PQ4: Whining about Getting Stuck

pq4-fenceDespite my earlier reluctance, I’ve dipped into the walkthroughs for Police Quest 4 several times now. Not because it has difficult puzzles, but because the things that aren’t puzzles are sometimes difficult — for example, parsing the art. I had a particular problem at first with finding the exits to scenes. The worst case of this was at the scene of the first murder, where you have to walk off an edge that, to me, looks fenced off. Making it worse, you actually can’t leave in that direction the first time you’re at that location, on the night that the body is discovered. It’s only the daytime version of the scene that can be exited. Sometimes the game just arbitrarily declares certain exits to be non-useful, and the only way to tell which is by trying to use them. But by now I’ve got into the habit of trying to exit every scene in every direction, so there’s no good reason for me to get stuck in that way any more.

The pixel-hunting is another matter. Most of the scenes are cluttered with scenery, some few undistinguished bits of which will be crucially clickable. Like a lot of Sierra’s adventures, Police Quest 4 is divided into days, with each day triggering new events and opening up new locations. Days advance in response to plot developments, and plot is gated in arbitrary ways: if you know you need to talk to the victim’s relatives but they aren’t at home, it could be because you haven’t picked up a completely unrelated item in a different part of town. There was one point back in day 1 where I thought I had an actual chain of reasoning that put me on the right path: learning that the dead cop, Hickman, had been undercover as an employee of a nearby diner, I figured I was supposed to snoop around the diner for clues. I couldn’t get in, but there was a prominent employee’s entrance, locked. So I figured Hickman had a key. Where would that be? In his pocket, of course! So I went to the morgue and found a previously-unnoticed envelope containing his personal effects. But all I could do with it was deliver it to his grieving widow, and although that did unlock further events, they weren’t events related to the effects or the diner: instead, it made a potential informant telephone me when I got back to HQ. I still haven’t been inside that diner, and by now it really seems like I never will.

Thinking is futile when cause and effect make no sense. All you can do is go everywhere and try everything and hope that you hit on the things that the author thought of. Or, of course, play from a walkthrough, which may be what Sierra had in mind at this point: why sell a solvable game when you can sell a game and a hint book? If there’s one thing we can truly thank GameFAQs and its ilk for, it’s putting an end to that sort of foolishness.

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