Police Quest I review

Continuing our Sierra retrospective, we’ll now take a look at the 1st title in Sierra’s most realistic series so far, Police Quest.

Like I said before, after the successful release of King’s Quest I, several other games were made using the AGI engine. Jim Walls, a former police officer, designed a graphic adventure where proper police procedure was fundamental in how to solve the puzzles and how to progress throughout the game.

Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel was released in 1987 for the Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Apple IIgs, DOS and Macintosh.

All releases featured the same cover:


Shouldn’t have shot those giant letters

While I do like the detail of the bullet holes in the title, I think it’s too big and almost overshadows the bottom, where we see a presumed criminal running from the police. The bottom image looks taken from the cover of a crime novel and it couldn’t be more appropriate for the game.

But crime novels aren’t the only influences behind the game. As you’ll see while I boot this sucker:

The intro is very reminiscent of the old Dragnet TV show (down to the police badge on screen). In fact, the entire game plays as an interactive episode of a police drama series.

You play as Sonny Bonds (named after Jim Walls’s own son), a young police officer in the fictional city of Lytton, California where there has been a surge of crime lately.

And that’s the entire back story! The story develops throughout the game as you play along.


“OK, so where’s the toilet?”

The game starts as a typical law enforcement routine day (going to the locker room, attending briefings and going on patrol).

Then comes perhaps the hardest part of the game: the driving section. Controlling your car is extremely hard, especially during high-velocity pursuits. Heck, even leaving the parking lot is a challenge! I recommend reducing the game’s speed until you get used to the controls. But I won’t deny that after mastering the driving controls, it gets entertaining.

During your patrol, you come across several traffic violations and other crime scenes. You must read the manual (or indoctrination guide, as it’s named. Yikes!) before playing. All the correct procedure, along with the penal and radio codes, it’s so highly detailed in the manual that it could easily pass off as an official police academy manual. And it also features a map of the city which you’ll find extremely helpful during the driving sections.


Take a guess which of these small rectangles near the corner is your car.

You can’t just go guns blazing like you’re playing Narc! You have to observe the correct procedure in each specific case and apply it. If you forget any step of said procedure, the best that can happen is that you’ll lose points. The worst, however, is an automatic game over.

The game initially received some criticism over the strict procedure, but since that was the intent to such a degree that Police Quest I even served as a police training tool, such criticism was consequently ignored over the immersion.

The game’s story is divided into 2 parts: the aforementioned traffic patrol section and an investigation section after Sonny is transferred to the Narcotics division. The 2nd part is more lenient towards following police procedure, but a big mistake can still lead to a game over.


Not even the beach is free from crime

The objective, after becoming a Narcotics detective, is to investigate and arrest the eponymous Death Angel, a newly arrived drug baron to Lytton. And you do it by arresting criminals, following leads, clues and by interrogating suspects.

And near the end, there’s a poker mini-game in which you’ll need to win enough money to progress through the game (TWICE!). And because there aren’t any poker instructions in the manual, the 1st time I played the game, I had to ask my dad to help me pass the poker part, which then prompted a half-hour long lecture about the dangers of gambling addiction.


Two pairs. Break the house!

Because of all the situations and the strict procedures, the game feels quite long, it’s perhaps even the longest AGI Sierra title at the time.

And like other successful AGI titles, it was also remade using the SCI engine (SCI 1.1).

Police Quest I: In Pursuit of the Death Angel VGA was released in 1992 for DOS.

With a new cover included:


Are you trying to “cast your evil shadow over the city”?

Again with the big title almost filling the entire cover! Is someone just trying to compensate for the lack of something? And the bottom image this time is more generic. It’s just an ominous face with orange eyes overlooking a city, nothing more. I prefer the original cover over this one.

But check out the game for yourself:

The intro this time around looks even more like an intro to a TV police drama. And the new soundtrack isn’t half bad!

The remake not only has better sound and graphics (as to be expected) but it also simplifies all the puzzles and the procedures. A little too much, in my opinion.

Even the driving section is so simplified to the point that it’s hard to make mistakes. Although the driving controls to turn can be a bit confusing. It’s easy to mix left and right when driving in the opposite direction the controls are oriented because the cars are always going up, even if you’re driving south.


Believe me, it looks smaller on the inside

The game also presents a small window for interior locations which reduces the playing area and therefore makes it easier to spot objects and people to interact with, but it also either bundles up everything together or it makes some locations look somewhat empty. And the main characters now have portraits during the dialogues, but most of them are badly drawn.

The police procedure is also simplified, reducing the chance of mistakes and making the game easier to play. Even the poker mini-game is optional now, but you won’t be rewarded its points if you choose not to play it. Between Space Quest I’s slot machine, Leisure Suit Larry I’s blackjack and this game’s poker, I wonder if Sierra is responsible for an entire generation of gamblers. But seriously now, gambling addiction is no joke, as my dad always said.


“10-4, heading south on 9th. At least that’s what my onboard display is telling me”

There’s a better visual and sound presentation over the original and while it definitely looks and sounds better, the gameplay is so oversimplified that there’s almost no challenge in comparison with the original. And although the story and the dialogues have been somewhat rewritten, they’re basically the same. It’s hard to see the difference in that aspect. Although all of this makes the game easier and more attractive, it also makes it shorter than the original.

So, if you don’t mind the EGA graphics, the text parser, the hard-as-nails driving section and the harder puzzles, then I recommend the original version over the remake. But if you’re a novice graphic adventure player and prefer VGA graphics, the mouse interface and easier gameplay, then go for the remake, although personally, I prefer the original AGI version.


“Nothing to see, people. Just another random accident.”

You can get both versions along with the rest of the series up to Police Quest Open Season here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

So, did you like this review? Leave your comments below and share them with your friends. Just one more review to finish our retrospective and this time, we’ll go back to a fantasy setting, but not as you’re thinking. Until then, be careful out there and keep on playing!

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