POLICE QUEST 3 / Sierra / PC

Police Quest 3 caps off the "original" trilogy of Police Quest games; designer Jim Walls would depart after this along with his fine, upstanding hero Sonny Bonds.

The game finds a convoluted excuse to put Sonny back on traffic duty for a day, but after this initial sequence, he returns to homicide detective work and stays there. Thus the game hews back to a greater dose of "police procedure" as opposed to the prequel, but the new point-and-click interface simplifies it to a few reasonably intuitive clicks of the Hand or Talk icon in most cases.

The main complaint I saw about this one was the driving interface, as you spend a lot of time on the road here. It certainly is a bit clumsy and could stand to be improved, but on the whole I didn't find it the nightmare that some others make it out to be. It simplifies driving by taking all other cars off the road, except on the freeway (and makes it difficult to hit them there - you generally just bounce off them unless you're going ridiculously fast.) The freeway sequence only occurs on the first game day, and once done you don't go back there. Due to the fact that you virtually can't crash on the freeway, it isn't even all that bad. The driving sequence is actually far superior to that of the original EGA Police Quest, as accidentally blowing a stop sign just deducts a few points rather than killing you, and the lack of other cars (as well as only a handful of stop signs scattered through town) allows you to blow around at high speeds with relative impunity. The only really big knock against it is that the only in-game map you get is an unmarked grid of the city streets; to actually see street names and the locations that you need to go to, you have to refer to a map in the instruction manual (or, more likely, filched off the interbutts.)

That's really the one major annoyance the game throws at you; there's tons of referring to off-screen information. The city map, booking codes for prisoners, codes for traffic citations, Sonny's locker combination, etc. Of course, this is a bigger problem for pirates than for legit purchasers who actually have the manual - and it's still less annoying than walking around the car every day or typing out long strings of very specific commands.

Bolstering the narrative flow and story here is the addition of Jane Jensen as the head writer, with Walls acting in more of an advisory capacity (and as the omniscient, crotch-flashing in-game narrator.) At the outset Walls tells us that some of the events in the game are based on situations he encountered in his days as a California Highway Patrol officer; we'll go out on a limb and assume that's more the traffic citations and less the Satanic chicken sacrifices, more likely a holdover from Jensen's Gabriel Knight sets.

As a story, the game has a more complete feel than the previous games. Dialouge is somewhat better, characters feel more fleshed out. The one real weakness is the game's penultimate villains; not only are they bizarrely underdeveloped compared to the rest of the story, the whole "Satanist cult who deals crack on the side" angle reflects a sort of laughable naivete inappropriate for a game supposedly so concerned with realism (I'll chalk this one up to Walls leaving the force prior to the beginning of the crack epidemic, combined with Jensen's assumed complete removal from the seedy criminal underworld.)

The Miami Vice / 80's cop drama circle also becomes complete here with Sierra's drafting of Jan Hammer to compose the soundtrack. I'm no big fan of either 1980s synth music or bringing random "celebrity" composers with little to no gaming experience in, but somehow it manages to work out well here. As compared to the mostly silent soundtracks of the previous games, the soundtrack here is really fitting (and pretty good standing on its own.) Sierra composer Rob Atesalp is relegated to sound effects duties by the celebrity ringer, but does an excellent job of it, filling the game's scenes with appropriate ambient sounds.

One last point of note is Walls' "Republican White Male" perspective on the world, which shaped the games in subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) ways and lent some uncomfortable racist overtones at times. Black people get off light here with only one caricature, but the game really seems to train its sights on Latinos with this one, with one really ugly stereotypical character you pull over for a traffic ticket (and who later challenges it in court), and the only other character being a villain. I don't know if it was an intentional theme, or just a coincidence in choice of villains combined with one stupid and thoughtless attempt at humor, but given some of the stuff in the previous games it comes across as suspect.

That aside, this is a pretty solid adventure game, more together and less frustrating (random deaths and hang-ups are significantly toned down) than the previous entries, as well as having a better overall aesthetic presentation. The whole "Police Quest" experiment never really worked out as far as making realistic police procedure into a top-flight enjoyable adventure game, but the games were always passable at worst, and it was an interesting take on the subject and an interesting look into the routine of a beat cop (at least, in a small California town circa the 1980s.)

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