Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 09/25/08

This was a decent game... until I started to play it.

Here’s my disclaimer: I don’t care much for crime dramas. No further explanation necessary; they’re really not my thing. Adventure games, on the other hand… I love those. Given my fondness for adventure games, and specifically for Sierra’s adventure games, I decided one day to silence the little voice in my head saying, “Don’t do it! You don’t like cop shows!” and take a crack at Police Quest I (the VGA version).

You know what? I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it enough to consider playing it again someday. Sure, it was a crime drama, but the story was solid, most of the challenges were enjoyable and varied, and there was even a little bit of humor here and there to lighten things up. Plus, the game was largely a series of individual criminal incidents that played out like puzzles in any other adventure game, except I needed to follow proper police procedure and be a bit more scrupulous in my search for items. This gave me hope that I might enjoy the rest of the series.

…Hope that was crushed like a wine glass at a Jewish wedding.

If the idea of being a police officer is exciting to you, or if you’re really into crime shows, then Police Quest II is for you. Everyone else, beware: It’s not an adventure game with a police theme; it’s a police simulator that happens to use the same interface as an adventure game.

In Police Quest II, you return as Sonny Bonds, a police officer from the fictional Lytton, California. Sonny took down a drug dealer and murderer known as “The Death Angel” in PQI and subsequently got promoted to the homicide division. Because it’s too soon in the series to have a good villain disappear, Jessie Bains--“The Death Angel”--soon escapes from prison… and if the game’s title didn’t give it away, he wants vengeance.

You spend most of the game tracking Bains through locations such as a park, a motel, an airport, an airplane, a motel room bathroom, an airport bathroom, an airplane bathroom, and a park (apparently, murderers and drug dealers like to hang out in bathrooms and parks or something). You frequently report back to the police station to hand over your evidence for processing and to figure out where to go next, and you also spend some time developing your relationship with your now-girlfriend Marie from PQI.

On the surface, it looks, sounds, and feels like a normal adventure game of the 80s. It sports the same low-tech graphics of the early King’s Quest and Space Quest games: 16 colors, baby! Like those games, it uses simple PC speaker blips and bleeps to make noises that might be mistaken for sound effects and music. Also like those games, it uses a text parser interface, with which you can KISS THE CORONER, INTERROGATE TOILET, and do all manner of wacky things that a point-and-click interface would never allow.

Below the surface, it’s not really an adventure game at all, or perhaps it’s a very different breed of one. More than puzzle-solving skills and quick reflexes, you’ll need strong detective skills and the ability to strictly follow police procedures to succeed.

The instruction manual provides everything you could ever hope to know and more about police procedures, but constantly referring back to the instructions to figure out how to proceed feels more like taking an open-book test than playing a game, and trying to succeed without the instructions can be frustrating if the solution isn’t a matter of common sense.

Like other Sierra adventure games, failure often results in death or an otherwise premature end to the game, whether it’s getting gunned down by Bains, fatally wandering into heavy traffic, or haphazardly firing your gun in a public place and getting sent to the loony bin. Some of these deaths can be morbidly amusing thanks to the sense of humor of the folks at Sierra, but most of the time you just get a message about how you’re a doofus and that you would have survived if you had any common sense and were following police procedure.

In addition to following proper procedure, such as radioing headquarters every time you do anything (“Requesting permission to blow my nose; over.”) and returning your evidence kit to the trunk every time you get in the car (OPEN TRUNK. TAKE KIT. CLOSE TRUNK. OPEN TRUNK. PUT KIT IN TRUNK. CLOSE TRUNK. Repeat.), you must search every single location thoroughly for evidence.

This is the kind of thing you either love or you hate. Failure to collect enough evidence can result in a dead-end where you can’t win the game, and you’ll need to go back to an earlier save to search harder. It’s more like real life that way, but you need to be exceptionally attentive to details, well-versed in police procedure, and willing to spend far more time searching for items in any given location than you would in any other adventure game. Photograph the crime scene, dust for fingerprints, search the dead guy’s pockets, etc.

Evidence and clues are often hidden very well, and sometimes the designers were just plain mean (the first real puzzle of the game, locating your locker combination, is flat-out unfair). Finding cleverly hidden things isn’t so bad if you’re patient enough (and boy, do you need patience in this game), but it can become almost impossible at times thanks to the text parser.

I swear that if it were me tracking down Jessie Bains in real life, and not Sonny Bonds under the control of a text parser, I would have found far more evidence on my own, and with much less hassle. I’d also probably be dead several times over from accidentally shooting myself in the foot and blowing myself up in a sewer, but that’s neither here nor there.

Several times I knew exactly what I wanted and needed to do--grab the corner of an envelope from the dead man’s hand; question people about whether or not they had seen anyone matching Bains’ description--and I would have been able to do it in real life with no problem. Restrained by the text parser, however, I couldn’t reach out and get the stupid object that was directly in front of me, and I couldn’t get any kind of useful information from somebody I knew for a fact had information.

I sat there, futilely cycling through every possible substitute for TAKE ENVELOPE and ASK ABOUT BAINS that I could come up with until finally stumbling upon something that worked, or until getting aggravated enough to turn to a walkthrough.

The worst was in the tiny bathroom where I LOOKed at the sink and SEARCHed the sink without turning up anything, and found in a walkthrough that there was something IN the sink. As it turns out, I could just walk into the bathroom and type TAKE [OBJECT] without needing to poke around in the sink at all. Now, in real life, if I can walk into a bathroom and simply take something, that means the object isn’t jammed down the drain, glued to the underside of the sink (which I also searched), or otherwise NOT IN PLAIN SIGHT.

To its credit, the text parser is capable of doing more varied and complex things than I’m accustomed to seeing in such a game. You can QUESTION witnesses. You can RADIO FOR BACKUP in a dangerous situation. To get around Lytton, you hop in your car and type DRIVE TO [LOCATION], and you automatically drive to wherever you need to go (after you FASTEN SEATBELT, of course).

Of course, these complex commands present some problems. If you QUESTION a witness, you don’t automatically get the answer you’re looking for; you need to QUESTION the person ABOUT something specific. If you hop in your car, you can DRIVE somewhere… but you often need the exact street address.

If you zone out for a moment when somebody tells you to drive to 123 Fake Street, you’re out of luck, buddy, because that person won’t tell you again. That is, assuming anybody tells you at all.

Sometimes, information that should be obvious or readily accessible just… isn’t. For instance, you have a phone at your desk in the police station, but CALL MARIE isn’t an option; you need to figure out your own girlfriend’s phone number by sleuthing around.

Furthermore, there are a few computers in police headquarters that you can use to look up important information, but folks unfamiliar with DOS (and even those such as myself who know just enough about it to get by) might be baffled by the interface, which does not seem to be explained anywhere. Of course, the user’s manual that sits right next to the computer, the kind of thing you would find in any other game to get a quick tutorial, is too technical for you to comprehend, or so you are told.

Like so much else in the game, you either bury your nose in the game manual to look for an answer, do an unnecessary amount of searching for a solution in-game, or just instinctively know what you’re supposed to do.

Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to be a detective. But I don’t seem to recall that omniscience was ever a requirement for the badge.

One of the most annoying instances of this was a time when I got into a firefight with Bains, and somehow managed to keep missing him despite the fact that I was all of 10 feet away and aimed directly at him. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

As it turns out, I needed to visit the supposedly optional firing range and adjust the sights on my pistol so that I wouldn’t miss.

A seasoned cop firing off three, maybe four shots at an average-sized human target from about 10 feet away, and he can’t even graze the target because his sights are off? Gee, if all it took to be a good marksman were properly-adjusted sights, we could all max out the high score on Duck Hunt from the other side of the room on our first try.

I admit that a large part of my frustration came from the fact that I was reluctant to read through the dense test booklet--er, um… instruction manual, and that I only played the game about once or twice every 1-4 weeks.

Now, that’s a lot of time to forget about where I was going and what I was doing, but I’ve played RPGs where, even if I totally forgot what I was supposed to do, I could eventually figure it out by talking to enough random townsfolk.

I imagine that a real cop could say to his or her partner, “Hey, buddy, where do you think we should go next?” but Sonny’s partner, Keith, is about as helpful as a snorkel at the bottom of the ocean.

Keith wanders off immediately after you arrive at a crime scene, leaving you to do all the dirty work on your own. He takes forever to walk back to the car when it’s time to leave, and then all he can do is complain about having “mucho paperwork” back at the office.

Meanwhile, you’re ready to complain about being shot to death by Bains about seven times because Keith wasn’t there to bail you out or tell you to go to the firing range to adjust your sights.

Your boss at the police station is no better; he’s always on the phone or eating pistachio ice cream and can’t be bothered to talk to you unless he’s the one starting the conversation. Most of the other characters in the game serve one purpose only and can’t even point you in the direction of someone helpful when you ask them about things they don’t know.

The majority of the characters are instantly forgettable due to some very flat (or nonexistent) personalities. Aside from the characters returning from PQI, the most memorable ones are the “gag” characters (Leisure Suit Larry makes a cameo, for example) and the obnoxious ones, including Sonny’s ineffectual partner and the one police officer who I really would have liked if they wouldn’t have overdone his accent (I expected him to start off every conversation with, “It’s-a me! Mario!” if that’s any indication).

That said, the quality of the writing for both the dialogue and for the plot and scripted events of the game tends to fluctuate. Sometimes the game is a well-written, serious cop simulator, and sometimes things get a bit silly, like when you’re aboard a helicopter that, judging from its unnecessarily jerky movements, must be piloted by a panicked Daffy Duck yanking on the stick and hitting every button on the control panel.

You might be wondering by now why I bothered to play through the whole game if I have so many issues with it. I probably played through it for the same reason that you’ve bothered to read this far into my review: somebody promised there’d be cake at the end.

No, wait; that’s not it.

Actually, in addition to the few I’ve already touched on, PQII does have some redeeming features:

For instance, there are a few sections of the game that are well-executed, memorable, solidly challenging, and fun. The part of the game that stands out the most to me is when you go don scuba gear to search the bottom of a junk-filled river for clues, all the while keeping an eye on your oxygen tank and, in certain spots, being especially careful not to be swept away by the current.

Finally, the plot really was decent, despite my dislike of crime dramas, although I would have liked it more if I could have made sense of it by piecing together the clues without so much outside assistance.

…Alright, so maybe that’s not a whole lot. Then again, Police Quest II really isn’t my cup of tea. If you love crime dramas or police simulators or scavenger hunts or being a cop, etc., you’re bound to like this far more than I did, and maybe you’ll be more forgiving of what I perceive as its flaws.

I was hoping for a police-themed adventure game similar to King’s Quest and Space Quest. What I got was an interactive detective story in which I wasn’t too keen on participating. You very well might love the game. As for me, I think I’d sooner revisit my buddy the Labion root monster than track down Jessie Bains again.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Product Release: Police Quest 2: The Vengeance (US, 12/31/88)

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