Activision’s Private Eye for the Atari 2600 is an often-overlooked cartridge surrounded by mystery. What’s the game’s objective? Why do people love or hate it? Why is it relatively unknown? We’ll attempt to crack this case to determine whether or not Private Eye is worth your time. Programmed by Bob Whitehead, Private Eye is an ambitious game that stretches the processing capability of the 2600 to its limits. The game features excellent graphics, which, while not on the level of Pitfall II, are some of the finest ever seen on the system. Sound is more limited, but the game does feature a brief musical score at the start of the game and when the player makes a significant accomplishment.
You play Pierre Touche, the famous French detective (with no small resemblance to Inspector Clouseau) in pursuit of the evil Henri Le Fiend. You drive through the city streets in a souped-up jalopy with incredible shock absorbers, capable of catapulting our fearless flatfoot into the air. As you drive, you search for clues, which, when found, must be returned to appropriate locations. For example, when you find a bag of money, you must return it to the bank. Once enough evidence has been found, you can then apprehend Le Fiend.
Players must complete a set of objectives in an allotted set of time, ranging from 2 to 20 minutes. The cartridge offers five cases (game variations) with differing time limits, maps and objectives.
So, with that evidence in hand, let’s tackle the mystery. Why isn’t this game as well-known as some other great 2600 titles? The answer is elementary, my dear retroists. Wait, scratch that. It’s the opposite of elementary. Without the instructions and map included with the game, most players won’t have a clue how to play it. Although the basic driving and jumping are simple enough, the map and objects to collect can be confusing. This game definitely takes a great deal of patience to master. So, is it worth your time? Well, if you don’t mind reading the instructions and are willing to spend a bit of time getting up the learning curve, you may find this game an overlooked gem. But, if you’re the type of gamer who likes to dive in and start shooting, this Private Eye may be best avoided. Case closed.