Police Quest II: Vengeance (1988)

When I was a kid I thought, that Police Quest II was vastly superior to the first game: it didn't have driving, you could actually use guns in it and examining the crime scenes in higher resolution graphics felt just more awesome. Sometimes things that were cool as a kid don't translate well for adults.

The story of PQII starts some time after the first game. Sonny Bonds is now a homicide detective, working with a partner Keith. He's also romancing Marie Wilkans, his former sweetheart who turned into a lady of the night in the first game but has now left her former life behind thanks to Sonny. Things start to unroll, when Jessie Baines, the death angel from the first game, escapes prison and starts offing people who put him behind bars. From this starts a story filled with a shit load of cop show cliches. Not that the first game was very novel in what came to plot, but in there the story always felt like an afterthought whereas the "police procedure" was the actual game. That's not so much how it feels in the sequel.

This is very much because of how the games are structured. In the original game, you start as a beat cop. You drive along the city of Lytton and answer to dispatch calls. There are fragments of a bigger story here and there, but at first, you're just a cop doing cop things, by the book. In PQII however,  the story is set right from the start. Baines escapes and seeks revenge. This time around all the crimes you investigate is clearly tied to Baines. There's no random stuff like arresting drunk drivers, just straight cut manhunt for Baines.

Sonny at Lytton PD with his new "sensible" car.
Now this by itself would be fine, but the thing is that the story itself is tied around cliches which culminate in a shootout in sewers of all places. And I still haven't mentioned the plane trip to the city of Steelton, during which Arab hijackers try to take over the plane. You even need to disarm a bomb during the scene. Funnily enough, the whole ordeal isn't mentioned in the end credits. Sure, they acknowledge that Sonny has shot Baines, but you'd think that him shooting two terrorists would have gotten there as well, all things considering.

Jim Walls never was a great writer nor a great game designer. While I've always have had an affinity towards the Police Quest games, I've also always seen the flaws in them. But now, playing PQII again, I can't help but think that the game itself is not only flawed, it's not very good at all. The crime scene investigation is pretty fun and well made, as being a cop was Walls's biggest asset, but the story itself and the game design is just bad.

This time around no driving around the map, just type in the wanted location and watch. 
This time around there's no need to walk around the car in order to see if you can drive it safely, but there are things like needing to push a traffic light button before crossing a street, dying if you fail to wear ear protection, badly designed escape scene in which you need to know exactly where to stand or you get driven over and perhaps the biggest, the sewers in the city of Steelton.

The Steelton part is already pretty poorly written and pretty short segment, but the sewer is god awful. It's filled with traps you need to die on before you know how to avoid. There's methane gas pockets, pipes bursting with water and narrow walk paths you need to navigate awkwardly with a keyboard. And then there's the climax, the shootout with Baines, in which you need in pixel-perfect manner hide behind a pipe so he won't see you, but have enough space to shoot the bastard.

What comes to graphics, well... PQII has higher resolution going on that PQI. But it's not really a good looking game. It's actually pretty plain and in many ways boring. The original AGI version of PQ1 always felt more interesting to me and the VGA remake of it looks pretty decent, but PQII looks just amateurish and quickly cobbled up.

The magical sewers of Steelton. What a place for a climax.
Unlike the AGI version of PQI, Police Quest II has music this time around. The tunes are okay, but not the best of Sierra. It's also oddly silent game, just like Larry 2 was. The music is used sparsely and besides that, there are very little other sound effects. MT32 is again the way to go if you are willing to set that up.

Just like with many other Sierra games, Police Quest II expects you to die a lot. There's a lot of things in it that you can't know if you haven't experienced it beforehand. It becomes like a meta-game in itself, where you need to poke the game in order to know what to do before you restore the game and do all perfectly the second time around.

Yup, he's dead, the scumbag. Sometimes the second time is the charm.
Sure, gaming like that can be fun. But it also has to be tied to something that would be fun without it. And in the end Police Quest II just isn't that. It could have been if the writing and the design had been good enough, but in the end, it's not. Now we have a game that's not fun more than it's just annoying.

And that's a damn shame.

Police Quest II is a part of Police Quest Collection available trough GOG and Steam.