Wednesday, 15 September 2010

We got ourselves a murder in PQ4 alright

If you ask me, there are a total four games in the Police Quest series. Four. One, two, three and one.
I have now, with great difficulties, finished all the games in the main Police Quest series. Couldn't get through the last three without using walkthroughs at one point or another, but nevertheless I have now experienced the entire collection of adventures.

Police Quest 2: The Vengeance was a lot more fun than either version of PQ1 all the way to the end, although unlike PQ1 it does have some Sierra-adventure-gamey bullshit obstructions to prevent you from winning if you don't do everything you need to. For example you can't go back to collect a deviously well hidden piece of evidence crucial to your success in advancing the story if you miss it the first time, which you will undoubtedly always do, because for some reason homicide detectives aren't allowed to look through a crime scene twice. I don't know how that's possible. I've always thought that the police could actually do their work and conduct investigations and examine evidence and crime scenes how ever many times they might need in order to solve the case, but I suppose I was wrong. What brings more shit on top of this particular pile is also the fact that although in real life and even in any given fictional work other than Sierra's adventure games, the information you need from the easily lost piece of evidence is something a completely normal Averige-Joe could get with one phone call (even in PQ1), but Police Quest 2, being an adventure game, doesn't let you even try it because if it did then the game could be completed.
I may sound bitter, but that's only because this particular obstruction just reinforces my rather negative, prejudice views regarding the classic adventure game scene as a whole, AND because the action you need to perform in order to be able to obtain this evidence is something I FUCKING DID ON MY SECOND TRY without the game letting me get it. I wrote the exact command that allows you to find the evidence and the game just told me that there was nothing there. Bullshit! Bullshit!

For the most part, though, only the extra points are well hidden as they probably should be, and you get the extra points from generally reasonable and logical things.
Well... one odd chance to earn extra points is advising your addict friend in the police to lay off the drugs because of an Internal Affairs investigation. Not only are you getting rewarded for aiding this person with a habit that would get him kicked off the force, a person whom the player doesn't even know in any way and thus is no actual concern to anyone, but this action doesn't contribute anything to the rest of the adventure and the only way to find this opening for points is to search the personnel databases to find out that the addict is SUSPECTED of drug use. When you go warn him, you have no idea who the character is, who of the several people in the department he is, whether he really does have this habit, why his habit would matter, you don't know that there is any investigation going on at all and I don't understand why the people are warned about this investigation ahead of time. Basically the game might as well award you with extra points for going home to make some coffee, kicking an empty can along the street and twirling your service revolver everytime you holster it. Dumb.
I also didn't get extra points at one place where you can find discarded clothes from a dumpster. I wrote "look trash" and the game told me there was just garbage. Being suspicious I wrote "search garbage" and the game replied "YUCK!" This would sound normal, except that according to walkthroughs searching the garbage is supposed to reveal the clothes and give points, and due to the game's reply I have no reason to believe I wrote either of the two words wrong since the message would be different and in a different box altogether. What the fuck?
Overall, though, Police Quest 2 is a fun game. It's not your Sunday-afternoon playthrough unless you've beaten it before, but it's enjoyable.

Police Quest 3: The Kindred is AWESOME. I was a bit skeptical at first because the PQ1 VGA uses the same exact interface and that one is way too simple, short and easy to beat, but PQ3 is an exciting adventure and has a good story.
I had to use a walkthrough a couple of times because on about the sixth time I restarted I got tired of getting up to day 5 and then getting stuck there. I did find out that I wasn't actually missing anything vital for completing day 5, I was just a bit stupid and read a number wrong from my own notes once and didn't re-check it again. See, there's this bit where you need to place markers on the city map to see a pattern in the murders and I had all the addresses written down on paper, but in my dimly lit room I read one address as 392 South 5th street when I had, correctly, marked it as 392 South 6th street. Silly me. From that point I continued on my own until at first I realized I forgot to write down an address that can only be gotten once and I couldn't even remember where so I didn't see the point of reloading. Then I got tired of trying to find a way into the suspects house as well as calling backup to the suspects house, not realizing I had to just drive back to court again. Yup, final steps of the game are to drive to house, then court, then house again, then court again and lastly house again. The driving isn't too thrilling, so all that jazz got old real fast.
I was mad at PQ3 a few times but thinking about all the steps of the game, it's not at all that punishing. It's a good, fun game and a fun experience. You can get through it all if you just follow closely what happens in the game and especially if you use your head, which is refreshing, and the few places you may get stuck in if you didn't do something earlier aren't THAT annoying and can be avoided with the use of some regular common sense at all times. PQ3's my favourite of the series now, and it's no doubt the game people think when they hear "Police Quest".

Police Quest: Open Season is ass. ASS! Oh, dear, where do I even begin.
First of all, I have no idea why some people dare to call it revolutionizing (in 1993). Sure, technically it may be advanced but not only is the story and the way it's built and the plot driven a mishmash bag of good ideas and plain old crap, the advanced technology was not used for the good of the people. It's like a supervillain that uses it's magnificent powers only to constantly annoy anyone it meets.

PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series with real voice acting. It sucks. No, I don't mean the lack of it in the earlier games sucks. The voice actors in PQ4 are so bad that the cheap dubbing in bad Tuesday cartoons begins to sound good, and you hear talking all THE FUCKING TIME in this game because of the damn narrator and the main character constantly crying about something.
"Your action is not warranted!" "By pressing the button you call the elevator down!" "You press a button and choose to go to the second floor!" "What you see is what you get!" "Detective, what is it that you wish to do?" "Who are you talking to?" "Please, detective, refrain from taking notes!" "What has the witness told you that you deem worthy of noting?"
Every click, not every action but every CLICK calls in the inherently annoying narrator to pester you whether or not you actually did something, unless it's a conversation you're starting in which case it's the even more annoying voice actors that start spouting boring but plentiful dialogue in almost cartoonish ways most of the time. I can appreciate the effort they have made in adding so many audio replies to cover any and all random actions the player might do, but too much is just too much when the quality of the voice work is this.

I've got a shotgun!
A lot of the dialogue is way too wacky and "colourful" for the realism the game is supposed to go for, but there are also some very monotonous lines uttered that are clearly there to remind us lonely gaming perverts that sexual harassment is really a bad thing. Using the hand icon on a FEMALE colleague makes her read out lines straight out of some sexual harassment pamphlet in a nonhuman way and hearing the robotic output just made me all too eager to click again and go through the entire library of choices. There are four replies, and yes, you can lose the game for sexual harassment, but it takes several minutes of clicking.
On the other hand, no male character ever complained about bad touch and most seemed to react all too positively to me grabbing their backsides. I'm offended by this. As a heterosexual male myself I would like it if people at my future workplace didn't put their dicks in my ass on company time. Preferably not during lunch time, either. This game is sexist.
Admittedly you CAN skip all the horrible dialogue and narration by another click of the mouse, but this made me actually just lose a lot of plot-related dialogue from witnesses as many of their sentences are separated with a long pause in between and I always thought the long pause marked the chance for me to talk about another topic, and often the game doesn't allow you to ask the witnesses the same thing again (sometimes yes, not always). I have no clue why I'm actually crying about this. So I skipped a ton of dialogue, I should really be thankful about it. Didn't even miss anything important EVER, because this is one whodunit adventure game where pretty much NONE of the (atrocious) dialogue is necessary for the completion of the game. Makes me wonder why there's so fucking lot of it.

After PQ4's "realism", I wouldn't be frightened
by this scene even if it was my own fridge.
Well, maybe a bit. Mine was full last I checked.
PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series that has absolutely unbearable music. Sure PQ1s and PQ2 have some forgettable generic bleeps and bloops if anything, at least I don't recall anything real hummable right now, but PQ3 has a pretty kickass score from Jan Hammer. PQ4's music is... I can't describe it, look for some of those musical ques online and then consider the fact that those short waves of lousy midi are played everytime you enter some place, and the music is unskippable. PAIN! PAAAAAIN! Ok, turning off the sound completely is always an option, as is stabbing your ears with a screwdriver and going deaf, but still.
The musical ques' worst problem is that they water down any semblance of realism or seriousness the game might otherwise have. The musical que along with the "hello" and accompanied animation from the female morgue employee whenever you enter the morgue is enough to make you expect her to start reminescing about how she used her spilling intestines to count the distance she had traveled after she had her legs blown off.

PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series that is completely (with some exceptions in inventory items) created from real images and acted by real people, based in a real city. PQ3 does use real people as the base for character portraits and character animations, but PQ4 is all from real images. I can appreciate the effort in trying to create this realistic world even though it's just an undescribable mess of pixels here in 2010 and the animations of characters, apart from very minor things like basic hand movements and such, are lackluster since they couldn't bother or couldn't afford to do everything with the actors that they could've whipped up in 5 minutes if they had used computer generated or handdrawn images. When technology allows it, people jump ahead whether or not it is for the better, and although I would have entire blog posts' worth of half-thoughts based on uneducated guesses regarding gaming technology and why some things failed in the past, I'm not going to write more on that.
PQ4's problem isn't that it's all real images, but that fact does contribute to why it ends up being so sucky. If not done correctly, superficial realism mixed with bizarre comedic and erratic characters and events can easily create this uneasy feeling of a delirious state where things seem normal on the outside but are somehow so off you just want to wake up. PQ4 ends up being like this uneasy fever dream far more than anything else. Due to the realistic imagery, the comedy in PQ4 that I wouldn't call lighthearted or funny becomes outright shit-your-pants creepy. It's far creepier than the head in the fridge, and for once I'm not joking.

PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series that doesn't know what the hell it's supposed to actually do with the game manual. In the other games in the series, the manual is used to draw you in to the adventure as well as act as the copy protection of the game. They have the most common police procedures outlined so that you know better how to act in the game, and the manual is a good and a relatively easy read for the regular player, but PQ4 takes the idea of decribing police work in a video game manual to another level entirely.
"An unprecedented dimension of realism" said NY Times.
It's unprecedented alright. Real life isn't nuts.
The killer here is the most normal person in the game.
The Police Quest Collection manual (some sloppy scans, by the way) is 202 pages in length total. Divided to four games that number of pages is already a hefty package for an old PC game, I trust you agree, but wait till you hear this: out of the 202 pages exactly 120 pages are dedicated to PQ4 only. 120 pages... all in plain old English, not in a huge font, about 6 pictures total. Anyone who knows how often in the PQ series you need to read the manual would faint after seeing that amount of text, but luckily none of it is actually necessary. Seriously, the PQ4 manual is so fucking thick and boring that you'd think after reading it you'd be a qualified detective yourself, but there's nothing there that would in any way aid you in the game. Well, maybe somewhere there's one line regarding what form you need to choose when entering a firing range, but that's it. There aren't even descriptions of LA locations or short biographies of the people in the game to help you get into the world, it's all just a police officers guidebook to what formal police wear is and how you should hang your medals if you have any. Yeah, there are several pages on what medals you can earn in the line of duty and how to wear them, but not a word about our protagonist... uhmmm.... John... John C.... Co... Ca- John Carey.

Yeah, PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series that gives us no reason to care about or remember the characters. I can't remember their names, and that's because I have no reason to even remember most of the people existed because they have no personality whatsoever. If I do recall them from the game, it's only because they were so outrageously cartoonish and annoying that I would rather forget, like for example the really gay gay person. He tries to sound so stereotypically gay that it goes beyond being gay and ends up plain gay.
Only reason for this scene to exist is to give you pretzels.
I'm serious, you need them for an adventure game obstruction.
I can name characters from the other PQ titles that never even appeared on-screen because their names were briefly mentioned in relation to the story, but I can't for the life of me name the killer from PQ4. Or the police chief. Or most anyone. I can name John Carey only because of that big note with his name hanging over his desk, Hal the partner you only interact with when you give him your report, Yo Money the rapper with a bitchy girlfriend and Sam the coroner. The coroner's helper with a neverending supply of shitty jokes was Nesbitt or something.

Despite the plentiful technically advanced tools the creators had for the purpose of creating and delivering us an entertaining, gritty, realistic story and atmosphere we could really immerse ourselves in, PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series that just simply has a bad story and overall feel. PQ1 has barely any story at all, PQ2's story is only slightly better, PQ3 has a gripping story, all three are lightheartedly fun with some serious tones as the backbone. Only thing stopping the PQ series stories from being fantastic were technical limitations in story-telling (although, a capable person could tell a tale with just a leaf and some rocks).
PQ4 just... the story is everywhere and goes nowhere. The killer is first met about 15 minutes before the game ends (admittedly like in PQ1) and the disappointing truth is that not only does a whole lot of our work not feel like it ever contributed to the outcome of the case, very little is at all resolved in the end. Basically the story is, a crossdressing killer tortured random people and got burned in the end, all for no explained reason. That is the entire story of the game with nothing taken away, and you see it all in the final 15 minutes. You'd expect to follow a trail of leads to the murderer, searching for clues why and how he did what he did and using this information to identify him, but no, the investigation, the leads, the witnesses, none of them actually contribute to the capture of the killer. No coherent interesting storyline, no logical puzzle solving. Hardly even any police procedure related puzzles.

At one point you come here to sell a tape you stole from a
dead woman and trade it for one drumstick.
Realism, you said? Funny how weird the "real world" is.
PQ1-3 are all about police procedure and the puzzles are related to handling situations in a manner suitable for the law-abiding police officer and homicide detective, but PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series that seems like an adventure game in a way how I would describe a bad, derivative adventure game to be.
Think about some of these "puzzles": in the game you just give an apple for a little kid who never asks for anything to get her to go home and spill the beans on a suspect, steal a lighter from a stripper halfway through the game for honest to God no other reason that to use it as a makeshift weapon in the end fight, lug around a broken mirror and a bottle of glue for no purpose, steal a music tape from a murder victim's office, I kid you not, to trade it in for ONE drum stick at a music store (when you do really have a wallet full of money for buying stuff), and you go back to check the first crime scene for no other purpose than to collect a seemingly useless bit of rope that has magically appeared that you end up using to lassoo a stray dog at a park that just happens to be the killer's pet that subsequently leads you all the way to the killer's hidey-hole.
The game lectures about how breaking and entering is against the law and all that stuff when it's something logical you try to do, like entering the house of the best suspect in the case that you've already nailed for other crimes, but when the stray dog for example leads you to the old building that you have no idea what it is or who owns it, you just break in with your crowbar. No leads, just a random door you come across. Not only that, you break into an occupied apartment inside the building right after that, and at no point is there any reason to believe the killer's ever even been there. Sure, it ends up being the killer's home, but you don't know it until you illegally search the apartment and find a severed head and even after that you don't know who lives there until you continue searching and come across the killer himself and identify him. Oh, and at no point does our detective think about calling backup, not ever after finding the next victim already drugged up and vulnerable. He leaves the poor unconscious sap there and goes to search for a skeleton key from a soda can for no reason, with the key being the key for the door the detective just entered the place, nothing else.
At one point the detective even goes to watch a movie during his working hours and drinks the tea given to him by the man suspected of poisoning and killing his victims, and sure enough the tea is laced with sedatives even though the detective's not killed.
So, you use a crowbar and a knife to break in through doors without a warrant but for one door you just used to enter you must get a key for in order to go back, you leave a victim for the murderer who does indeed kill that person soon after, you don't run after the killer as he carries the unconscious person but instead go the other way to find that the killer teleports around, and you don't follow any general police procedures while doing any of this insane shit.

Strippers? The game almost got me there, but my screen
is covered in sick. Wait, no, it's just the pixels.
PQ4's also the only PQ game from the main series that has action sequences that are completely stupid and broken. The action sequences are built so that you have a certain amount of time perform the correct actions, but one click on the wrong spot or at the wrong time with there being no difference between the wrong and the right spot and time, an accidental double-click or too fast execution of the correct actions for the game to handle lead to death, as well as does about a 60% random chance of the game just outright spazzing out. I died at one point for no reason other than that the game continuously fucking up before I could do anything.
There's a scene where you are in a firefight with two gangstas in an alleyway. Earlier that day you were practicing shooting with the pistol at the firing range, you have kevlar, you're behind your car and you have a pistol with a full clip and drawing the gun gives you a crosshair on the screen. What do you do?
Well, for one, you don't fire your pistol. It has no effect, although the game doesn't make it clear that it's useless. What you do is, if the game doesn't randomly kill you the split second the scene begins, you walk up to your car trunk, use keys on it, pick up a shotgun and use that. You might think I'm messing with you because I didn't let you know there's a shotgun in the trunk before asking to hear your answer, but just take a wild guess if the game told me about it. When early in the game I clicked on that dark spot that barely looks like a shotgun if you look straight at it, it gave me a generic reply in the vein of "this is just background, move on", so when the time came for me to finally use a gun and I had my pistol ready, searching for other guns from a locked car trunk in the middle of a firefight was the last thing on my to-do list.
There's also a scene where you're answering questions publicly, surrounded by police, press and other high officials of the city. What happens? Well, that nazi that sticks out from formally clothed people like a sore thumb and one the detective would be able to recognize after having been face to face with him, tries to shank you. Even after surrendering, dropping the pipe and getting on his knees the nazi supposedly kills you if you take  a second too long to cuff him or if you click the cuff icon one pixel too much to the side of him.
Oh, about the shotgun, I just thought that maybe it was mentioned in the 120 page long manual somewhere. I wouldn't know, I only read the first six pages on top of the creator interviews, and that was already too kind of me.
At first I suspected the coroner was the killer, but I was wrong.
It would've meant that there was an actual story.
By the way, the love scene above contributes nothing, apart from
one line with emotion coming from our monotonous detective.

Having used the line "PQ4's the only PQ game from the main series" a lot in this post, you might get the feeling that PQ4 is nothing like the rest of the series. Well, little buddy, that's where you'd be right. PQ4 looks different, plays different, sounds different, has a different setting and handles it's story differently, but unfortunately does everything wrong. The realistic look and voice actors were the only potentially good things, but due to horrible acting that is far from believable, the bad writing of dialogue, the horseshit of a plot that doesn't really qualify as an actual story, the annoying parade music playing here and there and the outright stupid puzzles that have nothing to do with real police work, the live actors just help make the entire game seem more of a bad dream.
The PQ series is all about depicting real police work, only the games take place in a fictional setting. They look cartoony and occasionally have silly humour, but none of the silly things prevent the games from showing us realistic police work and things like parking lot stabbings and fathers losing their daughters to drugs are as depressing in the games as they are in real life and are handled with care. PQ4 on the other hand looks realistic, but fails to deliver ANY sense of realism, as it can't even get the supporting characters to seem human. Everything's distorted to the point that the head in the killer's refrigerator doesn't actually come across as scary after the entire "real everyday world" is made to look like a nightmare, akin to something like Harvester, and the ending sequences make the game seem like a boring prototype for Phantasmagoria. Sierra released Phantasmagoria two years after PQ: Open Season. Am I onto something here?

PQ4, despite being advertised as the ultimate realistic police simulator, is a mockery. It's a mockery of serious adventure games, it's a mockery of the classic Police Quest and what PQ stood for, it's a mockery of real police work and in general it's a mockery of real life and logic as we know it. It mocks me.
It's a badly done bad game from an old series of quality games, but what's worse is that despite it being horrible, it still isn't so horrible that it would deserve a mention in any top 100 crap games list. It's forgettable, like an akward joke that ends a serious discussion, and even though I managed to write this much about it's suckiness, after I get this post up I will forget every little detail about it. I just have no life so I might as well rant about the game.

Weirdest thing is, in the game world Dirty Harry is supposedly running in theaters, but only one person at a time ever comes to watch it. I call bullshit! It would draw in masses!

One thing's for sure. The Police Quest series is dead, murdered, and someone is responsible.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the rant about PQ4 so much that while reading it my father began to ask me what was so funny.

    Very good stuff sir!