07 January 2009

Trip Down Memory Lane: Police Quest: SWAT

You probably don't remember this game unless you played a lot of PC games through the nineties. In fact, even if you did, you probably don't remember this game since it was basically a flop for Sierra who was essentially the Valve of the time (never mind Valve being a part of Sierra for the production of Half-Life 1). And being the Valve of the time meant remaking their best-selling titles over and over again. Valve makes a game about a scientist in a powersuit beating the snot out of aliens and Sierra made games about a king that had to save his kingdom from a wizard. A lesser known series of Sierra was Police Quest, a game about a policeman trying to save his city from a rapist. SWAT was the last game of the Police Quest series and also the most infuriating.

In this game, you're a guy who shoots paper targets over and over again until a flashing klaxon on the screen tells you you need to stop shooting at paper targets and go shoot an old lady or talk her out of her house. If the old lady shot you or herself, you had to go back to shooting paper targets until you were alive again or she came back to life as an old woman that refused negotiations to stop locking herself in her bathroom.

As you can tell the original charm in Police Quest is gone. What they replaced it with were live action actors running around on the screen and you were either supposed to talk to them or shoot them. To talk to them, you had to go through two menus to say something (as they are holding a gun to their own temple) or pull out your gun and shoot them (only one menu, I believe). And, if the old lady, fugitive, or terrorists shot you, you had to sit through the first few bars of Amazing Grace and watch yourself get buried. While this was deep and heartfelt the first time, the thirtieth time I had to wait for my Pentium I to cue up that god forsaken FMV... And, for the later missions, failure meant swapping one of the four CDs back for the first one (which was heavily scratched by my nine-year-old hands) to shoot some paper targets again.

I keep mentioning these paper targets, but one has to realize this was a very early attempt at shoveling game-play-lengthening material into a game so Sierra could hit their 20 hour mark or whatever was in vogue at the time. At least most tedious tasks in a game attempt to give you some reward or skill that is useful later in the game, but nooooope. In this game, all you were supposed to do was talk suspects out of killing themselves or shoot fast moving targets that shoot back with inhuman accuracy. Unfortunately, the paper targets neither moved quick nor were they talkative.

Now I know this was an early attempt to be a realistic simulation for being a SWAT officer, and for the effort, it at least deserves recognition, but if you're going to make a game into an occupational simulator, why not have Plumber's Quest: Roto-Rooter, where you have to spend hours at a time trying to figure out how to order things out of the McMaster-Carr catalog, or you could remake Leisure Suit Larry, but call the game "Leisure Suit Larry: Date Rapist" where you have to spend hours at a time calling up doctors to get prescriptions for rophynol until you strike poontang gold and have to run to your nearest singles bar to get a date? Or, here's another idea, "Blogger's Quest: Run-on Sentence!"

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