Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Closer Look at Private Eye

A Closer Look at Private Eye for the Atari 2600

Activision’s Private Eye for the Atari 2600 is already a known classic; that is a given and non-negotiable. The problem lies in the fact that the game is moderately rare and far too often overlooked in favor of the flashier, ga-ga titles in the company’s extensive and impressive catalog. Therefore, I feel a closer look is in order at a game that really stretches the VCS to its limits and presents a unique gaming experience on a classic gaming platform.

Private Eye
is a game based on solving crimes by the simple process of acquiring evidence, recovering stolen items and apprehending the Master Criminal Henri LeFiend! You are ace detective Pierre Touche (play along would you, it will make it more fun) and you must solve four mind-bending cases that are testimony to LeFiend’s true skill as a thief! (Or if you are really brave, you can tackle all four cases at once, but not so fast, we’ll get there in due time) The basic game play consists of cruising around the city in your comical 1935 Model A motorized carriage (to call this jalopy a car would be an insult automobiles everywhere) searching for two specific items that are crucial to the case as well as LeFiend himself. You must obtain the two pieces of evidence first, or LeFiend will elude you no matter how many times you drive by his hiding place. Once an item is acquired, you must return it to its point of origin (i.e. return the money to the bank), before you can pick up a new item or LeFiend. After doing this for both items, you must pick up LeFiend and drop him off at Police Headquarters. Simple, right? Did I mention that each case has a time limit? Furthermore, did I mention that each time limit leaves only the slightest room for screwing up? Yeah, then there’s that.

Private Eye is tough. The first few cases are pretty simple and you’ll be solving them in no time at all, but the last two are real doozies and the final case, the Big Sweep, will keep you up nights. The real charm of this game, however, lies in the exploration of the city. The place is replete with secret passages, one-way alleys and dead-ends. “Maze” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Plus, there are lots and lots of obstacles like birds, bricks, and road blocks impeding your progress at every turn. You’ll have to search every city block nabbing questionable characters who may or may not hold the vital evidence you need if you are to succeed. Mapping is essential in the later cases and in the interest of helping you out, I’ll be providing complete city maps in the Tips and Tricks section of this missive a bit down the page.

Despite the occasional sleepless night, Private Eye is a lot of fun. The action is fast-paced, but not frantic, the mazes are tough without being hopeless, and the replay value is very high as you try to see if you can solve each case with more points and faster times. Getting the most out of this game takes patience, strategy and good old fashioned luck. For the remainder of this Closer Look, I’d like to provide some general tips for success and then take each case one-by-one and provide maps and analysis for the best ways to solve them. So if you are ready, let’s put on our sleuthing caps and dig into the dossiers. (oh and you can forget that half-assed map Activision printed on the back of the manual, it’s neat, but otherwise fairly useless)

An in-depth case-by-case guide follows after the jump!


Here are some general things to keep in mind as you embark on your patrol.

Before starting out, I recommend you set both difficulty switches to “A.” The left switch controls the speed of your jalopy (“A” makes it cruise faster), and the right switch allows you to control the height of your jump (critical) in the “A” position. Both of these things will give you a distinct advantage.

On screens with birds and other objects on the ground, it is best to lightly tap the button and make a very low jump. This will avoid collisions with birds or the ground objects and keep you moving.

Don’t sweat missing a questionable character or two. Unless they carry a piece of evidence or stolen item, they aren’t worth much. If you waste too much time trying to nab every last one, you can quickly run out of time or smack into one of those annoying birds. Once you get your beat perfected, then go for the extra points.

Learn the alleyways and use them. If there is shortcut, even one that merely skips a single screen, USE IT. You will save precious seconds and in a case like #2 EVERY second counts.

Since LeFiend’s henchmen will not appear until after you return the first item, previously empty streets can suddenly hold an evil surprise. These Henchmen can steal any item you are carrying. Stay alert, or you’ll waste valuable time retracing your steps looking for the item. After both items are returned, the henchmen will throw their daggers twice as fast. (this actually makes them easier to dodge in the later cases!

When entering a screen with a rat, be ready to jump immediately, especially entering from the right. The rat can often be RIGHT THERE and hit you before you can even react.

Bricks and Pots fall in a pattern. Learn the patterns and how to dodge the assault.

If two or more bricks fall at once in close proximity you can still get past without losing too much time. Try this: Drive under the bricks, as they fall, position your hood under the farthest brick. Just before it hits, quickly turn around. You should be able to miss both the brick in front of you and the one behind.

Pots fall at an angle. If you time it right and keep moving you can sneak right in between two pots (even if they are close), your car is just small enough.


(SPOILER WARNING!!!! The below contains suggested solutions for ALL 5 cases plus COMPLETE maps of the city. Further perusal can ruin the element of discovery. Proceed at your own discretion.)

DISCLAIMER: There is no right or wrong way to solve these cases and therefore there is most definitely more than one solution per case (except for Case #2). The below solutions are merely SUGGESTIONS. With a little practice and inventiveness, I am sure you will find even better ways to solve these cases for yourself.

A note about the maps: Alleys are color –coded on the maps and are also referenced with alphabetical designations. For each non-dead end alley, there will be a corresponding alley elsewhere on the map. For cases 1-3 I have presented the city as one continuous street divided by roadblocks. For cases 4 and 5, I have divided the city up into “Streets” using impassible roadblocks as boundaries. This has been done in the interest of clarification and more efficient organization. While I have no doubt that the city layout in cases 4 and 5 is continuous as in the first three cases, I find it much more difficult to comprehend on such a grand scale and have had greater success in creating the divisions as you see them.

Also, in the interest of being multi-beneficial, I am presenting these maps both as image files and the original Excel files. The excel files are available so that they may be downloaded, edited, and printed as you see fit. Just please be considerate and do not present these maps as your own creation or I will find you and beat you up. Thank you and enjoy.

Case #1 “Safecracker Suite”

This is the simplest case of them all. You will have plenty of time and the city is pretty straightforward. There are only two alleys and no dead ends.
Here is how I recommend you solve this case:
1. Get the Gun; return it to the Gun Shop. (use of Alley B will speed this up)
2. Get the Money Bag, return it to the Bank. (use of Alley A is optional)
3. Snag LeFiend in the forest and book him at HQ (Alley B again useful)

Case #2 “Closed on Mondays”

This may be the toughest case in the game, due entirely to the strict time limit. You could really use three minutes to solve this one, but you’ll only get two. Use of the only functional alley is CRITICAL. Also important is avoiding distractions. Don’t worry about extra questionable characters and time your jumps well so you don’t hit anything. This case is hard, don’t give up!
Here is how I recommend you solve this case:
1. Get the Vase (start out heading right)
2. Use Alley D to get to the Museum, return Vase.
3. Pick up Button on next screen.
4. Return Button to Tailor via Alley D.
5. Pick up LeFiend two screens left (you should have just under 20 seconds)
6. SPEED back to HQ.
7. Eat a sandwich! (optional, but recommended)

Case #3 “Dealing in Diamonds”

Another time cruncher, Case #3 can be just as tough as #2 if you aren’t careful. This is also your first taste of ONE WAY alleys. The main problem here is the city layout. The Gem store is carefully tucked away on a side street and is a pain to access with any efficiency. The city is also about twice as big as in the first two cases!
Here is how I recommend you solve this case:
1. Get the Necklace (use Alley C one way to get there quick, then come back to Alley E)
2. Take Alleys E and G to return the Necklace to the Gem store.
3. Get the Comb (use of Alley H saves time)
4. Return the Comb to the Hair Salon (Alleys B and D save time)
5. Hustle back to LeFiend in the forest (Alleys H and B again save time)
6. Book LeFiend at HQ (Alley H and B again)

Case #4 “Rare Stamp Roulette”

Now things get tough. Time is less of a factor in this case, but the city layout is the real obstacle. There are LOTS of one-way and dead end alleys and one particular section of alleys can be maddening. The city is much bigger (as I have broken it into 8 distinct streets on my map) and some things are well hidden in the maze-like metropolis. This is an explorer’s case; time is only a factor if you dally about too much. If done correctly, you won’t even have to venture into a quarter of the city. For the first time, those dagger-wielding henchmen are going to be a serious problem…
Here is how I recommend you solve this case:
1. Start out heading right, use Alley A.
2. Obtain the Shoe (Alleys C, T, and Q will save big time)
3. Return Shoe to Shoe Store (via the one way Alley AA on street 4, seems out of the way, but will actually save you at least 30 seconds)
4. Obtain Stamp and return to Stamp Store (Alley A to save time) Use caution, there are at least 6 henchmen here who can waste LOADS of time. Jump smartly.
5. Nab LeFiend and return him to HQ. (The following is the sequence I used: Alley P to Alley V (Alley Q and T time savers). Alley V to Alley W. Alley W to Alley Z. Alley Z to Alley DD. Alley DD to LeFiend. Once nabbed, retrace your steps to Street 4. Use Alley AA to get back to Street 1. Return LeFiend to HQ (Alley A time saver)).

Case #5 “The Big Sweep”

Only if you are really, really good. This is literally the BIG one. While you get 20 minutes, you will EASILY use them all, especially if you are inefficient. All four cases are combined into this giant mess and you will cover the ENTIRE city before you are done (I’m not kidding). While there is a method to all of this madness, your best bet is to forget everything you’ve done in the past four cases and look at this like a totally different adventure. Most importantly, develop a complete plan of action BEFORE you start out. Things are really scattered, and some things are VERY well hidden, LeFiend in particular (obtaining him can take 5 minutes all by itself!). This game has the biggest number of possible solutions but I have listed my favorite below (my favorite on paper, I am yet to successfully complete this case, due mostly to dagger wielding foes!)
Here is how I recommend you solve this case:
1. Obtain the Money Bag (Alley A to Street 2)
2. Return the Money to the Bank and pick up the Gun (Alley A again)
3. Return the Gun to the Gun Shop (Alley A to Street 2)
4. Use Alley Q to access Street 3 and pick up the Vase.
5. Return the Vase to the Museum (Alley U time saver) and pick up Button.
6. Return the Button the Tailor (Alley U time saver, Alley R to Street 4)
7. Obtain Comb (Alley R to Street 3, Alley T to Street 5)
8. Return Comb to Hair Salon (Alley T to Street 3, Alley U time saver, Alley R to Street 4, Alley X time saver)
9. Obtain Necklace (Alley W to Street 7)
10. Return Necklace to Gem Store (Alley BB to Street 5, Alley Z to Street 8)
11. Return to Street 1 (Alley Z to Street 5, Alley BB to Street 7, Alley B to Street 1, Alley CC time saver)
12. Obtain Stamp (Alley G to Street 6, Alley C time saver)
13. Return Stamp to Stamp Store (Alley G to Street 1, Alley B to Street 7)
14. Obtain Shoe (Alley B to Street 1, Alley P to Street 9, Alleys EE and HH time savers, Alley KK to Street 10)
15. Return Shoe to Shoe Store (back track to Street 1)
16. Apprehend LeFiend!!!!!!! (Alley P to Street 9, Alleys EE and HH time savers, Alley KK to Street 10, Alley LL to Street 12, Alley NN to Street 11, Alley RR to Street 13, Alley TT to Street 14 and LeFiend!
17. Toss LeFiend in the slammer once and for all! (Alley TT to Street 13, Alley RR to Street 11, Alley NN to Street 12, Alley PP to Street 1)
18. Take yourself out to a BIG, expensive dinner, because buddy, what you just did was nearly impossible! Whew!

Again, the above are MERELY suggestions, there are many ways to play Private Eye, and hopefully my maps and tips will help make your crime fighting efforts more fun and less insane. On a personal note, I have solved the first four cases, but still pursue LeFiend in the “Big Sweep.” The above solution is the one I am using right now. If I make more useful discoveries I shall update the solution accordingly. If you have an alternate solution you would like to share, please send it in and I’ll post it!

Am I a Super Sleuth? You tell me, my Private Eye scores are as follows:

Case 1: 101,500 0:29 remaining

Case 2: 101,200 0:04 remaining (I defy you to do better)

Case 3: 101,200 0:03 remaining

Case 4: 87,600 1:04 remaining


I hope this Closer Look helps you get even more out of your Private Eye experience and enjoy one of Activision’s hidden gems! ----Sleuthing Stan

Next time, I’ll be taking a Closer Look at a game that features a dwarf riding a unicorn: Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn for the PS2!!!


  1. Years ago I didn't have what it took to keep playing this game: frustration overwhelmed me and I kept giving up. But now, because of your map & guides, I am ready to give it another wack! Thank you for your detailed info on an Atari game too many people just want to forget.

  2. I could solve case 1 with 101.700 and 54 seconds remaining =D

  3. This map of case 5 is really good! I could solve it with 0:32 remaining, the score was 218.781

  4. Thank you, Jungon. I really need to get back to Private Eye. Such a good game and such nice depth of challenge for the Atari 2600!