Police Quest: in Pursuit of the Death Angel (1987)



Out of all the old Sierra Quest titles, Police Quest has always been the most peculiar one. It's not because the Police Quest titles are particularly well-designed games, but because they are designed by a real, retired police officer with an intention of showing what being a police really is like. And what being a police really is like isn't always very exciting: you cruise the city with your squad car, looking for things to do, you are a stickler for details, no matter how boring they'd be and most of the time you just write speeding tickets or arrest drunk drivers. In a word, Police Quest is everything but action-oriented story movies or other police themed games usually end up as.

In Police Quest, you enter in the shoes of Sonny Bonds, a regular cop in the little city of Lytton. First things you learn are, that you'll die if you don't go to the morning briefing or if you fail to perform a vehicle security test by physically walking around it. Then you'll learn, that a good portion of the game is spent by cruising around the city on an overhead map of Lytton, looking for perps. There's a plot of drug trafficking that's is going on in the city, but the first part of the game has Sonny just on the beat, stumbling upon stuff that relates to the actual plot, while a good part is just regular policing.

And I mean regular. There's speeder, traffic light violation, drunk driver and a disturbance caused by biker gang at a local watering hole. None of these is plot essential, they're just things that a police officer has to handle and they're an excuse to see how well you can perform REAL police procedures. And in a sense, these things are what make the game stand out despite it's not necessarily the best game around. Especially the VGA remake is strict with these procedures to the point of that during booking you need to give out the codes of every violation if you want to have a full score, whereas in the EGA original you can get away by giving the reason as "drunk driving" or "drugs".

Lytton PD looks a bit different in the VGA version.
Those cases really make Police Quest feel more unique in comparison to other games. I've even read, that at some police stations Police Quest was used as a real rehearsal tool because of how strict it is with the procedure. The overall drug plot does go into relatively cliched cop show direction, with all the back room gambling and all, but even that has an air of real police work if not all that realistic feeling time scale. In it, Sonny isn't the action hero either, but a cop that needs to trust his backup.

Make no mistake about it though, Police Quest is an old-school adventure game in all good and bad. The game itself is filled with dead ends and sudden deaths. You can miss an important item and are forced to restore a previous game because of that. You can mess up in a crime scene and suffer because of that.  But in a sense all that just feels fitting to a police game, as the things you do are fairly logical and the puzzles very often are about police work and being a detective, not trying to solve some arbitrary, moon logic dilemmas.  In a way, Police Quest is more of a narrative-driven game than any other Sierra Quest title.

The most annoying part of the game, both the original EGA and the VGA remake, is cruising around the city. In the original, it's more of a pixel-perfect arcade trial and in a VGA remake, it's just a poorly executed sequence with a too small driving map. And then there's the poker game at the end. For some reason, Sierra designers loved adding gambling bits to their games.

Pixel precise arcade or a bit more boring hit a correct arrow model of driving
Surprisingly enough I actually do prefer the driving from the original version. The VGA remake turns the driving just boring, whereas the original feels more fun with the AI cars driving around Lytton, causing you to crash with them on an occasion. On the long run neither of them is great, but at least original has an element of joy after you've mastered it. If you like that kind of arcade action that is. Otherwise, it's a choice between challenging arcade driving and boring "press arrow to turn and wait" driving.

But in any case, what is evident from Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel is, that it was designed by a former police. While Jim Walls never did became more than a competent (and some might consider even that a stretch) game designer, he knew what being a police was about and that he brought into the game.  Only another game that lets you do actual police work on a similar scale is the 1950's themed L.A. Noire, where you can actually investigate the scenes and even interrogate people. Not many games have dared to tackle being a police in a similar manner and even L.A. Noire has a quite a bit of action scenes in it, which Police Quest almost completely lacks, as cops do try to subdue suspects, not kill them.

Out of the two versions, I'd recommend the VGA remake. The mouse-driven UI makes the game more playable, especially for modern gamers. Also, it adds music to the game, which is nice and the story is beefed up a bit. For an example, the original EGA game had a small subplot of "the Gremlin", who does practical pranks to the captain. In the VGA version, the identity of "the Gremlin" is dwelled further.

Lytton City courthouse
VGA remake also makes the end game a bit easier by giving you a choice of playing the poker. You can still play the poker games if you want, but you can also just jump over them to a next plot point.

So in conclusion, is Police Quest a good game? I'd say yes, but it certainly isn't a great game. The way it handles the subject matter is what makes it shine, despite all the game elements don't necessarily work as well as intended. It's also a frustrating game, which requires you to read the manual if you want to know the actual procedures and in what order to do them in, so it certainly isn't a game for everyone.

Every time I play Police Quest, it makes me hope, that more games in the similar vein would be released. Not simulators, but story driven games where you can actually be a cop. Not a superhero cop, nor an angsty or depressed TV cop, but a regular cop, doing what cops do. No huge shootouts, just trying to process a crime scene, finding evidence or trying to get out of potentially violent situations without a need of killing everyone.

Police Quest games are available as a collection through GOG.

As you might guess from my score, it's pretty easy to miss points if you don't follow the procedures to a T.

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