORTS: Z-machine ports

URL: (
Needs a Z-Machine interpreter,

You wake up on the floor outside your office, fully clothed and with a hangover. You are Joe Gumshoe, private investigator, and you owe money.

This is the premise upon which "Gumshoe" opens, nearly identical to the premise upon which so many detective stories and film noirs open, and the first of many noir mainstays (or perhaps I should say cliches?) which it adopts. There is also the sultry femme fatale with the unfaithful executive husband, the corrupt cop, the seedy bar, the unseen "Mr. Big" (in this case, one Jimmy Voigt) whose only contact with the player is via the medium of his bevvy of thugs and a mention in the introductory text, and the flickering neon. Sure, we've all seen this all before, but then, this is a genre seldom reknowned for its originality or inventiveness. Most, if not all, successful film noirs (I am more familiar with cinematic examples of the genre than with those of literature) are based on a relatively small set of standardised plot devices, and "Gumshoe" makes no attempts to break new ground here.

This is a small game which most players will be able to complete in one or two sittings. A little unfortunately Oliphant has tried to incorporate too much into such a small game, and consequently there are too many loose ends and stray plot threads by the end of the game. For example, although we are told of a frame-up involving the aforementioned corrupt cop and resulting in Joe Gumshoe's dismissal from the police force (and his subsequent involvement in his current line of work) this issue is never resolved. Also, this same corrupt cop dogs Joe's footsteps during the early part of the game, but disappears entirely after his first set-back.

The game also suffers from a few missed opportunities: the femme fatale is not actually fatale; no characters in the game are any more than they at first seem-- there are no double-crosses and no betrayal; though the plot is not entirely straightforward, neither does it contain any particular twists or surprises. However, the NPCs, of which there are a fair number, are mostly well done, each one being a believable though stereotypical character. They usually come equipped with an interesting and not entirely incidental past, and are able to satisfactorily answer questions on this.

The writing is successfully atmospheric, with the right downbeat quality, menacing undertone, and emotive turn-of-phrase. For instance,

"Well, Mr. Detective, or should I say Mr. Private Investigator, since you ain't a member of our well-respected police force no more? It seems that we got a problem here. You owe Mr. Voigt a considerable sum of cash. From what I can see, your little snoop business isn't exactly booming, so we're gonna cut you a deal. You cough up $500 by midnight tonight or you cough up a lung. Deal?"

"Yeah," Morty echoes, "$500 or a lung."

The puzzles are all based around the plot, resulting in a firm and successful marriage of game and story. It also means the solutions to the puzzles are logical and sensible-- the player is never left wondering "what do I do now?" or indeed "why did I do that?", but rather "I know what I want to achieve... now how do I do it?"

"Gumshoe" is a short, enjoyable game. Both plot and puzzles play an important part in the game as a whole, and have been skillfully interwoven by the author. The writing is good, and the genre is unusual in interactive fiction. These factors, combined with the unresolved plot elements, left me wanting more at the end. This game also has some of the coolest music in IF.

(I was a playtester for "Gumshoe".)

[This review was posted to, 7th April 1996.]