That ’90s Blog: Daryl F. Gates’ Police Quest: Open Season
Now you don’t just go off and play Open Season, you have to prepare yourself to play Open Season. This can involve deep meditation, breathing exercises, or just making sure there’s alcohol in the house. It’s the same ritual involved when bracing oneself to watch the occasional bad movie, but you’d have more luck inhibiting your better judgment with that.
Following Jim Walls’ departure from Sierra, the late Daryl F. Gates, former Chief of the LAPD, took up the reigns in continuing the Police Quest series. As a result, just about all the trends from the previous three games were kicked to the curb: the removal of protagonist Sonny Bonds, his fictional town of Lytton, and the minding of procedural codes. Also gone is the use of the staple map-in-the-manual, and given that the game takes place in LA, and having driven in LA myself, that was probably the only smart move made in its development.
The game thrusts you into the role of homicide detective John Carey, arriving at a crime scene where his best friend’s tattered body is found sprawled behind a mini mart. While examining the scene, Carey also happens upon the bullet ridden corpse of a 6 year old boy stashed in a dumpster. This is but the initial taste of the dark, gritty tone that was invested into PQ4, before Carey spends his days in situations and scenarios that are questionable in the series’ slogan of “realism”, such as finding decapitated heads in refrigerators, white supremacists trying to jump you in front of a crowd at city hall, and how sticking a mirror through a door somehow clears a room of flesh eating dogs. Oh, and there’s a rapper named Yo Money, and a street thug called Emo. How’s that for keepin’ it real?
But what’s really going to put stress lines on your grimace is the game’s fugliness. The choices in aesthetics would be best described as suicidal. Open Season looks to have been lazily put together, using horribly transposed photos of on-site locations (for what it’s worth, this makes PQ4 the only game to ever accurately portray the overhyped yuck that is LA), and even more horribly transposed live action captures of its characters. If god was to have painted the world in his image using only the crudely extracted oils from Ron Jeremy’s garbage disposal contents, PQ4 is about as real as it gets. So get your licenses children, the only thing that’s open season is unsanitized pixelhunting.
Open Season isn’t exactly a title that I would call a ‘game’. In abandoning the previous titles’ signature components and depth, Open Season winds up having you remembering to do things in order, with only four occasions where your quick draw on the mouse is tested. Factoring Gates’ instructional narrative, PQ4 ends up coming off as an interactive, educational software that teaches the player the gist of working as a homicide detective. This includes learning the habit of noting your findings, knowing which forms to fill out when you do paperwork, how giving change to street drunks never gets anyone anywhere, and using makeshift hairspray blow torches is appropriate when dealing with psychotic crossdressers.
Also a turn off is the fact that the game is schizophrenic. One minute, it takes itself too seriously with Gates giving verbose insights into proper procedures and attempting to hand icon S.I.D. officer Julie Chester results her in giving a new employee handbook description of sexual harassment – by verbatim – before finally telling you “No”. Girl, please, you ain’t LA. Next thing you know, the game does a 180 with its oddball use of eccentric melodies coupled with the overly optimistic tone in the cringing voice acting.
Along with the Phantasmagoria series, Open Season added itself to the list of signs that foretold of things going south for Sierra starting from the mid-’90s. Kids, when you give in to the misplaced belief of applying hopped up gore and entrust that the rest will work itself out, you’ll wind up with one of the most awful throwbacks of the ‘90s. The only nice throwback however was the game’s mentioning of Waldenbooks. I miss you Waldenbooks.