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Police Quest 4: Open Season

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Tammy Dargan

GAME DEVELOPER:Sierra On-Line

GAME PUBLISHER:Sierra On-Line

Copyright 1993, Sierra On-Line

Arguably the most realistic game about crime ever made, Police Quest 4: Open Season stirred a lot of controversy at the time of its release. The controversy arose due to two main factors: the departure of Police Quest creator Jim Walls to join other ex-Sierra employees at Tsunami (where he later designed a ?Police Quest-lite? game called Blue Force), and the signing of Daryl F. Gates as game ?author.? Less than a year earlier, Gates had been forced to retire as police chief of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) following the LA riots that resulted from the public outcry over brutal police beating of Rodney King, an event captured on a home video that was aired nationwide. True to his background, Gates recreated the gritty, no-holds-barred crime scene of LA in Open Season. The result is a very realistic police game that is unfortunately bogged down by numerous tedious ?by the book? police procedures, game-crashing bugs, and a hackneyed plot full of clich? and stereotypes that are sure to offend some people.

Let?s first start with the premise. In contrast to the previous 3 games in the series, you are no longer Sonny Bonds, local hero in the small town of Lytton. Instead, you are John Carey, a young, clean-cut LAPD detective. As the game begins, your best friend Bob Hickman, an undercover detective, has just been killed by poison and horrific torture. Your boss, Lieutenant Block, has given you a go-ahead to find his killer, but not without first cautioning you not to let personal feelings cloud your professional judgment. As you investigate Hickman?s last assignment, interview suspects, and gather evidence, you will be drawn into a sinister world of LA underground, tracking down a mad serial killer who is on the loose.

Fittingly enough for the most realistic game in the series, Open Season is the first game from Sierra to feature photo-realistic rendering rather than traditional animations for both characters and backgrounds. The basic gameplay, however, remains the same as other Sierra titles, except it is made much more tedious by the strong emphasis on actual police procedures. For example, you will need to fill out various forms that real policemen use, and check your gnu more times than you care to remember. As if to belabor the point, the game even includes an abridged version of the ?manual? that LAPD officers actually use, the procedures in which you need to follow by the letter in order to finish the game. The tedium of police paperwork is made worse by the extreme linearity of gameplay: in contrast to earlier Police Quest games where you do not have to follow every step of police procedures to finish the game, but could do so to obtain optional points, Open Season simply refuses to let you progress until every step has been taken, and thereby maximum score for that scene obtain. A good example of this is the opening crime scene: until you click your notebook on every important item in the scene (to record your observations), collect every possible evidence, and follow every relevant procedure, the game will not let you leave the scene. This makes the game very easy in addition to it being very tedious. Realism is always nice, but clearly Open Season offers realism at the expense of playability. When you fill out form 3.14 for the umpteenth time, you will see what I mean.

Complicating these problems is the fact that the game engine is obviously incapable of handling digitized graphics. This leads to slow load times and numerous crashes (although to Sierra?s credit, most of these have been fixed in the Windows 95 version which is the version for download here). Overall, with easy puzzles that feel more like paperwork than real challenge, a clich? plot, and a stickler to realism, Open Season is a disappointing end to a great series that will appeal only to anyone who is curious about what LAPD detectives do in real life. Given the game?s focus on realism as opposed to adventure-genre puzzle solving, it is not surprising that Sierra decided to switch the genre from adventure to simulation in the sequels, and renamed the series to Police Quest: SWAT.



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