Some say “All good things must come to an end” and thus has come the time to end the era of Police Quest. Is this third instalment a final goodbye to Sonny Bonds as the main protagonist? Yes, but does that mean Police Quest in itself ends here as well? No, most certainly not. The series is followed up by a fourth part and several S.W.A.T. editions. For the true fans though, I can safely assume the first three parts are the true pinnacle of the series.
Released in 1991, it’s the first edition of the series which is completely controlled by mouse. So, no more text parser and while for some this might be a blessing, for others (like me) it’s a mild curse. Jim Walls was the man that developed the Police Quest series, right until after this part. For the follow-up, Police Quest 4: Open Season, he passed his duties over to the real S.W.A.T. founder, Daryl F. Gates, who was the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) from 1978 to 1992. Jim Walls who also designed Codename: ICEMAN, decided to part from Sierra and join Tsunami Games where he created a rivalling police themed game, called Blue Force.
As Jim states in the intro, some of the situation you encounter in game happened to him in real life as well. So, in a way, the game is based upon real-life events. This of course does probably not apply to the dramatic storylines that develop during the game. And if they do, well in that case I definitely do not envy this man. Because just as Mr. Walls himself says in the intro, Sonny Bonds is in for a heck of a day.
And the intro itself is a piece of art, with cinematic scenes that still hold up to this day. For the first time, they’ve used digitized characters which are clearly visible in the intro and are also used throughout the rest of the gameplay. The intro is also accompanied with the lovely synthesizer music of Jan Hammer, which you might know from Crockett's theme (does Miami Vice ring a bell?). And with that, it just perfectly connects with the Police Quest world. All of this certainly sets the bar high in value of presentation of the game. Fun Fact 1: Christopher Daniel Barnes who “plays” Sonny Bonds, also voiced Prince Eric in the Little Mermaid.
The game itself begins with Sonny Bonds having to participate in all of the regular tasks fitting for a sergeant patrol officer. Give an uplifting morning roll call, gather your equipment, clean out the gum from your locker, and make sure no funny business is happening in the women’s toilets. Are we sure we’re playing Police Quest, instead of Leisure Suit Larry?! What happened, you might ask? Was Sonny Bonds demoted because of indecent behaviour at the ladies restroom? Well, as the intro stated, this is due to the Traffic department being understaffed. Most likely this is done to provide an excuse so you can start of slowly by handing out tickets and give the game some variation. Don’t worry though, you’ll be handing out bullets instead soon enough!
After doing your boring set of chores, it’s time for some relaxing cruising around the wonderful city of Lytton. It really is a shame though, that the driving mechanics are pretty out of date. It lacks fun and a proper challenge and feels more like a mandatory part to get you from A to B. It really makes you (or maybe just me) miss the minigame-esque driving part of Police Quest 1, for which you can argue if that was any fun or challenging to begin with. At least the driving mechanics in PQ1 make you feel more of a real cop driving a car in search of the bad guys and it almost resembles a prehistoric version of GTA. Here however, you are seated in the car after which you can turn on some rudimental navigation which will show you a map of Lytton. After that it’s basically pushing the icons to accelerate, brake and steering left or right. The highlight is of course the use of the sirens, which you’ll absolutely need if you want to keep those donuts warm long enough.
During the rest of the first day, you are presented with all sorts of possible offenders, while driving your state issued vehicle. It’s up to you to take the proper police actions and fill out the required paper work. In a sense this increases the feel of playing a police simulation, instead of an adventure game. Make the wrong choice though, and you will end with a lower score. And if you think you can handle every situation by firing your gun, be ready to press that restore button. So if you want to be a super cop, be prepared to read the manual and brush up on all the theory of being a copper.
The end of day one ends with quite a shocker and also another great piece of cinematics used in a game. Without spoiling too much, it’s safe to say that the demons of Sonny’s past are about to haunt him and his loved ones once again. With that, the storyline of all three Police Quest games really fit into each other, but also leaves no open endings upon the finalising of this instalment. Fun Fact 2: One of the female antagonists is rumoured to be part of the Jesse Baines family, although this is never confirmed in the game itself.
After playing the part of the patrol officer and the day ends, you get to do what every little kids wants to do growing up. Pretend to be a homicide officer! This opens up a different sort of police style investigation. Some parts that really stand out, are the use of the drawing composite and the city map on which you can plot the crimes that have been committed. And these will form key elements in solving the case. You still need to do some of the boring mandatory tasks, like going to court and make sure you have the proper paperwork. And even checking if the doctors at the hospital are doing their job properly.
Speaking of the game mechanics, is it possible to die in game? Well, is water wet? Is this a Sierra game? The obvious answer is, yes, you can. Luckily the save/restore system is a perfect failsafe for this. You will certainly know when you’re stepping into a dangerous scene and you should act accordingly to it. Although most of them are fairly straightforward, there have been some puzzles that had me puzzled (drum-roll) for days. Especially when picking up the homeless lady, she will only join you if you can take care of her shopping cart. It never crossed my mind to use my cuffs and a little hint in that area would have saved me a lot of frustration. Also later on, there can be a some game breakers, for example when you decided to book all your evidence. Apparantly you need some evidence to convince a judge in helping you. This brutal mistake will you set you back a couple of save games. All in all, coming up with the right ideas and solving a challenge is the most rewarding part of the game.
Timing issues can be a nuisance on newer machines. For example, you might be forced to wait for a trigger to happen so the story can continue. But also, when making note of the in-game time for the proper paperwork, this might bite you later in the sense of missing out on points, because of a wrong time on your reports. Fun Fact 3: Due to a game bug, it is impossible to score the maximum 460 points, but only 450 at most.
The animations, although great at the time, are now considered a bit wonky. Especially on fast machines, the head movement of Sonny Bonds resembles someone with a heavy case of Tourette Syndrome. Luckily, with the use of the right tools, Dosbox and/or Munt for your Roland emulation, the game can be played as it was intended to.
In conclusion, Police Quest 3 really is a wonderful successor to its previous games. The storyline is surprisingly well written and it still saddens me a bit that this is the inevitable departure of the beloved Sonny Bonds. Graphics are just fine and especially the music is perfect, thickening the game into a wonderful last goodbye. Fun Fact 4: The intro music impressed me so much, I can now partially play it on the guitar.
If you haven’t played this, you owe it to yourself to do so. Just make sure you have played PQ1 and PQ2 as well, else I’ll have to arrest you for indecent behaviour. So slip into that uniform, holster your gun and remember, ”Let’s be careful out there”.
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Even the guy on the right has more feminine hair...