Jesus Christ, this game is a relic.
I don’t just mean that Police Quest is a relic in that its technology’s been outmoded. That’s sort of just how videogames age – and really, it looks pretty good for sixteen colours and a resolution of 320×200 pixels. Some games in this vein can hold up, later – usually games that are heavily system driven. That’s not the kind of game Police Quest is.
Broadly speaking, the type of game Police Quest compares to in modern eras is actually Half Life and Half Life 2 – a linear sequence of gameplay changes, each one designed to present you with a different spectrum of options, where you, broadly speaking, have some degree of success or failure. Half Life measures success and failure with basically, your health and ammunition, but broadly speaking, you’re never going to be punished for not doing well enough scene to scene. Same thing holds for Police Quest, where you have a score that rewards you for doing the right things, but also for doing the rightest things.
It differentiates itself from other games like Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry in that it has long periods of formless, unguided ‘freedom,’ where you just get to roam around and wait for the next thing to happen to you or around you. It isn’t the kind of game where you have an end goal – it instead strives to be a sort of slow, steady emulation of your day-to-day-life as a police officer. Of course, it screws that up a little bit because it’s all one day, and my, my, my, what a full day it is.
Police Quest ultimately wants to judge you, the player, for your efforts to ‘be’ a policeman. Modelling it somewhat hollowly on the life and experience of Jim Walls, the game asks you stick to Police Procedure to maximise your score. Thing is, it also is full of little things that can lose you points – including ‘leaving the shower running’ or ‘leaving a locker door open,’ which makes you more of a fussbudget.
By the way, murdering a biker when you don’t have to? Same loss of points as leaving the shower running.
Ultimately, the character of Sonny Bonds the story wants you to play is a lawful good stickler for the rules, patient and proper, good to the people of Lytton and always doing the right thing, even when nobody is around to judge him. The problem the game has expressing that is that Sonny…
Sonny Is A Real Piece Of Shit
Look, it’s hard to hold it too hard against Sonny Bonds. Sonny Bonds is really just the policeman that the developer wanted to put forwards, either as an ideal, or as what he thought was a real representation of himself. Sonny Bonds was created by a former policeman, who was himself, created by the environment of his society, which was created by other policemen and so on. It’s machines to make machines all the way down, and Sonny is just the end point of a number of garbage-in garbage-out systems, which perpetuate scummy ideas while surrounding themselves with justification for those scummy ideas.
In Lytton, the police are right. In Lytton, bad guys back down from authority, and the worst guys go down with a single popped gunshot.
This is the world Lytton wants to show you, a place of white, authoritarian, simplicity. Everything is great in Lytton, until the Criminal Element, Suspiciously Represented By Not White People, start to infiltrate this place, and bring their Drugs, and lead to the death of Innocent Young Ladies. You can stop it, if you find the right Crime Lord, and Take Them Down! And you can do that by following procedure properly and filling out the right memos and doing your paperwork scrupulously! When you do everything you’re meant to do, things will just happen to you in sequence, and, through proper application of procedure, everything will be okay.
Yeah, that’s the world it wants to show you. But Lytton is a pretty awful place if you look at it for more than a few seconds, through more than just the lens of Sonny Bonds’ personal experience.
In Lytton, people are white. There are exceptions; there’s the Hispanic drug dealers. There’s the black convicts. There’s the maid who speaks in aw-shucksy talk about lawdy lawdy lawdy. There’s even a lone black policeman who has a line of dialogue, or maybe even two. Of course, all the characters of authority, like your superiors, the jailers, the officers you socialise with, they’re all white. Well, reddy-orangey whatever.
In Lytton, women are jokes. There’s Carol, who serves coffee and nags, there’s the maid, who mops the floor and nags, there’s a sex worker named Marie who… uh, well, flirts and nags. There’s a dancer who, uhm, I’m just really uncomfortable about everything to do with her in all her chunky EGA glory, but I’m only counting her as a character because she has a name. There’s your co-worker, Laura, who you crack gross jokes at for no reason.
In Lytton, when your friend confesses depression and his daughter’s drug problem, you respond with cake and tits. In Lytton, you can choose to let a rich girl off a ticket and only face negative consequences if you follow up on it. In Lytton, you threaten suspects under arrest, and that’s okay. In Lytton, you order legally parked people to leave, because they’re making life uncomfortable for a coffee shop, and that’s okay, because, in Sonny’s own mind, they’re animals. And that right there is the problem underpinning all this.
The narration of this game is the narration of an asshole. It’s the narration that makes cruel jokes, that refers to people as scum, that calls upon criminals to be stupid and amplifies their incompetence in the face of police power. And this all comes together to paint a picture of a little town where, from the perspective of the police, rightness is absolute, all opposition to the police are scum or ridiculous, and they are entitled to their position of privilege and power.
And so, in light of that… Sonny is an asshole, in reflection of Jim Walls.
That kinda sucks! I don’t know Mr Walls, he apparently suffers somewhat after his experience as a policeman. I don’t want to say Jim Walls is an asshole, but on the other hand, he made Police Quest and didn’t at any point either notice or care about the problems in it.
I’m not going to tell you what about this game is cool or fun because nothing in it really is? If you’re a fan of old Sierra games, it’s definitely worth looking at, because it’s part of that canon. You can even play it for free, which is pretty neat, but not really worth the stress.
If you want to play a Sierra adventure game, there are better places to start. If you want to play a game that will make you mad about Police and give you ideas for how to do things better, well, this game does a lot of things badly.