Contrary to what you might think, police work has been made to look more glamorous than it is long before CSI and Law & Order stepped into popular culture. Yes, we shouldn't forget the profound contributions of Miami Vice. But the most realistic of the Sierra adventure games did not stoop to such base entertainment. Instead, all four games were grim thrillers with a penchant for making you walk through all kinds of police procedure (sometimes to a pedantic degree), all while hunting down drug lords, serial killers and satanic cults. Forget Space, Heroes, Kings, or Larry. This is Police Quest.
A recent arrival on the nostalgic shelves of GoodOldGames.com, the Police Quest adventure series is now available as a collection. The games are classic adventures in every sense of the word, providing you with areas to explore, items to manage, and pages of dialogue to absorb. The first game arrived in 1987 and the series hung around until 1993, exiting the scene amidst the more popular Lucasarts adventures. There hasn't been anything like it before or since. You step into the shoes of Sonny Bonds, a police officer whose beat soon puts him on course for a temporary promotion to the local Narcotics unit and on the trail of the drug lord The Death Angel. This adventure would not only do wonderful things for his career, but also ignite a romance with an old highschool friend.
In the sequel, Bonds is now a detective and is put on the case when the drug lord escapes prison. It resolves the storyline, allowing Sonny to step into a whole new investigation, involving drug cartels and cults, in Police Quest 3. After this the series creator, Jim Walls, left Sierra and the final game was created under the guidance of Daryl F. Gates. It brought a stark change to the series in what would be the final Police Quest. Technically two more games, under the SWAT spin-off sub-banner, were released, but they are largely disregarded by the adventure game fans.
Analysis: Playing GOG's Police Quest collection is an adventure time capsule, at least as far as the Sierra part of history goes. The first game is one of the much-loved VGA remakes that Sierra released in the early 90s, where the original 80s adventure games were updated with higher-res art and the type-command was replaced with a point-and-click interface. But the remake magic did not reach Police Quest 2, appearing here in its original type-command glory. Instead of clicking with a mouse, you types in commands and moved the character with the keyboard cursor buttons, a graphical step up from the old text adventure games.
Police Quest 3, on the other hand, is a point-and-click, but one of the earliest Sierra games to use the technology. Thus the Police Quest 1 remake looks and feels more polished. Police Quest 4, on the other hand, went straight for photo-realistic graphics, much the craze in the early Nineties.
Many things have changed through the series, most notably the way you navigate around the game's various city areas, from simple driving in PQ1 and simply typing in destinations in PQ2 to PQ3's confusing driving simulator and PQ4's simple interactive map. The series also becomes notably maturer through its lifespan, from PG-13 violence in the first game to the rather grim scenes in PQ4 (including several bodies and a rather unfortunate find in a freezer).
Naturally, it all looks more harmless today, given the pixel graphics and antiquated feel, but the fourth game is definitely not something that young kids should try without some supervision. The Police Quest series is also notoriously tough, not because it presents vexing puzzles, but because it is a stickler for procedure. In classic Sierra style you can easily mess up early by missing something vital, but only realizing later (though nothing nearly as vicious a the Leisure Suit Larry 1 apple ). It's not a series heavy on handing you too many hints, either, and in true pre-Lucasarts style you can expect to replay each game several times before doing it all right (or save very often).
Is it all worth doing? The demise of classic adventure games has often been lamented as a tragedy, but ultimately they drove themselves out of existence by just becoming too hard. It's not possible to go back in time and see if this is also what ended Police Quest's career, but the games certainly did not hold back. So if someone is only familiar with the error-tolerant adventure games where you couldn't mess up or die, this series might be a bit hardcore. In addition the rather wild changes in graphics (made lopsided by only PQ1 seeing a revamp) will seem a bit bewildering outside of context.
These things do not make the games bad, but they hail from an era that demanded a lot from players and went through a wild ride of innovation. The most obvious buyers for this collection are people who have played them before (or have a worthwhile hobby discovering this classic gems), and at the asking price it's a steal. It's also great to see the classic Sierra adventures surface on GOG, which has taken great care to configure Dosbox and make sure the games work perfectly in Windows. All you need to do is install it, even the documentation is included to bypass the original game's copy protection measures (archaic methods that referenced the game manuals).
The only Sierra adventures that were more mold-breaking are the RPG-infused Hero's Quest and it's hard to think of anything in adventuredom that went to such a realistic place as Police Quest. If Monkey Island was Pirates of the Caribbean, Police Quest could be The Wire (or at least The Shield). I can't lie and said it aged well visually, but it keeps a certain character and old-school adventurers will get a kick revisiting the streets of Lytton and Los Angeles.
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