"Wine cellars, back room casinos and more serve to set the plot somewhere just after Prohibition ended. Throw in a few alleys that connect everything—you can’t just walk boldly down the street when you’re wanted, after all—and you still don’t have more than what amounts to perhaps a city street or two. It’s only the secret passages and such that make this quest feel any larger than it is."
It’s one thing to wake up in the morning with a pounding headache and wonder what you did last night. But what if your memory didn’t recall attending that college party? What if your memory couldn’t even account for your name? Ace Harding, the protagonist in Deja Vu, has precisely that problem. He wakes up in a bathroom stall with no more than a trench coat and a pistol for company. The minute he stumbles from the stall and looks into the dingy restroom’s mirror, the nightmare begins.
As the player, you’re along for the ride. There’s a deep mystery here, one that involves betrayal and murder. You lie at its center, and you’ll have to travel through a series of locations to find just what happened that you can’t remember. Who was killed? Why? How come so many people want you dead? Why didn’t they just murder you? The world of Deja Vu is full of such questions, and the only way to answer them is to explore.
Doing so means navigating a menu-based system straight out of the old computer adventure titles (which is what this title began as). You’ll use the controller to select an action from the menu. Then you must move it across a picture to select a target, or across a small window with boxes that point out ‘clickables’ to the unperceptive. Either way, the experience rather quickly grows tedious.
It also grows fairly dangerous, at least for Ace Harding, which is the game’s saving grace. Between the vintage cars and seedy saloons, you’ll find an assortment of dangerous mobsters, women on the take, alligators and other assorted dangers. And since you can’t really go to the police—they’d arrest you in an instant—you have to brave it all alone. Fortunately, you can save just about whenever you like, so you never have to backtrack far if you remember to do so.
Speaking of backtracking, the neighborhood you’ll explore isn’t particularly large. It mostly consists of a few buildings that look like they were pulled out of a James Cagney film. Wine cellars, back room casinos and more serve to set the plot somewhere just after Prohibition ended. Throw in a few alleys that connect everything—you can’t just walk boldly down the street when you’re wanted, after all—and you still don’t have more than what amounts to perhaps a city street or two. It’s only the secret passages and such that make this quest feel any larger than it is. If you’ve ever played an Infocom game, you have an idea of Deja Vu’s scope.
But games like this aren’t just about size. They’re about experiencing something different, and it’s in that manner that Deja Vu truly excels. There’s not a moment where you really feel safe, even though you know things are menu-based. What if you go into the next screen and there’s a gator, for example? What if you respond poorly to the vixen in the red dress and she shoots you? Between worrying about those hazards that may cut your journey short, and wondering what will happen when you’ve fully unraveled the mystery, you’ll likely get quite a bit of enjoyment out of the game. You just have to remember to keep your cool. Ace Harding certainly won’t.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (February 01, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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