Puzzles and Solvability
As I’m sure I’ve made it clear in my previous posts about Police Quest, almost the entire game is based around following procedures described in the manual as opposed to using logic and common sense to solve puzzles. The various scenarios that Sonny faces throughout the game, including the crash scene, the DUI, the weapon-packing criminal, and the drug bust, are all completed by opening the manual, finding the relevant instructions, and applying them to the situation with no alterations. It’s kind of fun to see things unfold, but there’s no real sense of achievement at the end of it all. On top of this, whenever you are struggling to figure out what to do, the game will often blatantly tell you, making the game overall pretty easy to complete. However, the few times Police Quest does put the ball in your court, demanding the player make some decisions of their own, the parser just isn’t up to the standard that games like Leisure Suit Larry had set (I’ll talk about that in the next section). Overall, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the procedural based scenarios, but they held no real challenge and therefore gave no real satisfaction.
Making the player check whichever car their going to drive every time they want to use it does not result in fun
Interface and Inventory
I might as well cover the text parser while I’m already talking about it. While the underlying technology behind the parser in Police Quest is the same as it was in previous Sierra adventure games, in this instance not much effort seems to have been made to allow the player multiple commands for any given task. You want to ask about the transmitter pen? Ask about pen doesn’t work. Ask about transmitter does! You want to take the FBI Most Wanted List page out of the clipboard? Take page doesn’t work. Take list does! This leads to false negatives, where the player is put off the correct path through no fault of their own. The only other differences in interface between this game and the others I’ve already played are the mini-games, which play more of a role here than they have previously. You spend a lot of time driving and playing poker, so it’s good news that the interface to these is solid. Driving around is pretty easy and while doing it at higher speeds is not, the same could easily be said for real life too! The only strange thing to note about that is that you can drive backwards or forwards with no discernible difference, which doesn’t match the reality that has been applied to the majority of the game. The inventory is as you would expect and not worth mentioning.
I'd pull over too if the cop pursuing was keeping up with me whilst driving backwards!
Story and Setting
I’m not even sure there is technically a story to speak of in Police Quest. The game is broken up into numerous separate scenarios, most of which have no connection to any overarching plot. The developers did try to inject some ongoing subplots, such as the gremlin practical joker in the station, the Sweet Cheeks romance, and Sonny’s friend Jack having issues with his daughter’s drug problem, but none of them run full circle, either never receiving a resolution or reaching one with no real lead up. Calling the game Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel is pretty misleading, as no mention is made of the Death Angel until the undercover situation that closes the game. It’s not like you spend the game trying to hunt him down and get caught up in other situations on the way. I’m not going to be too harsh here, as the developers achieved exactly what they set out to do. I just think they could have included a real plot and still given the player the chance to use real life police procedures.
Jessie Bains! OMG!!!! It's actually Jessie Ba...um...who did you say it was again?!
Sound and Graphics
The sound effects are pretty much identical to other Sierra games of this period (minimal usage and low quality). As for the music, I can’t say it was particularly memorable, which is exactly what I said for the last game Margaret Lowe worked on, King’s Quest III. She seems to have a knack for creating adequate yet completely forgettable music for Sierra adventure games. The graphics are also as you expect, but it’s definitely worth pointing out that Police Quest has the most variety out of all the games I’ve played so far. The game isn’t limited to the Police Station and takes the player out onto the road and to locations as various as the cafeteria, a bar, the city jail, the beachfront, the local nightclub, the courthouse, the city park, and a grand hotel. All of these locations are convincing and colourful, and I imagine Mark Crowe must have had significantly more time to produce all the graphics required than he did for the likes of Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry. I still can’t justify giving the game the first 6 (if the music had been better, I might have) for sound and graphics, so it’s 5 again.
Plenty of room at the Hotel Delphoria. Any time of year, you can find it here.
Environment and Atmosphere
The developers did a great job of making Lytton feel like a real, thriving community. Not only does the player gain access to all the locations I spoke about in the Sound and Graphics category, they also get a top down view of the whole city while driving around. This really does give Police Quest the most complete game world that I’ve experienced so far, so the game certainly deserves credit for that. If you’ve ever seen the movie Police Academy, then you’ll know what that type of humour is like, and some of that has been injected into Police Quest. However, there are certain scenes that have a much more serious tone, and I think this works given the very real threat that Sonny faces during them. The pulling over of Marvin Hoffman (later known as Jason Taselli) is a highlight on this front. The atmosphere in the game jumps around a bit due to this mixing of comedy and serious police work, but I think it works overall, which is probably why I enjoyed the game so much despite all my criticisms.Rating: 7
Take Police Academy, add a little bit of L.A. Confidential, and a touch of Casino Royale, and mix! What do you get!? (Actually, you probably wouldn't get Police Quest, but I tried you know?)
Dialogue and Acting
I can’t be sure, but I’d imagine Police Quest has the most dialogue of any of the games so far. When I scan the hundred plus screenshots that I took whilst playing, the first thing I notice is just how many of them are filled with words rather than images. I imagine anyone playing this game back in the 80s would have been forced to take a lot of notes on paper, although there admittedly is a notepad and pen in the game that you can use to write important things down. Jim Walls input into the game gives all of this dialogue a certain level of authenticity, but Al Lowe’s silliness (and I say that with the utmost respect) is just as evident. The one area where the game doesn’t match up to say, Leisure Suit Larry, is the level of optional detail in each scene. In that game, you could ask about pretty much anything on any screen and get a relevant and often hilarious response. In Police Quest, undoubtedly due to the game giving the player such little room for experimentation, most requests are met with default responses such as “it’s not important” or “you don’t have one”. It’s a bit tough to criticise the game too much for dialogue that isn’t there rather than the stuff that is though, so I’m giving the game a 6 for Dialogue and Acting.Rating: 6
Hang on, did I just give this game a 6 for dialogue? Nah...I couldn't have!
Police Quest gets a PISSED rating of 52, which is the same score that Below the Root and King's Quest III received. They're very different games to this one with different strengths and weaknesses, but I'm not unhappy with that result. It rightfully came in below Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry and didn't come close to Maniac Mansion, and that's the way it should be. I'll be very interested to see what parts 2 and 3 are like, as I have no idea whether they continue on with the procedural style puzzles or take it in a different direction altogether. But, they're a long way off, especially when I may not survive Shadowgate! It's time...