Police Quest (VGA Remake)

Games aren’t usually remade, professionally, by their original companies. I assume for those that are, the reasons are similar to remakes in the movie industry – the original didn’t sell as well as the studio felt the story and material should have, the director’s vision was hampered by technology or budget constraints at the time, or maybe they simply felt they didn’t get it “right” the first time. They’re all valid reasons, and all ones I could see being at the heart of the Sierra remakes in the early 90s. And so, with a new engine and an easily tripled budget, Sierra revisited Police Quest with mixed results.

I played the VGA remake immediately after finishing the original Police Quest, for the intentional reason of being able to make direct comparisons. If you want a better idea of what has been changed, it’s worth reading about the original before continuing here. If you’ve sworn off EGA graphics and text parsers long ago, then you can jump right in to the VGA version. Jim Walls’ story remains identical to the original, with no added scenes, no cuts, and a direct mirror of the events from the first.

That is not to say it is the same game. Most notably, the graphics have gone from rough EGA renderings to stylized, hand-drawn background paintings; scanned into the computer and beautifully reproduced in 256-color VGA. The detail here is astounding, and the watercolor look is quite endearing. Lytton also seems to have grown over the years, looking far more urban and far more modern than was suggested in the original ’87 release. Characters are no longer gangly, long-nosed stick men, but are now a series of stills compiled from digital photographs of actors, as in Police Quest 3. They exhibit some obvious pixelation, and some odd walking animations, but they match the backgrounds nicely and are detailed enough to give personality and quick recognition to each.

Credit where it is due – the remake is a great-looking game.

Walls’ jejune dialogue from the first has been strengthened considerably in this version, to the immense benefit of the story. The relationship between Bonds and Marie is much more sincere and less comedic, a couple “bastard”s and “slut”s are used by arrested perps, and the descriptions are more astute, with fewer exclamation points. As said, the story remains unchanged, for the best. The original was engaging without being overly silly, and I appreciate the fact that, though it isn’t a searing expose of beat-cop realism, it isn’t Lethal Weapon or Live and Die in LA. The tweaking of the dialogue only helps to make a non-Hollywood story more credible.

The parser is dropped for a point and click interface. Each has its strengths, but I personally preferred the parser for this game. Since it is supposed to be a realistic career simulation, the parser allowed greater control of your actions and intentions. Here, you spend more time being “led” through the game. Proper police procedure is less of an issue, since a click now represents thousands of possible actions and the game picks the right one. You click on a suspect to cuff him. You click on the suspect again to search him. You click on the suspect a third time to lead him to the car. Getting everything right is now less of an issue, and takes away a lot of the “I made that successful bust!” feeling.

To fall in line with the 90’s rethinking of What Adventure Games Should Be, you can also no longer forget items or get stuck in an unwinnable situation. The game has been dumbed down in comparison to the original. Yet it also streamlines many of the excessive spiels, makes the experience more accessible, and doesn’t diminish the story in any way. So it’s up to you if you’re willing to trade one for the other, and at least one benefit of the remake is that now you’ll have a choice.

Points return from the original, but without as much purpose. I always understood the reason for points was to encourage replayability to achieve a perfect “as intended” playthrough, and/or find all the hidden points (and messages that come with them) along the way. This makes sense with the options that a text parser affords. I don’t quite see how this can be translated to a point and click game, and it seems that Sierra didn’t have all those answers yet either. Points are received primarily at key moments that occur in the game naturally, such as a successful arrest. It’s possible to get a near-perfect score just by beating the game.

Some aspects of proper police procedure remain, such as the “car inspection” and “jail gun locker” routines, but these almost always result only in unrequired bonus points, instead of being mandatory and punished by death. The main unique feature in the remake is that, when you book someone, you are required to enter felony codes from the manual. One successful code will do, but the majority of your extra points will come from entering in all the applicable charges you can. Before you get too excited, this is as easy as reading down the list and remembering what just happened in the arrest you just made.

Driving is much easier in the remake.

The driving system gets a significant overhaul, both in adapting to the new mouse interface and in removing the ease of accidents. The concept remains the same – you enter your car and switch to an overhead map of the town, where you must drive to new locations or spend some time on patrol. Instead of the spastic directions of the original, the majority of driving is now handled by the computer. You click dashboard icons to indicate upcoming turns you wish to take, and control the speed of your car by clicking on corresponding brake or accelerator pedals. The rest is automatic. You will never have to concern yourself with other cars, or worry too much about how fast you’re going.

The immediate benefit is that it makes an erratic minigame foolproof – as I said in the original review, most of my deaths in that version were while driving. The sacrifice is that you’ll be spending a lot more time behind the wheel. The overall speed of the car is much slower, made worse by auto-braking to 30mph for every turn. Since the computer is doing the real driving, you will also have to obey all traffic laws. While it was easy to immediately reverse or whip across lanes into a parking lot in the original, here you will often have to take the time to loop around buildings to make a legal turn into their lot.

Along with the impressive new graphics, the game features a solid set of sound effects to give life to your surroundings. While the original was mostly silent, the remake features door effects, background typewriter ambience, squeaky chairs, etc. If there’s an action on the screen, there’s almost always a sound to go with it. These are not digital recordings or exact replications, of course, but recognizable simulations. The siren in particular sounds great, and I found myself flipping it on unnecessarily a few times, just because it was fun.

Action inside buildings takes place in a window. It’s odd, but never causes a problem.

The greatest addition to the series is far and away the music. For MIDI, it’s fantastic. I’m not much at describing music – it’s not the industry I know and have trained for, so I’m not up on the lingo.  But in the interests of trying to get the point across, this chugging guitar/ gritty urban street theme is perfect for the game, and there are a number of other equally skilled, equally themed, contributions throughout. The only complaint is that a couple of the higher parts get a little squelchy on Adlib, though it’s not a showstopper.

This was also the period that Sierra was backing Roland audio instead of Adlib/Sound Blaster, and the music sounds football fields better on a Roland MT-32; but you probably expected that. It still sounds great on Adlib. Robert Atesalp is the composer, who worked on a few of the mid-series Sierra Quests, Police Quest 3, and also made a few console contributions. I look forward to hearing more of his work in the course of my future reviews.

This version does seem a little rushed in programming. Most grave are the frequency of crashes. I encountered four in the course of playing the game, some with the “You’ve done something we didn’t expect, but that you don’t need to do to finish the game” classic SCI error (while, I should note, doing things that I did need to do to finish the game). The rest were stalls and dropouts while it seemed that the game was assessing flags to tally what I had completed, and thus, what to load next. Four crashes here compared to none at all in the original is significant, and something to keep in mind if you choose to play. While they addressed the need of multiple saves to avoid getting stuck, now you’ll be keeping multiple saves to protect yourself from crashes – not exactly a fair trade. There are also a few sloppy text errors along the way, with descriptions that don’t match the object being shown (like calling an automatic a revolver), or dispatch sending you to meet a character with a completely different name.

If I’m supposed to be picking one over the other, I’m not going to be much help. I enjoy the improved and more professional writing of this version, and the beautiful artwork. I’m not so much of a fan of making the game “easier.” If you’re a newcomer to the genre, and can’t get behind the look of EGA graphics, you can come to the VGA version without missing a single part of the story. I suppose the real choice is between P&C and text parser, which should show what I think of the benefit of the parser when it weighs evenly against vastly improved graphics and writing. In terms of personal enjoyment, they balanced out to be about the same. You won’t be losing any parts of the original by only playing the remake, and you won’t be losing any story enhancements or new scenes by only playing the original.


The Good

Amazingly improved presentation, with vastly enhanced graphics, music, and writing.

The Bad

Even more than the last game, it becomes more of a story about police officers instead of a simulation of being one.


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