In they first big wave of Sierra On-Line’s 3-D adventure games, they started to cover all of the most common genres: they had fantasy covered (King’s Quest), they had science-fiction covered (Space Quest), so the next logical step was to go for the modern-day “simulation.” Of course this would mean the creation of the long line of the games of Police Quest. More to the point, it’s good to see that while it is weak in some key areas, Sierra managed to keep up with the quality and popularity of their other flagship titles with this first installment of an entirely new series.
Here in the first game, the narrative takes place in the fictional city of Lytton. The player follows the career of a street cop by the name of Sonny Bonds who will go from arresting drunk drivers to stopping bar-room brawls to taking down an infamous drug lord by the name of — you guessed it — “The Death Angel.” For the most part, this increasing succession of tasks works well for an opening game, as it helps newcomers basically start from the ground up, but also keeps most other parties interested by adding the level of complexity and danger with each following “incident.”
One of the game’s first major strengths is how it creates a fictional city that you care about. Yes, the outside streets looks essentially like a street map with moving squares for cars. Though it’s how they move around and surround real locations you visit throughout the game that still creates an atmosphere of a “buzzing” city. By the end of the game, you’ll know where the city’s park is, where City Hall is, where you can get fed up, turn on your siren, and burn through the slowest red lights. It’s not really the graphics that cause much to be impressed by (although how they made the drunk walk is still quite amusing), it’s how they made it work to create a world you can explore and interact with no matter how much suspension of disbelief it may sometimes require.
As for the details, the rigid following of police procedure creates a textbook collection of “requirements” to get past: it makes sure you shower, it makes sure you talk to suspects the exact, correct way, it makes sure you call for backup at the right time, and so on. This is a decent idea for a “realistic” 3-D adventure game, but it can get in the way of entertainment sometimes. For example, getting a big tip near the later portions of the game, you can actually end your game by running out to try and nab a bad guy A.S.A.P. only to learn that you forgot to “inspect” your car before you left so it conveniently had a flat. Near the earlier parts of the game, this procedural feel to the game makes sense and is actually quite interesting in its own way. But by the time the game nears its ending, nit-picking on these comes across more as pedantic than actually worthy of real adventure game puzzles.
The tone is another matter. PQ is also probably one of the few Sierra adventure games that tried to avoid humour more than others. King’s Quest may have a whimsical nature, Space Quest may have a sarcastic nature, and the Leisure Suit Larry games may be lewd, but Police Quest seemed to want to create an entertaining game without so many setup-and-punchline jokes. There’s still comic relief. The entire “squad prankster” sub-plot helps, the aforementioned drunk works (yes, in this day and age, drunks are still funny), the chronic bather is an amusing element. Though it’s much, much less than the usual Sierra game of this early era. Overall, there’s a nice give-and-take between rigid realism and cartoonish jokes. However, the shift between “realism” and “humour” only goes so far in a game like this. While comparing the technology level of the game against later, more photo-realistic installments isn’t entirely fair, there are other things that take you “out” of the game and harm the experience. The most obvious has got to be the game’s writing. The plot is fine, the can’t-get-past-one-point-until-one-action-is-completed elements are understandable in an adventure game, but it’s the dialogue that causes the most problems. This is more or less a “family-oriented” take on the police force, that’s true (no swearing, no nudity, basically nothing you’d see on Cops). Although this doesn’t excuse the game for having dialogue that is often quite simplistic or sometimes unintentionally funny. Put it this way: the game’s worst dialogue can be summarized by your character’s hooker-soon-to-be-girlfriend. Her name (and I’m not making this up) is “Sweet Cheeks,” and she seems stuck by saying the astounding, “Oh, Sonny!” no matter what you say to her. It doesn’t help that you essentially have to dress up as a blaxplotation “pimp” for undercover work near the end of the game too. Just like some of the dialogue, this is amusing, but it sure does shave off another layer of realism the game could’ve maintained as it did in later installments.
It is the first game of a series, so there was bound to be some awkwardness here and there. The rest of the game is solid, entertaining, and quite immersive. The designers took a new approach to conventional adventure game puzzles by adding in the police procedural element into it, and while this works in a hit-or-miss kind of way, it’s still an interesting mix that keeps you wanting to finish the game instead of sleep for many nights in a row. So if the game can falter with some over-extended “by the book” lessons and quite a lot of bad dialogue, it still succeeds in so many other areas of an adventure game to warrant praise. It’s well worth studying up on the documentation before heading out onto the square-buzzing city. There is — indeed — much enjoyment to be gained out of PQ. After all, at the end of the day, the lesson is learned: if we hate cops, at least we sometimes still love to act like one.
Effective environments and relatively realistic locations.
Sound is rarely used, but it mostly works for the game. There are moments of annoying bursts of music, but those are few.
Rigid following of police procedure might go too far sometimes, though the overall scope of the game is very entertaining.
With such a “live,” fictional city, at least another play is warranted to see if other solution paths can be found, but the dialogue will keep one away after that.
Extensive police procedure is found in the manual (also a form of copy-protection), which actually adds to the realistic nature of the game’s tone rather than detracts from it.