Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Policenauts Review

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policenauts_boxPlatform: PC-9821, 3DO, Playstation, Saturn (Japan Only)
Released: 1994-1996 (depending on platform, Japan Only)
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Digital Release? No
Price: Unavailable, game never sold in US or UK

Fred’s Take

Building off of what Kojima had started in Snatcher, I feel that Policenauts is an attempt to revise the mistakes and setbacks of that original attempt and create a spiritual successor that flows more like a game.  Technically, I guess that’s what Policenauts is, unfortunately the solution appears to be making it a point-and-click adventure and adding in more (and more frustrating) shooting sequences.  While I have to commend the efforts by having a more genuine story – although the similarities to the first two Lethal Weapon films is undeniable – that flows naturally and keeps you intrigued, this game has so many walls to break through to get to that story that it’s best read in a walkthrough or watched on YouTube.  For this reason, and the countless other reasons that prevent most of us outside of a Japanese speaking region, I can’t recommend Policenauts as a coveted loss treasure we never got.

policenauts_1This title is as 90s action as it comes with a trash-talking young detective, a near-retirement aging partner, and a whole lot of explosions and shooting.  Initially you are introduced to Jonathan Ingram, a former police astronaut (policenaut) of the first space colony Beyond Coast, that was lost in space for 25 years and has now returned to Los Angeles two and a half decades younger than everyone he left behind.  This includes is wife, who as the story begins has long abandoned him, remarried, and now has a daughter Ingram’s age, and his former partner Ed Brown who sits behind a desk as a forgotten head of the Beyond Coast PD vice squad.  The entire game is based around finding the husband of Ingram’s ex-wife Lorraine, who works as a salesmen and scientist for the Tokugawa Pharmaceutical company.  Jonathan reluctantly takes the case, heads to Beyond Coast, and attempts to solve the mystery with the help of Ed, which almost immediately transforms into Lethal Weapon.  There’s a lot more to the story, but frankly story is all this game has going for it.

policenauts_2Unlike Snatcher the shooting sequences are free form, intended for the use of a mouse as it was originally developed for the NEC PC-9821, an early Intel 386 microcomputer in Japan.  Most ports are on consoles, and although it supports mice on those consoles, mouse accessories are extremely rare and expensive these days and no light gun support except for the definitive Saturn version.  As a result, the shooting portions become your biggest roadblock to seeing this game to the end.  If you are playing in English, which most of us US/UK gamers need to, there is only one fan translation available and it’s for the Playstation.  This means that if you play on real hardware, which I attempted to, it’s going to be near impossible to find a mouse and it’ll be riddled with bugs and glitches that will randomly freeze the game on a regular basis.  Unless a Saturn translation, which does support light guns, ever sees the light of day there is no reason not play this game on an emulator with your mouse returning as the ideal input device.  Even then, you will find the shooting sequences to be frustrating tests of skill that seem counter to the type of person who will play a point-and-click adventure and resulting in frustration over lost time.  Please make use of save states like Jam and I did, there’s no reason to feel like less than a gamer at the expense of getting stuck 10 hours into a 12 hour game.  I should also take this time to point out that Kojima still doesn’t know how to split up a game because out of 7 acts, a prologue, and an epilogue, the split is 6-7 hours for Acts 1 and 2 and about 5-6 hours for the rest of the game.  These are all the obstacles you have to accept and overcome, but in doing so results in a zany tale mixed with just enough science fiction and humor to keep me hooked.

policenauts_3Much like Snatcher before it, your enjoyment of this game is directly related to your interest in the story.  If you were a fan of 90s action films or hybrid science fiction to the likes of Terminator or even Demolition Man, it’s not hard to hold your attention with this guided buddy cop drama.  While it may seem it at first, this game does not take itself seriously and thus Kojima and his team were able to have some fun with the events that unfold.  Sometimes it works, like when Jonathan eats Beyond Coast food for the first time or the discovery of what’s really going on with Tokugawa Corporation, and other times it really falls flat for me like the numerous times you’ll be grabbing boob and slapping butt.  Oh well, I guess I can chalk it up to the quirky perversions of a writer and developer that definitely thinks outside the box.  It may not be as easy to ingest as Snatcher, but there’s value hidden under Policenauts’ initial barrier to entry.

Final Score: 3 out of 5    (review policy)

Jam’s Take

Yes, that’s right, Hideo Kojima did actually make another game that wasn’t part of the ever growing Metal Gear Solid series. I originally didn’t even know Policenauts was a game, I just thought it was some anime production Kojima had a hand in. Unlike Snatcher, this game failed to capture a cult following in the west.

policenauts_4In Policenauts you play as the blue haired mullet private detective known as Jonathan who is struggling to find a case to get stuck into. Fortunately for Jonathan his ex-wife comes knocking and now Jonathan is on a mission to look for her missing husband Hanzo Kojo. What follows is story full of various twists and turns along with another set of colourful characters complete with excessive back stories. Initially I had some interest in the story there appeared to be this intriguing mystery behind what was going on. To my disappointment the story (which is the biggest draw to this game) failed to maintain my interest. Some of the twists and turns in the plot were just far too predictable especially if you have played other Kojima games. I also didn’t find the character of Jonathan particularly likeable, his drive to continue his investigation seemed questionable, at times he was far more interested in ogling random womens’ boobies than actually pushing forward. I spent most of the game thinking it would’ve been a lot more interesting to following the plot from the prospective of Jonathan’s old partner Ed, who appears to have the most interesting back story of all the characters in this game. I couldn’t help but think there was a missed opportunity for Ed to make an “I’m too old for this shit,” line but I guess we can’t have everything.

policenauts_5At this stage of the review you may be questioning why am I critiquing this game like a film. Well friend, it’s because that’s practically what Policenauts is, a nice but long twelve hour story experience. Of course there is a little more than just sitting and watching the game. For the majority of the gameplay you will be pointing and clicking on options, look at this, investigate that, show something to a character, etc. The game is a very linear experience, you will enter one area carry out an investigation and move on. If you’ve not gained the correct information from the scene you are investigating your character will inform you. This proved quite useful as it prevents the usual travelling around clicking on everything in an attempt to advance the story only to have you give up and use a walkthrough. It still doesn’t change the fact though that you will be spending a lot of time constantly clicking on various options until the story finally advances. A lot of the time you will know the solution but because your not playing the game the way it wants you to play it, it can become a rather dull experience. The game will throw the occasional puzzle at you but they are far too easy, one of which is a simple spot the difference.

Then there are the shooting segments. Basically these are point-and-shoot sections but they are incredibly loose and frustrating (unless that was the fault of the emulator I was using). Like Snatcher these segments were few and far between.  In fact, after the prologue you don’t really do any shooting until half way through the game.

If you love anime you will probably love Policenauts as the game features several fully animated cutscenes. The style reminds me of the anime series Dominion: Tank Police, which is set in the not too distant future but technology has of course advanced to the point of police flying around in space man type mechs. One thing to note on this style though is how I still can’t get over why some people in anime-inspired universes have blue hair. Do they dye it? Marge Simpson does apparently. Oh sorry, back to the game.

policenauts_6

The game comes complete with full Japanese voice acting. No English version currently exists so you’re gonna just have to put up with a lot of subtitles. Obviously remember this is a Kojima game so you’ll be sitting watching the game more than actually playing it, so the waffly diaolgue where a character talks about their oh so tragic back story can kind of drag at times. Also if you ever wanted to now how to say some of the most offensive words in the urban dictionary this game provides that opportunity, so consider it a learning tool I guess.  The music was actually surprisingly enjoyable, some more Snatcher inspired smooth jazz, but unlike Snatcher it really suited the setting of the world and made for a great addition to the movie like feel.

policenauts_7To conclude, Policenauts intrigued me from the start but failed to maintain my attention throughout the experience. The story felt predictable with no real surprises and the shooting segments, though very infrequent, were incredibly awkward to control. Policenauts to me is better remembered as a cameo appearance in the form of a poster on Otacon’s wall in Metal Gear Solid than a game that you need to experience. The game has its moments that will make you chuckle but I just didn’t get sucked into the story or the world. For a game where the story is the main focus that is essential in determining whether you enjoy it or not. If you like anime and like buddy cop-esque storylines, then you may enjoy this title. For some reason this game just really made me want to go back and watch Lethal Weapon instead.

Final Score: 2 out of 5

Did you know that we talked about the entire game as part of our Snatcher/Policenauts game club?  Check it out here.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2015 at 3:50 pm

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