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SummaryPQ4's realism doesn't go far enough
The GoodThe Police Quest series was always about realism ever since In Pursuit of the Death Angel was created. There were three games, which were designed by Jim Walls. It was up to the player to deal with situations based on actual events that plagued Walls' career as a California highway patrol officer. With three games under his belt, Walls resigned from Sierra, even before The Kindred was completed, leading many people to believe that was the end of the series as they knew it.
But no, there was actually a fourth game, but it went through drastic changes. Replacing Walls was former “America's Most Wanted” producer Tammy Dargan. Dargan was previously a producer for the remake of PQ1, but now she has a much bigger role in Open Season, serving as producer, director, designer, and writer. In addition, the main character is now a homicide detective called John Carey, not Sonny Bonds the policeman; Los Angeles replaces the fictional Lytton; and no longer will you be handing out traffic fines or driving from one location to the next. The only thing that Open Season has in common with the last three games is that you still have to do everything “by the book”.
Open Season comes on a whopping twelve floppy disks or one CD-ROM. The latter version contain full speech throughout the entire game. Not only that, but you also get a “making of” video, with a woman explaining what I have just covered. You also get a demo of King's Quest VII. The disk version is restricted with the option of 320x200 or 640x480 resolution. But no matter which version you get, you get the usual game manual, warranty card, and something called the “abridged manual”, in which you refer to to get the job done.
The game opens with a crime scene where Carey's friend and partner, Bob Hickman, is found tortured and mutilated in an alley of South Central LA. What he was doing there at the time and who would do this is unclear. Several of your colleagues are on the scene already, and it is up to you to investigate the crime scene thoroughly. The game doesn't proceed further until you have done everything a real homicide detective would do.
Now, if you happen to live in the City of Angels, you'll know that the alley isn't a hand-painted background, but the real thing (as it looked like in 1993). The PQ4 team digitally photographed each scene in the game, and then scanned them into the computer. I really enjoyed looking at the chopper shots of the city at the beginning and ending of the game. I like how each location you visit opens with a nice exterior shot. The characters themselves are no longer 2D works of art, but portrayed by real actors.
What you have to do in the game is similar to both the first and second games. During the game, you have to make arrests and collect evidence in plastic bags. You also interview people, but this is often done through a Quest for Glory-style tree, where selecting one conversation topic can cause a whole bunch of new topics to appear. I really enjoyed interrogating Nobles at the coroner's office. There is some interesting information he gives out about how victims die. It is right up there with novels by James Patterson.
The gray and black appearance of the interface looks excellent. Highlighted items are in red. The icons in the icon bar are laid out nicely, and a few things are added to it, including a button that lets you access a map and two smaller buttons allow you to turn on or off this icon bar. Default is off meaning that you still have to put up with the stylized “Police Quest” logo throughout the game, but I don't have a problem with this since it doesn't take up too much space. Speaking of the icons, a black-and-white squad car replaces the normal Sierra “wait” icon. I like the grid that serves as the background in the inventory window.
I enjoyed watching the little bits of animation here and there, and a good example of it can be found in the opening shot. What seems to be a chopper appears from the right with a light beaming down on the streets, but it turns out to be a Carey's badge. I found this to be pretty cool. Also cool is the way the map of Los Angeles disappears when you select your destination.
I believe that Open Season is the first game to use Sierra's SCI2 engine, and one of the main features of the engine is the ability to support a resolution of 640x480, selectable through the installation program. In the game, everything interface-related including the text and icons appear smaller.
The soundtrack blends well with what you are doing, and it really sounds good when you selected General Midi as your sound card. The music sounds quite creepy as you make your way through the killer's house. There are realistic sound effects whatever you do.
The narrator is quite humorous when it comes to clicking the hand cursor on objects or characters, or trying to use certain inventory items on things. My personal favorite is clicking the hand on Dennis Walker's belongings.
The BadDaryl Gates, the person who oversaw the project, said in an interview with Peter Scisco for his “Police Quest Casebook” that the battering ram we saw in the third game was done all wrong. It is ironic, then, that Open Season is unrealistic in some areas. In more than one instance, Carey is threatened with a person carrying a weapon, but whoever it is freezes just before the attack, allowing you to go into your inventory so that you can draw your gun at them. This doesn't work in real life, so why couldn't Sierra get it right and make the player make the gun active before the encounter? After all, you don't see that deranged man in the third game freeze just before he assaults Sonny. In another example, the game has Carey walk through the killer's house without calling for backup.
It is nice that Sierra used photo-realistic backgrounds, but this causes problems, the actors stand there like statues if there isn't a close-up view of them. And even then, it isn't long until you discover that the game suffers from poor lip-syncing. Also, at a long distance, even their faces are blocky.
In order to get through each day, you have to think like a detective and ask yourself what they would go through when they want to interview people or inspect crime scenes. This information is supplied in the abridged manual. Thinking like a detective might be fine, but it becomes boring once in a while and the player is likely to forget what they have learnt in, say, ten years time. I'm sure that the LAPD changed its policies, making the information redundant.