Police Quest: Open Season review

The Good:

Digitized graphics offer nostalgic amusement; real life L.A. locations add realism; fully-voiced dialogue a first for franchise.

The Bad:

Voice acting Ed Wood would love; endless backtracking; police procedures essential to start but then forgotten; convoluted narrative is unsatisfying and confusing.

Our Verdict:

With a conclusion that borders on incomprehensible, Police Quest 4 offers impressive technological advances from previous games in the series, but loses their simpler charms.

After three games under the leadership of Highway Patrolman-turned-game designer Jim Walls, Sierra’s Police Quest series changed directions, opting for a much grittier and more realistic approach by bringing in LAPD Police Chief Daryl Gates to guide the next game, trading in the charming avenues of the fictional town of Lytton for the very real and dangerous streets of Los Angeles. While the changes aren’t entirely unwelcome for a series that seemed to be running out of ideas and local dangers for Sonny Bonds, many of the nice touches, humor, and engaging storytelling found previously are absent from Police Quest: Open Season.

The graphics are easily the biggest change from earlier games, and the series’ technical specs all received a sizable boost. Gone are the cartoon figures, and in their place are fully digitized actors. Developed in 1993, just before FMV games caught on (and then eventually going the way of Betamax and Menudo), Sierra obviously intended to take advantage of the PC’s advancing capabilities. New designer Tammy Dargan wanted Police Quest to be more real, mature, and adult. To that end, in came real actors, voiced dialogue and a host of real-life locations to visit, including the Parker Center, Griffith Park, and the notorious corner of Hollywood & Vine.

This was quite a departure for a company still producing King’s Quests at the time, and perhaps the most obvious moment of Police Quest’s new angle is your visit (on official business, mind you) to a strip club. Sure enough, the exotic dancers in the background are also digitized animations – though at least Sierra had the decency to give them pixelated pasties.

Yet despite all these upgrades, Open Season begins almost eerily similar to the first three. This time around you’re Homicide Detective John Carie rather than Sonny Bonds, but you’re still going to earn points by precisely following the police procedurals included with the game. Also, just as in PQ 1-3, there’s a menacing threat which will grow ever more prescient and dangerous to the town you’ve sworn to protect.

Throughout the game, you’ll be hunting down a serial killer – a bit of déjà vu if you played PQ3 – who is preying on cops in L.A. while dealing with the press and a scared City Council breathing down your neck. But somewhere along the way, something goes wrong in what was a tried-and-true formula. As you progress, both the mechanics and narrative begin to break down, offering an often confusing and frustrating adventure that eventually spirals into perhaps the most mystifying denouement you can experience in a videogame.

Along with the revamped graphics, a full soundtrack designed to take your then-new sound card to the limit also reinforces the notion that Sierra's real focus for Police Quest 4 was its technical features, and not its story or gameplay. The musical score is responsive and dynamic. When Officer Carie is in danger, the correct cues are played; when he’s conducting routine police work, a simple theme provides accompaniment; and when he steps in an elevator, he even gets treated to a few moments of muzak. The problem is, it’s not done with much subtlety, and especially when Carie uncovers more gruesome clues it begins to venture into being overly kitschy.

But it’s truly the dialogue that seals the deal. You’ve probably heard better dialogue on Mystery Science Theater. Even taking into account modest expectations for acting in 1993, the cast is forced to utter some of the most banal lines you’re likely to hear in any game, and the actors don’t seem to be aware of the situation they’re in or who they might be talking to. Even worse is the way the game uses stereotypes for cheap laughs. Unfortunately, PQ4 repeats the most egregious sins of its direct predecessor, drawing on ethnic clichés to provide a humorous contrast to Carie’s unflinching straight man. One character in particular, there to represent the decadence of Hollywood & Vine, paints a caricature we’d hopefully left behind in the '80s.

Carie himself is perhaps the best of the cast, but even he falls into the trap of sounding as if he’s auditioning for the lead in the Steven Wright story. His character is not dissimilar to Sonny Bonds, in that he’s playing the white police knight of L.A., sworn to overcome any and all evils by following the book to its very last letter. Some people may find charm in this – there was something redeemable in Sonny’s nigh-quixotic quest to save Lytton from the constant threat of outside evils, and how the PQ series always loved to reinforce his viewpoint of a black and white world. Carie’s L.A. is a bit murkier, but by and large it’s still a comic book perspective. Unfortunately, Carie is never given any true humanity. Where Bonds had his Mary to save and a home you could visit, Carie is an entirely blank slate, neither engaging nor compelling. There’s never a moment that the game explains his motivations, and he shows little emotion even over his best friend’s death (and then misses the funeral).

Continued on the next page...

AD Police Quest: Open Season (Daryl F. Gates’) can be purchased at:
GOG   • Amazon  

Game Info
Worldwide 1993 Sierra On-Line

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Police Quest: Open Season (Daryl F. Gates’)

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User Score

Average based on 5 ratings

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User Reviews

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About the Author
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Scott Bruner
Staff Writer


May 11, 2013

“eventually going the way of Betamax and Menudo” - what’s a Menudo? Google says either a band or a soup, neither makes sense in context.

“a number of surreal moments that David Lynch would be embarrassed to script” - what does that even mean? From the context it sounds as though you’re trying to say it’s too surreal, but that implies David Lynch tries his best to not be surreal, which makes no sense.

Jackal Jackal
May 11, 2013

A once-popular, now-extinct boy band does indeed make sense in context.

As for Lynch, it means there’s surreal (Lynch) and there’s WTF!, where even Lynch wouldn’t dare to go.

Zifnab Zifnab
May 11, 2013

It’s a little bit dry, but offers more substance and personality than we’ve been getting recently. Several stars better than Testament of Sherlock Holmes, surely.

syn syn
May 13, 2013

started playing this last year, never got around to it back in the day.  i got about halfway through and lost interest though, not sure why.  i enjoyed the artwork really but there was definitely something lacking compared to jim walls pq1/2/3

Detective Mosely Detective Mosely
May 13, 2013

Seems like an unfairly harsh score.  I’m not sure how it holds up today, but I played this back in the day and really enjoyed it.

tomimt tomimt
May 14, 2013

Open Season is easily among the worst Sierra games, so for me the score is quite spot on.

May 24, 2013

I played this game long ago (when it was fairly new, I suppose) and while I don’t remember it being as frustrating as this review indicates (which is probably just because I didn’t have very good taste and failed to blame bad games for being bad) I do remember how silly the last few scenes in the game is. It really does suddenly catapult into cartoonish territory. After all that police procedure and dry dialogue you lasso a dog and it literally pulls you halfway across the city.

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