It’s been one year after Sonny has put Jessie Bains beyond bars. He’s continued his career as a detective, and helped Marie, the hooker from the first game, turn her life around. With things going all too well, it’s only natural that something will go wrong. Bains has escaped from prison and begun murdering the people that put him behind bars in the first place. That includes Sonny, of course… and also his dear Marie.
Police Quest 2 fixes both of the major snags from the first game. For starters, you’re a detective at the outset, sidestepping all of the boring patrol stuff. And secondly, the driving segments are completely gone. All you need to do is enter your car, type in your destination, and you’re off. Throughout the whole game, you’re on the tail of Bains, looking over crime scenes for evidence, taking blood samples, running license plate numbers, and reporting in with the lab for analysis. It’s quite a bit more involving – and far more interesting – than anything that happened in the first game. At one point, you even get to put on a diving suit and screen the bottom of a lake to look for clues. It also uses the more advanced SCI0 engine.
Although there are specific things you need to uncover to advance, finding all of the evidence isn’t even really mandatory, and surprisingly, the game lets you proceed without any major penalty even if you miss them, without any threat of a dead end. You’ll miss out on points, obviously, and get reamed out by your superiors for not following proper procedures, but you can still beat the game. Sierra tried this approach with a few other later games, most notably The Colonel’s Bequest and Leisure Suit Larry 5. It didn’t quite work in either of those instances, because it was too easy to stumble through them without having any real clue of what you were supposed to be doing. With the investigative procedures outlined the manual, you have more of an idea of what you missed, at least, and replaying the game with a keener attention to detail makes it more fulfilling. It is easy to miss stuff though, especially when important details like blood splatters are nearly indistinguishable from the scenery due to the 16 color palette.
While most of the tedium from the first game has been eliminated, there are still some aggravating issues, especially when dealing with your crime scene equipment. Every time you visit a new location, you need to open the trunk, get the kit, close the trunk, use the kit, open the trunk again, drop the kit in, and close the trunk. This wouldn’t be so bad if the proximity detection wasn’t so sketchy, as you’re repeatedly told to position yourself exactly over and over. This causes a specific problem when you need to open a door without getting killed by a bomb blast. Get too far away, try to open it, and you’ll be told to move closer. Get closer, try again, and you’ll get killed, at least until you find the sweet spot that the game expects.
You also need to recalibrate your gun properly. You can only do this by heading to the firing range, testing it out on targets, then fiddling with the settings and retrying until the game tells you it’s fine. You need to do this twice at various points throughout, or else you’ll get end up getting killed when you need it the most, one of the few times you can find yourself in unwinnable situations. It’s also a slightly tedious process, although it’s kinda funny to enter the firing range without wearing ear protection, causing near permanent deafness, or firing your gun without taking it out of your holster, causing you to shoot yourself in the foot.
There’s more of an ‘80s cop movie vibe going on, as Sonny is accompanied by a mustachioed partner who’ll make occasional wisecracks, although he’s functionally useless during investigations. These light-hearted moments are fairly sparse, though, as Police Quest 2 is a much darker game than its predecessor. At one point you’ll even need to defuse a bomb on a plane, although this is one of the game’s biggest narrative flaws. During a flight, it’ll get hijacked by terrorists, which are the typical turban-wearing types from the Middle East, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Bains case. It’s just there as an excuse to snip different colored wires, and, of course, more scenes where you need to be quick on the trigger finger.
Police Quest is a series that’s been lost in the shuffle compared to other Sierra games, but if there’s any one title that deserves attention, it’s this one. It’s well-paced, fairly exciting, and more interesting than any of the others, and something of an overlooked classic.
Back in the late ‘80s, Ken Williams, president of Sierra On-Line, made a trip to Japan to license some of their PC games for North American release. He brought back the likes of Zeliard, Sorcerian, Silpheed, and Thexder. Around the same time, a handful of the company’s adventure titles were ported to Japanese PCs, including King’s Quest V, Space Quest IV, Quest for Glory I (the original version, not the remake), and Police Quest II. King’s Quest and Space Quest suffered the most because they needed to be downgraded from 256 VGA graphics to the 16-color (but higher resolution) Japanese PC display. However, other than the technical issues and the translations, most of these games were identical to their American counterparts. Except Police Quest II, anyway.
In the usual fear that the realistic-ish graphics of the original version would be off putting to Japanese gamers, this port redraws the characters in a manga style. Sonny Bond, previously a milquetoast clean cut blond guy, now has ridiculous green hair. There aren’t many close-ups, but you can plainly see the larger, rounder eyes in most of the characters, too. These are especially amusing in the mugshot profiles you find in the computer database that are used for copy protection. Jesse Bains, the villain, now has blue hair! The character sprites have been slightly altered, but not by much. Sonny has a few extra pixels of hair, and the stereotypical hardass police sergeant now has a purple afro for some reason. They even turned the pin-up girl poster in the locker room into an anime chick. There’s also a weird change to a unique Game Over screen. If you start randomly firing your pistol, you’ll get a newspaper showing Sonny gone crazy. Except they didn’t redraw Sonny the same way in the Japanese version, they just gave him extra kooky eyes and a Joker grin. The text parser understands English commands. You can also play the game entirely in English, with subtitled Japanese text displayed beneath it. The higher resolution of the PC-98 makes it possible to show crisp Japanese characters but doesn’t affect the rest of the game at all.