A bad game (but not due to its realism) that lamentably takes 'Police Quest' title
The first three PQs weren't brilliant games; however, they were very good adventures. Their general design was neat, and all of them had a good detective-cop story (well written and with an original realistic touch) together with a good implementation of Sierra's traditional adventures gameplay. They weren't perfect or stood out particularly on something, but resulted to be solid, enjoyable and interesting. With PQ4, many think it's completely dedicated to realism and simulation of homicide detective's activity, and they distinguish (whether for good or for ill) this characteristic as the big difference with the previous PQs. But, although it's evident the designers intended distance from light-realism of the three firsts and to get something more serious, finally I think didn't exist such a difference, and in general it keeps the typical deep of realism of the series, that is, accessible to any no-cop average human being. Nevertheless, unlike its predecessors, PQ4 ends committing several important errors, but one really unpardonable.
To beginning with, PQ4 leaves "the universe" created since PQ1, that is the story no longer develops in the fictional "Lytton" City, or features to Sonny Bonds. Now we work for LAPD (in Los Angeles City, obviously) as the detective of homicides John Carey, but this doesn't mean it is more "realistic": the "more" realism than PQ1-2-3 stops right here, in the city's name. Sadly, the new protagonist is no very good developed. Actually, he isn't developed at all. John Carey lacks personal life, emotions and personality, and barely the only thing we finish knowing is his name. Sonny Bonds wasn't a cold stone. One more thing that was lost in PQ4. The story focuses on the resolution of a series of murders by means of "more or less" real police procedures, and this includes (sometimes annoying) bureaucratic formalities. We go back and forth collecting evidence at crime scenes, picking up (crude) analysis at the morgue, and doing reports to our Chief, while wait phone calls with new data for the case. All very mechanical, lineal and monotonous. We can't (and it's not necessary) do any deductive analysis with the clues that we have, because we achieve nothing. We always have the impression whatever we do is not useful to advance in the case, but to advance through the game. And that is not the same. The plot keeps slightly interesting mainly because in all police story we always want to know who is the murderer. However, Sierra doesn't exert itself more than that. From the relationship with the rest of characters, to the exploration of the crime scene, all never is as attractive as it could have been. Only once (in a particular situation) I felt interest to investigate to a suspect, and I involve in a very tense and thrilling situation. But after that, boring formalities again. In general, conversations with witnesses, suspects and victims' relatives are convincing and enough. But the dialogue with our comrades is so scarce and useless that it seems we don't belong to LAPD. In fact, we haven't any partner at all in the case. We are alone. Something quite rare in almost every section of the real police. The Chief is the only one with who we have some work-related relationship, but we never can tell him anything, only he gives us some orders. Well, there're also a couple of bureaucrats at desks which don't even see us, and other cops (bureaucrats too) receiving evidences on the 4th floor of the station, whose interaction is "hello-take this evidence-see you".
We come to the gameplay. Here is where it commits a capital sin. But about that sin I'll talk in "the bad" section. The development is quite logical, although very rigid, following police procedures such as: go to a crime scene, collect evidences, talk to possible witnesses for gather (maybe) relevant data, come back to the station, submit evidence to analysis, go to the morgue for autopsy results, come back to the station, make the report to the Chief. All of this repeats some times during the game. Yes, from time to time we must go to ask at some suspect's house, or to visit other site, but in general almost nothing removes us from the monotonous routine. None of these activities requires imagination, investigation, or some mental challenge to us. In the middle there is a action sequence (tough and frustrating), and other ones at the police academy in order to practice aiming (easy and boring). I don't think someone enjoys this part of the game with so many good FPSs nowadays, although I doubt that someone had enjoyed it at that time (year '94). There are some tedious "realistic" features that were included, such as put our ID on every time we enter in the station, go up and down on the elevator in real time (!), and deliver the report to the Boss every day, which don't add nothing else but anger and boredom.
The graphic part is also a aspect that changed to the realism in PQ4. The word "realism" always seems to suggest that something is "better"; well, this graphics prove that is not correct. Both settings and characters are photo-realistic, that is photographs of real things. "Hey, that sounds very well…but then, which is the problem?" perhaps you wonder, and the answer is: PQ4's graphics are very pixelated; and super-pixelated real things look horrible. But the worst of this is some object that we "must" to examine are completely unrecognizable. Our desk is a random bunch of all-color square points, and there, in theory, we must find a sheet of paper for the Chief. Also, I challenge you to find our office's computer (which we must use) in the station… The audio in general is acceptable. The midi music remarks tragic, tense and relaxing moments with quite success. But definitely, the songs of Larry (Laffer!) games inside the lift win the main award. Going up and down 800 times an elevator might have been something enough to damn entire industry of videogames, but thanks to that genial idea, I only damn this game.
So far, despite all debilities I mentioned above, PQ4 keeps certain attractive like police story, and it might be considered as a tolerable adventure. But the review doesn't finish yet…
Although we don't need much cleverness to advance in the game, in some occasions we encounter some "puzzles" which challenge not to mind, but to patience. These "bothers" (it's better name them like this) are absolutely impossible to guess (guaranteed it!), blocking us inexplicably and without a logic reason. For example, at one point, I couldn't do anything: I went to a walkthrough which said that I should meet with a dog (!) at a crime scene. The problem was that the dog didn't appear! I thought it was a game bug. I read in detail the solution and I realized I hadn't bought glue at a mini-mart which I had visited a few days before. What for? I wondered. Anyway, I drove my car to buy that glue, and surprise!, the dog appears at the proper site. Thus I could continue the adventure. There are a couple more of "bothers" during the game, as to buy a drumstick (yes, a drumstick), enough to make us doubt about whether we must play it with a "realistic" approach or with a "Sam & Max" one. Besides, this causes we'll never be able to completely involve in its serious and realistic atmosphere. If you think the previous glue has at least a coherent and logic use later in the game, you are wrong. The glue, combined with other crazy objects, constitutes a portion of a puzzle at the end of the game, which might have easily emerged from design sketches of "Day of the Tentacle". This puzzle is as unnecessary as ridiculous, and thanks to it, PQ4 wins finally the title "absolutely forgettable game".
The Bottom Line
Sierra crucifies the reputation of PQ saga with this installment. Due to try (without success) the ambitious idea of make it more realistic than its predecessors, it achieves a tasteless and without personality story, with an extremely weak gameplay which sometimes touches ridiculousness. If you are looking for graphic adventures with the words "realism", "homicide" and "detectives", my recommendation extends to PQ3, and if you are looking for some more rich and complex, play the excellent "Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Rose Tattoo"
. And to think that two years before PQ4, Sierra produced one of the best adventure ever
... what a crazy world!