Thursday 22 March 2012

Game 13: Police Quest I - Final Rating

Game 13 is in the bag and I imagine the PISSED rating system won’t be too unkind to Police Quest. There are obvious flaws that will bring down the total, but I think it does enough elsewhere to still be a contender. Time to find out!

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.
Rating: 4

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.
Rating: 5

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.
Rating: 5

Jessie Bains! OMG!!!! It's actually Jessie 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.
Rating: 5

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...


  1. Yes, I'd say that's a fair score. A few final thoughts on the game:

    - I too find it strange that the parsing seems to be noticeable poorer than previous Sierra games, and descriptions are much sparser. In contrast, what I've seen of the VGA remake is chock full of text and the screens are filled with objects. This coupled to the "fixes" to gameplay suggest that´s the definite version to play.

    - How easy is it to lose in PQ1? Consider this example. I'm trying to bleach my hair while in the shower. Verbs like "apply", "bleach" don't work and I'm getting frustrated:
    >put bleach
    Game: "You shouldn't have done that!"
    Me: ...!!
    Game: "Thanks for playing Police Quest 1. Next time, don't make that mistake!"
    Of course I hadn't saved recently, as I didn't think bleaching was a particularly risky activity...

    - The game also has its fair share of bugs and seems to have suffered from a lack of testing. As you mention in your screenshot, I didn't know who Jessie Bains was when I got to that dramatic dialog. The game also began referencing one Taselli when all I knew so far was that the suspect went by the alias of Marvin Hoffman. Sloppy.

    - Really enjoyed the graphics, the little touches like Dooley's gray sideburns and some really good action scenes, all achieved with only a handful of planet-sized pixels. I think Crowe did a great job here.

    - I wish the investigative angle had been fleshed out. When I got Hoffman's notebook with all the cryptic notes, I figured it was time to put the pieces together. I even drove to the hotel, as it was mentioned in the notes as key for the drug operation. But soon I realized that the extreme linearity of the game meant that I'd have to wait until the plot got there.

    I had never played any of the PQ series, so I'm glad to have this one under the belt and looking forward to the sequel. Thanks again Trickster for the ride!

    1. I really enjoyed having you along for the ride Charles and I'm glad you agree with my overall feelings for the game. I hope you'll join me again in the future. :)

    2. Here's a rather enlightening quote from Al Lowe (from his interview at Hardcore Gaming 101):

      "You should've seen Police Quest I when I got onto the project. Oh my God ... Jim had written up this entire story, the programmer had implemented it, but without any of the things Jim didn't think of, therefore it was impossible to play! Jim knew the story and knew all the rules and what were you supposed to do, and the programmer had only put in the stuff that Jim had specified would happen. It was the most bizarre to game to play, because you'd get to a situation and say, what would I do? And Jim has this great wealth of knowledge of police work and he'd say, it's obvious! Well, it's obvious to you, because you'd been trained as a police officer! Nobody else is gonna figure that out! So the big project that summer was to go through and come with any kind of hints, some kind of dialogue and radio commands that would enable you to figure out what the hell you were supposed to be doing."

      No wonder we found the parser a bit lacking!

  2. Now that this has finished, I thought people might enjoy the indepth Let's Play by idonotlikepeas over at Something Awful, here:

    Be warned! It's image heavy, so if you have a slow computer, best to leave it alone. If you want to read other user's comments on there for whatever reason, click the little ¿ at the bottom of any post.

    It's really well-written, and I enjoyed reading it. Hopefully the rest of you do as well.

  3. Murkha, thank you-- that post is simply astonishing. I thought it would be the usual tiresome snark-riddled retrospective laughing at the oldie, but there's a LOT of loving work invested there. I like the approach with the little talking heads, and I can't believe he actually went through and documented every single possible response to all game actions. :-O

  4. Something Awful is really a great hidey hole for in depth let's plays. Lots of the best ones originate there such as Sierra graphic adventures and, what I think may be the best ever done, Jurassic Park: Trespasser by Research Indicates. ( Check them out.

    As for the Trickster, good job finishing the game so quickly. I think I messed up just about every way there is, but get ready. I know you have quite a bit more to do, but when you get to PQ2 you will be disappointed after this straight shooter. THe next one heads straight into Sierra F you territory and you will be frustrated. Looking forward to the next game.

    1. The Ultima ones by Nakar are my personal favourites.

    2. Sierra Sequel Syndrome strikes again?! (try and say that six times quickly)

  5. I think the score is fair enough, although if you can find the time, you might want to play the vga version, at some point. It's much better, as I recall.

    1. I'll definitely be playing the remakes when the time comes.

    2. I'm glad to hear that. Personally, I prefer the VGA games, and I think the VGA period of Sierra and Lucasarts VGA games, is the golden age of adventure gaming.

      Will you be playing the fan remakes of KQ 2 and 3 and QfG 3, as well? They have professional production levels, and measure up quite well to other VGA remakes.

  6. Thank you for playing this Trickster. Your PISSED rating sums up some of my own feelings going back through the game. It's not a great game, but despite this it's still quite fun with some great moments.

    Now for Easter eggs, dead ends and other useless things I discovered from my own experiences:
    1) The DUI driver is Al Lowe. Seriously.

    2) Speaking of Al Lowe, his dirty sense of humour is hidden in a couple of places. You can try and solicit Sweet Cheeks. Also when you have pulled over the Lady in the red car and she asks if there is anything that she could do to get out of the ticket, she does many ANYTHING.

    3) Speaking of Al Lowe, there is a location in PQ1 which looks very similar to a location seen before.

    4) There are a few places where if you forget a item you it can lead to death later on. Mainly forgetting to take your gun out of the jail gun locker, or forgetting to take your radio extender (as well as the transmitter mentioned by the Trickster). On a similar vein, leaving doors open is another way to loose easily.

    5) The computer DOES have a use. If you enter the serial number of the gun recovered from Taselli it will give you some info about it.

    6) You can look in other people's pigeon holes. Apparently some people don't like that.

    7) You don't need to get the no bail warrant to finish. You get a slightly different message later about the way Taselli dies.

    8) Wander the halls of the police station in your towel.

    9) You can wander the halls of police station with nothing!

    BONUS REAL LIFE STORY: Once when I was at primary school I really freaked out a policeman who was visiting because when he pulled out his nightstick and asked if anybody knew what it was I yelled straight away without hesitation "PR-24!" I was only eight, but can I still remember the look of surprise on his face, wondering how someone my age would know the technical term. Thanks Police Quest One!

  7. I loved this one! For some reason, I found following police procedure via the manual exciting. Then again, I was about nine when I first played this one, and twelve or so when I first beat it, so my extreme youth might have had something to do with these fond memories.

    Still, I feel that this game was very well designed, though the story is a bit lackluster. I would have given it a slightly higher "Puzzles and Solvability" score (maybe 5?), but your score of 52 seems pretty fair.

  8. PC Gamer disagrees with your assessment of the game:

    They do make some very good points about the writing.

  9. The Cutting Room Floor is a wiki dedicated to finding and documenting game content that is created, and in the final version (or demos, or released source code, or anything else that the writers can get their hands on) but not accessible during the course of normal gameplay.

    Sadly for a Sierra game there isn't much this time; just a guide to debug mode and a wall of cut or modified text: