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Police Quest
Police Quest 2
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Police Quest: Open Season
Police Quest: SWAT
Blue Force

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by Kurt Kalata - January 22nd, 2010

In 1986, Sierra founder Ken Williams met Jim Walls, a California police officer. Jim had recently retired, partially as a result of a traumatic shoot out. Ken found this exciting - he wanted to expand his line of adventure games beyond fantasy-oriented titles like King's Quest and Space Quest, so he made Jim an offer - to design a game based on his experiences in the police force, and try to make it as realistic as possible. Thus, Police Quest was conceived.

Police Quest is a bit different from Sierra's other series, and indeed, most adventure games in general. Since the game takes place in the real world, the "puzzle" solutions involve following proper police procedure rather than lateral thinking. As a patrolman, you chase down speeders, write tickets, and haul in drunk drivers. As a detective, you'll spend more time taking samples of evidence than MacGuyvering different items (for the most part - this rule is occasionally violated.) This down-to-earth approach has given it the reputation of being a somewhat strict, droll experience, one that's more focused on following rules than doing anything fun. To an extent, that's true - there are some exciting parts, but sometimes the game takes too long to get to them. And sometimes it goes overboard with the rules, like a part in Police Quest 2, where you need to press the traffic signal button before crossing a street every single time or else you'll get run over by a car. But as the series progressed, it eventually drifted away from boring stuff and fell into the groove of an '80s cop movie, even if the writing was never more than adequate.

The series has had a bit of a bumpy history, though. Jim Walls left Sierra around Police Quest 3, with Daryl Gates, former Los Angeles police chief, replacing him as a consultant. This began a marked shift in tone for the series. The next entry focused entirely on SWAT tactics in a full motion video-based game, and then moved further away from its adventure game roots by turning it into a real time strategy game. By the time SWAT 3 rolled around, the series had morphed into a tactical first person shooter, bearing almost no resemblance to the games that spawned it.

Police Quest SCI (IBM PC)

Police Quest 3 (IBM PC)


Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel - IBM PC, Amiga, Apple II, Apple IIGS, Macintosh, Atari ST (1987)

AGI Version Cover

SCI Version Cover

The city of Lytton, California used to be such a nice place - good people, clean streets, and safe neighborhoods. Time has not been kind to it, however, and a burgeoning criminal element has taken to the streets, increasing both violent crime and drug usage. It's under these conditions that Sonny Bonds, of the Lytton Police Department, takes up the badge and enforces the law. Though he begins as a regular patrolmea, he's eventually promoted to a detective in the Narcotics department, and spearheads the investigation to take down the city's drug kingpin - Jessie Bains, AKA The Death Angel.

Police Quest is a bit different in the way it approaches its problem solving - rather than obtuse inventory puzzles, practically every obstacle can be overcome by following proper police procedure. Some of these make perfect logical sense - don't handcuff a perpetrator from the front, don't let pretty blondes try to flirt their way out of a traffic ticket, and don't bring your firearm into the prison when processing a detainee. You also have to remember to radio for help when necessary and don't randomly shoot people without cause, unless you want to get reviewed by Internal Affairs. There are, on the other hand, some potential snags, to make sure that you're reading the manual. If you don't fully inspect your patrol car when you pull out of the station, you're asking for a flat tire, at least in the AGI version. (Which, for some reason or another, leads to a Game Over.)

So on one hand, Police Quest is far more straightforward than the typical adventure game of the era. But on the other hand, it's really just kind of... boring. The first half of the game is just investigating accidents and watching for traffic violations. Referring to the manual is required for practically everything, including interpreting radio dispatch codes and booking prisoners. It gets a bit more interesting once you start interrupting drug busts and going undercover into criminal hideouts, but even then, the whole thing boils down to procedure, procedure, procedure. If there's any game that could potentially crush a kid's action hero dreams of being a policeman, it's this one.

Dealing with unruly citizens is all part of the job (SCI version).

Like most of Sierra's earlier games, Police Quest comes in two flavors - the original 1987 AGI release and the updated 1991 SCI release. Fundamentally they follow the same plot, but the SCI release is obviously much nicer to look at and easier to navigate. Some minor things have changed, like the names of certain locations and characters, and some puzzles have been altered too. For some reason, taking a shower is now mandatory in the SCI version, whereas it just gave you extra points before. When booking suspects in the AGI version, all you had to do was type in the charge, but in the SCI version you need to look up numerical violation codes in the manual. And some other puzzles have been simplified - in the AGI version you need to convince a judge to give you a no bail warrant by showing a perpetrator's file, then by showing an FBI poster and noting they have the exact same tattoo. In the SCI version, you only need to show him the file. At the end of the game, you need to go undercover and play a game of poker with the Death Angel. This is a fairly long (and annoying) mini game in the AGI version, but the SCI one lets you skip it.

Each version features drastically different driving segments, too. A good chunk of Police Quest is spent in these birds-eye view scenes, as you cruise around the streets of Lytton in your patrol car. In the AGI version, you directly control your car, which is maybe three pixels in size. It's pretty far from realistic, considering you can immediately turn around simply by pressing the arrow keys in the opposite direction. In these scenes, you need to stay in the narrow roads and watch out for cars, as bumping into anything will cause immediate death. You also need to watch for traffic signals, because running a red light without your siren on is an offense which will immediately end your game.

The SCI version revamps this to make it much simpler. You don't directly control your car, but instead, it runs on autopilot, and you just control your blinkers to indicate when you want to turn. But even when you click on the "gas pedal" icon to speed up, your car still moves remarkably slowly, and getting from one side of the town to the other takes far, far too long. It's also possible to miss turns, and since you can't turn around on the spot, you need to run around the whole block to get to your intended destination. Occasionally, the red "stop" icon will also light up, requiring that you hit the "brake" icon before you get to an intersection. If you don't, you'll crash and a message will say, calmly, "You die." It will then politely restart you a few seconds before your crash, so you can't actually get killed in these segments at all. At least this version lets you look at the buildings and street names to get a bearing on your surroundings. The AGI version, on the other hand, requires that you refer to the map bundled in the packaging. This redesigned system acknowledges that the original version was a pain, but instead of being really frustrating, now it's just really boring.

The writing and dialogue has been greatly expanded in the SCI version, but most of it is quite clichéd and a bit silly. There's some pretty ridiculous stuff in both versions, like Sonny's high school-crush-turned-prostitute, who acts as an informant, or the hot-headed police sergeant whose office is terrorized by a chicken. And although you get a partner once you transfer to narcotics, she mostly just says "good luck!" and then saunters out of the room, leaving you to your own devices. She shows up later to help with a bust or two, but her involvement is extremely minimal. In the end, though, the VGA version is mostly preferable. The character designs (mullets and large, frizzy hair abound!), the cheesy Miami Vice-style soundtrack, and the "war on drugs" alarmism all distinctly date the game as a product of the late '80s/early '90s. While unintentionally goofy, this keeps the whole experience from becoming too droll.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sierra On-Line

Publisher:

Sierra On-Line

Designer:

Jim Walls

Genre:

Adventure: Text Parser
Adventure: Point and Click

Themes:

Contemporary: Urban
Player Character: Cop
Remake Available


Police Quest AGI (IBM PC)

Police Quest AGI (IBM PC)

Police Quest SCI (IBM PC)

Police Quest SCI (IBM PC)

Police Quest SCI (IBM PC)

Police Quest SCI (IBM PC)


Comparison Screenshots


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Police Quest 2: The Vengeance - Amiga, Atari ST, IBM PC, PC-98 (1988)

Cover

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.

Police Quest 2 features a climactic battle in the sewers. Beware of toxic fumes!

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.

Famous last words.

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.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sierra On-Line

Publisher:

Sierra On-Line

Designer:

Jim Walls

Genre:

Adventure: Text Parser

Themes:

Contemporary: Urban
Player Character: Cop


Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 2 (IBM PC)


Comparison Screenshots


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Police Quest 3: The Kindred - Amiga, IBM PC (1992)

Cover

Police Quest 3, which uses the same SCI interpreter as the Police Quest I remake, is a return to form, reintegrating some of the elements from the first game that were ditched for the second. You begin the game as a Sergeant and need to spend some time patrolling the streets, and the driving segments are back. But at least they've improved them this time, as well as integrating a stronger overall plot.

Bains is off the street, but that doesn't meant the city of Lytton is safe. A recent string of serial murders suggests the involvement of a cult known as "The Kindred", who leave their victims with a pentagram carved into their chest. Marie, now Sonny's wife, falls victim to one of their attacks, and lies in a coma while he tries to track them down. There's also a subplot involving Sonny's partner, who not only acts suspiciously, but consistently acts in a manner unbecoming of a police officer. (It should be no secret that drugs are involved - it's a variation of an optional event from Police Quest 2.)

The driving segments are still a pain. Instead of a bird's eye view of the city, you only get a small window showing your immediate surroundings, as well as the name of the street you're on and the direction you're heading. Using the map included in the packaging is once again completely mandatory to figure out where you're going. While it's not as slow as the Police Quest I remake, it's still way too easy to miss turns unless you reduce your speed to a snail's crawl. You're also reprimanded for not fully stopping at stop signs - even if you crawl over the line at 5 MPH - and running over too many will deduct points from your score. You can also drive off the map totally and get yourself killed, although at least there aren't any other cars on the road to crash into.

The killers in this game do not screw around.

While on the trail of the Kindred, you also spend some time picking up unrelated felons, some of which are a bit silly, like the half-naked conspiracy nut in the park. While separate from the main plot, they're not quite as prevalent as in the first game, and thus feel less pointless. Sometimes their appearance also happens in different orders, with different events occurring later on depending on who you've caught, which makes them feel more dynamic.

You still use the detective kit to take evidence at crime scenes, though not as often as Police Quest 2. However, while previous games have allowed you to use a computer to look up case files, here you use it much more often. At one point you use facial composite software based off a witness description. In another, you mark the locations of the various murders to predict the next attack. (Surprise: they're patterned in a pentagram.)

The story takes place over the course of six in-game days, with a clock that counts forward when certain events are triggered. At the end of each day, Sonny visits Marie in the hospital. One of the "puzzles" is to read her chart, take note that her IV dosage is wrong, and tell the doctors of their mistake. After all of the crime and violence that goes on these games, it's pretty sweet to see something like this, and really gives some depth to their relationship, considering we never actually see her otherwise.

The digitized graphics make this a darker game than its predecessor.

Although Police Quest 3 runs on the same SCI engine as the PQ1 remake, it makes more judicious use of digitized footage for close-ups, although the rest of the game looks more or less the same. Sierra got Jan Hammer, composer of Miami Vice, to do the music, which feels appropriate.

While the greater variety of detective work makes Police Quest 3 feel fresher than the others, it also lacks immediacy. In the previous game, you were always heavily focused on Bains' tracks, cursing as he outwits you at every time. Here, the goals are vaguer, as you simply go from murder to murder, picking up more clues. There are still some memorable bits though, and even though it's not quite up to the standards of its predecessor, it's a reasonable entry in the series.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sierra On-Line

Publisher:

Sierra On-Line

Designer:

Jim Walls

Genre:

Adventure: Point and Click

Themes:

Contemporary: Urban
Player Character: Cop


Police Quest 3 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 3 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 3 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 3 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 3 (IBM PC)

Police Quest 3 (IBM PC)


View all "Police Quest 3" items on eBay


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Police Quest
Police Quest 2
Police Quest 3

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Police Quest: Open Season
Police Quest: SWAT
Blue Force

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