Private Eye [Atari 2600] – Review

Activision began moving away from their original box art template in 1983.
Activision began moving away from their original box art template in 1984.

Taking inspiration from Pitfall!, Bob Whitehead’s Private Eye is a video game with simple gameplay mechanics, built around a larger, single-player orientated adventure. As one would suspect from the title, this game is about sleuthing.

Pierre Touché is on the trail of Henri Le Fiend but to book him properly, he needs evidence. Controlling Pierre, players travel through an expansive (in Atari 2600 terms) version of New York City tracking down the required items to proceed with a criminal prosecution. There are five cases in the game and they’re outlined well in the manual. Also outlined in the manual is a rough sketch of the city, helping players navigate without getting lost or being forced to make their own.

I think a big factor in my preference of Pitfall! over this game is platforming. Conceptually, both games are practically identical. I wouldn’t say it’s reductionism to call these games fetch quests in a large environment. A core conceit of the former is platforming. While the objective is to collect treasures, the platforming involved in this task takes up the bulk of the game. It’s challenging and getting timing down can be fun. I don’t see the same emphasis placed on platforming in Private Eye, and without it, I don’t find it as fun.

The little platforming required sends Pierre launching out of his 1935 Ford Model A.
The little platforming required sends Pierre launching out of his 1935 Ford Model A.

Originally getting the “Super Sleuth” badge required players to complete the third case in Private Eye. In Activision Anthology, all that’s required is to start it. So yeah, games are way easier than they used to be.

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