Tuesday 15 August 2017

Police Quest 1 (VGA Remake): Final Rating

Written by Alex

Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel is an interesting piece of adventure-gaming history. It might not have been the first to simulate a more realistic occupation in the sea of dragon-slayers, space-farers, and superheroes it found itself in when it first arrived on the scene in 1987, but it was the most successful, famous, and arguably unique. Say what you want about Jim Walls’ and company’s approach to game design, especially in later titles like Police Quest III and Codename: Iceman, but he and Sierra truly captured magic.

However, Mr. Walls had left Sierra at some point after the release of Police Quest III, and as such was not involved with this remake. Given that Walls was the father of Police Quest, and his experiences on the force helped give the original game, and the series as a whole, its realistic tone, it’s interesting to note that the remake does not mess with what made the original so groundbreaking. Other than the obvious cosmetic changes and the new interface which necessitates new ways to perform the same puzzle solutions, Police Quest remains intact.

In addition to its subject matter, the Police Quest remake is also curious, as it belongs to that family of Sierra classics updated from the original EGA parser version into the VGA, 256-color point-and-click interface. Like Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, King’s Quest, and Quest for Glory, only the first installment of Police Quest got this treatment. While there seems to be big money in remakes now (hi Square Enix), at the time these remakes weren’t profitable enough for Sierra to overhaul all of the non-point-and-click games in their respective franchises. Alas, what could have been.

And now it’s time to subject this remake of a groundbreaking game to Trickster’s also groundbreaking PISSED rating system and find out how it fares, Jim Walls or no Jim Walls! As I did when I rated the Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards remake, I’ll also include Trickster’s original ratings to see how things have changed in the transition from parser-driven EGA to point-and-click VGA.

Puzzles and Solvability

You know something? After reading Trickster’s ratings for the original Police Quest, I realize that the same issues he had with the parser interface, and the game’s predilection for either being uber-procedure driven (in other words, do what the manual says), too easy, or too obtuse, are the same ones I had. The thing is, swap out the parser for point-and-click, and the problems are analogous.

For example, clicking “Talk” on the wrong perp in the Bert’s Park drug bust should not lead to Sonny issuing the wrong command . . . especially when the game gave no indication as to which of the criminals he should be addressing. That’s just plain bad puzzle design. And then there’s the whole needing Lt. Morgan’s phone number thing which nobody told Sonny about before his undercover operation began (why, oh why could Sonny not have just used the damned phone book?).

And yet despite all of this, none of the puzzles felt that unfair. In fact, for the most part, Police Quest did a rather good job of guiding the player to the proper solution . . . almost too good. And if the game didn’t do it, then the manual did. I would go even further and say that the game is a little bit easy. It’s rather linear and on-rails, in that scenarios happen to Sonny (that is, the player) and Sonny has to react to them. There is no real exploring Lytton or searching out things to do. Which makes sense, since that’s the nature of police work, which this game was trying to simulate.

And it did a good job of it, ridiculous Hotel Delphoria sting operation plan notwithstanding. But a 4 does make sense, parser or mouse.

Original Rating: 4
Remake Rating: 4

Interface and Inventory

The interface is standard, mouse-driven Sierra early 90’s SCI stuff: You right-click to scroll through commands like “Walk, “Look,” “Get/Use,” “Talk,” and whatever your chosen inventory item is, and then left-click to perform the action. I have no complaints, nor does it stand out. Even better, it doesn’t do that annoying early-SCI game red X if you click on something you can’t interact with; instead, you just get a (usually) generic bit of flavor text. And there was only one situation where the interface worked against me: the bust in Bert’s park. That said, there are some rooms where it seems like the programmers got lazy and included no flavor text or funny hidden messages, whereas others, like the back room in the Hotel Delphoria, are chock full of them.

And I have to say, the driving interface is not bad at all! It’s tedious, yes, the way all driving is in Police Quest games, save for Police Quest II. And although tedious, and really superfluous, as there are limited locations you need to visit and no real ability to explore, it at least makes Lytton feel like a real city that the player is really patrolling the streets of. It’s not as good as the interface in the original game, but it gets the job done and doesn’t get in the way like the one in Police Quest III does.

The worst part of driving, though is that if you miss a turn you have to go all the way around the block to approach your desired destination again. And some destinations, like the police department itself, can only be entered from one direction. Annoying.

Regarding the poker-game interface, I found it slow and boring, but you can skip playing poker entirely, so it’s really inconsequential.

As far as the inventory goes, yep. It’s an inventory. You see a picture of your item and clicking “Look” on the picture gives you a little bit of text describing the thing. The descriptions are nothing of note, but they get the job done. There isn’t much to do in the inventory, either. The only items I could combine were the pen on the ticket book, which you only have to do once in the entire game. Seeing as how the EGA interface rated a 5 on the PISSED scale, I’d feel silly giving the remake’s anything lower . . . but I also don’t think it deserves anything higher either. The interface and inventory in the Police Quest remake is a workhorse: Solid, dependable, and it gets the job done . . . without being annoying. In light of this, how could it be anything other than a 5?

Original Rating: 5
Remake Rating: 5

Story and Setting

Police Quest makes the player piece together what is happening through bits gleaned from the manual, clues picked up during Sonny’s investigation, and from what other characters reveal through conversation and interrogation. The plot does its job: The city is in the throes of a death-and-drugs epidemic traced back to a shadowy, dangerous figure known only as The Death Angel. Sonny’s routine is shaken up by events set in motion by this crime kingpin, and he eventually becomes a narcotics detective and plays an instrumental role in taking him down. It’s not Earth-shaking, but it sets a perfect frame for the events of Police Quest: it gives the player an overarching goal as the game throws more mundane police situations at you, like a speeder, a drunk driver, and rowdy behavior interrupting a local business.

The domestic violence event dispatch calls Sonny about prior to the showdown with Taselli is disappointing—this incident isn’t in the original game, but here it’s just for verisimilitude as there is sadly no way for the player to actually do anything at the address provided. A shame; it seems like a missed opportunity to add an additional puzzle to the game, which could have made the remake really stand out on its own merits.

The setting, the sleepy though growing town of Lytton, California, really worked. The overhead map when you drive is colorful, and I like the way that the game lets you click on the building and streets and get a description. It brings the town to life, despite the lack of any other traffic . . . and it also kind of looks like the original SimCity.

And its citizens are well-written, each with distinct personalities, a point that we’ll elaborate on further when we get to the “Dialogue and Action” portion of our rating. Suffice it to say, the original received a 5 here, and seeing as how we have the exact same story and setting, I’m going to keep my rating a 5.

Original Rating: 5
Remake Rating: 5

Sound and Graphics

Here’s where you would expect the score for a remake of an older game to diverge, and Police Quest doesn’t disappoint. Although it’s nothing spectacular compared to today’s fare, this is a damn fine-looking game.

The graphics are bright, detailed, and everybody and everything looks like what it’s supposed to look like. The background details bring each scene to life, and although the character portraits might be a weak point, they’re honestly not that bad.

How can you not love 90s kid here?

The FMV-type scene during the drug bust in Bert’s Park showcases some of the then-hot, new technology, integrated in a way that isn’t obnoxious and actually serves the purposes of the game, since the proper procedure before arresting somebody is to observe than an actual crime has been committed (imagine that!). This close-up scene helps Sonny—and the player—see the crime.

The game’s sound design is really good as well, not just the tunes but how they are used. First, the songs themselves are good, giving off an appropriately cop-show vibe, especially during the introduction and while Sonny is driving. Speaking of which, the driving music changes from guitar-rock to a mid-tempo, kind of sleazy funk at certain points. And I like how the music gets softer and louder, and even changes, depending on where Sonny is on the screen and what he is walking towards. It’s a minor point, but it’s cool.

The sound-effects are also quality, with everything sounding like it should sound like. All told, I can’t give this anything less than a 7.

Original Rating: 5
Remake Rating: 7

Environment and Atmosphere

I’ve already waxed poetic about how Lytton feels like an actual city, but the individual locales also do a great job of setting an appropriately urban environment. From seedy bars to diners, fancy hotels to back alleys, and even the police station itself, every scene combines graphics, music, and sound to create great settings for Sonny to explore.

The entire package really pulls the player into this world, making each scene interesting and exciting. Even places that the player is only required to visit once, like Cotton Cove or the Courthouse, are memorable.

All of this goes towards the game’s atmosphere. It’s a city, and it feels like one. More importantly, the crimes Sonny investigates and the baddies he arrests all go towards creating the feeling of a city under siege. The drug problem is out of control, even killing Sonny’s colleague’s daughter. It’s dark and grim without getting too depressing. I think this darkness works too because when the original game was made—1987—America was still a good half-decade or more from reversing its crime problem in its major cities, so lots of what Police Quest depicted felt all too real. Good stuff. As with the original, this one gets a 7.

Original Rating: 7
Remake Rating: 7

Dialog and Acting

There’s dialog here, there’s a lot of it . . . and it’s really good! I have to say, the quality of the writing here impressed me. It’s not quite on Conquests of the Longbow or Secret of Monkey Island level, but it’s obvious that the writers put a lot of time into this.

The banter zips along, the bad guys are appropriately cheesy, the women are flirty, and the most important litmus test has been passed when it comes to dialog and characters: Do they speak and act the way an actual human being would in a similar situation? Here in Police Quest, I have to say that yes they do. Everyone has their own distinct personality, from Taselli to Judge Palmer to even bit characters like Alex the bartender and the two goons playing cards with Sonny and Bains—er, I mean, Mr. Frank Magpie. It’s cop-show fare and it knows it. Indeed, Police Quest seems to revel in it, blending actual police procedure with the bombastic kind of dialogue that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a police procedural TV show in the early 90s.

There’s no “acting” to speak of, not counting whoever it was they got to play not-Jesus and 90s kid during the drug bust FMV scene, but here’s another instance where the Police Quest remake scores HIGHER than the original. A 6 it is.

Original Rating: 6
Remake Rating: 7

Alright, it’s math-time. Let me fire up the latest in computational technology and . . .

4 + 5 + 5 + 7 + 7 + 6 = 35
35/.6 = 58

58! Considering that the original Police Quest scored a 52, this isn’t as big of a gap as one would think. Which, when you think of it, is testament to how good the original game was.

Still, it feels a little too high. Though the game improves upon some aspects of the original, and indeed tries to use new technology like the quasi-FMV scene in Bert’s Park, I can’t say that it’s groundbreaking. Maybe it’s not fair to hold the remake up to the same standard as the original, which truly broke the mold, but I’m not happy with this score. So I shall use my discretionary point to drop it down to a 57, the same as Police Quest II, coincidentally, and still far higher than Police Quest III’s score of 47.

57 sounds about right. It’s a solid, entertaining game that does what it sets out to do—make you feel like a cop—and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Good stuff.

The only contemporary reviews of the Police Quest remake I could find of the game come from non-English publications, two from Germany and one from Finland. So while I am unable to get into the details of the reviews, they seemed to enjoy the game well enough: in July, 1992, Finnish magazine Pelit gave the game a score of 80, while in February, 1993, two German magazines gave Police Quest a 78 (Play Time) and a 77 (PC Games (Germany)). These scores sound about right.

I hope everyone enjoyed this playthrough as much as I enjoyed writing it, and if you haven’t played either version of the first Police Quest game, I really do recommend that you give them a shot.

Thanks everyone. I think I’ll be putting my badge down for a while and finally leaving the world of Sierra for my next game. See you then.

CAP Distribution

100 CAPs for Alex
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging through Police Quest remake for our enjoyment
50 CAPs for Joe Pranevich
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For blogging through Enchanter for our enjoyment
35 CAPs for TBD
  • True Companion Award - 25 CAPs - For playing along Police Quest remake with Alex and recording the tale in comments
  • Jumped the Shark Award - 10 CAPs - For an excellent candidate in the caption contest
28 CAPs for Ilmari
  • Slightly High Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing within one point the score of Police Quest remake
  • The Wild Night of Sonny Bonds Award - 3 CAPs - For telling the true story how Sonny got to the police apartment at the start of the game
  • I Found My Thrill Award - 15 CAPs - For a Happy Days themed candidate in the caption contest
25 CAPs for Andy Panthro
  • True Companion Award - 25 CAPs - For playing along Police Quest remake with Alex and recording the tale in his own blog
20 CAPs for Jim Walls
  • Stop It While You Can Award - 20 CAPs - For finally leaving the front door in Alex's home
17 CAPs for MarkE
  • EGA Trivia Award - 7 CAPs - For sharing some information about the original Police Quest
  • Saturday Night Live Award - 10 CAPs - For a death inducing candidate in the caption contest
10  CAPs for Lupus Yonderboy
  • Slightly Low Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing  within one point the score of Police Quest remake
10 CAPs for GregT
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing correctly the score for Enchanter
8 CAPs for Voltgloss
  • Trivia Wizard Award - 8 CAPs - For some tidbits of information about Enchanter
5 CAPs for Kirinn
  • Broken Continuity Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out that the bartender must have switched genders between the remake and the second game
4 CAPs for Rowan Lipkowits
  • King's Quest Did It Too Award - 4 CAPs - For pointing out that Alex had omitted one Sierra remake
4 CAPs for Raifield
  • The Dead Kickstarter Award - 4 CAPs - For reminding us about the sad fate of Precinct
3 CAPs for Alfred n the Fettuc
  • Chicken Equals Police Award - 3 CAPs - For teaching us French slang
3 CAPs for Jason
  • Out of the Closet Award - 3 CAPs - For bravely coming out of the lurker zone


  1. Nice writeup. And you brought up things that I hadn't noticed, like the purpose of the "FMV" drug scene.

    Also, I read the back cover and noted two sentences that when put together, amused me...

    "Luck does not play a part in successfully completing the program"
    "High stakes poker"

  2. And I read everything! It's taken six months but from the very start I am now up to date (expect me to commenting a lot more from now on)!

    You're all doing a fantastic job with this - it's great fun.

    1. Congratulations on making it to the end!

    2. Well done, and good to have you on board!

      But now you'll have to wait days between posts rather than reading... maths... maths... wow... maths... 5 posts per day!!!

    3. @Kus Glad you enjoyed the ride! There were some Jim Walls-sized bumps along the way, but we made it to the end unscathed.

      And dang! You read the whole site! You deserve a medal or something for that!

    4. Jim Walls has been one of the highlights!

    5. @Kus Wow...there's a first time for everything.

  3. @TBD GREAT catch on the box! I love self-contradictory statements in general, and this one is choice.

  4. Kinda off topic, but while thinking about games that make you feel like a cop, I thought I'd share my favourite.

    L.A. Noire made me feel more like a cop than any other game I've played. An excellent game that I'd highly recommend if you don't mind playing the occasional action game.

  5. @TBD Never played it, but I take your recommendation seriously.

    That is...as long as L.A. Noire has obscure puzzles, a gambling mini game, and a designer who inserts himself into the action to tell the player when he's done goofed up.