Policenauts • Page 2

Solid snake.   

In the point and click style that goes on to define the rest of the game you pick conversation options from a drop down menu, filling in details as you grasp around for the branch on the dialogue tree that will shunt the drama forward. After finally agreeing to take on the job you take Lorraine's arm and step out of your office, into the set of Blade Runner.

Kojima's Hollywood fetishism is more rampant in Policenauts than any other title in his oeuvre. The science fiction setting allows him to cherry pick the best Eastern and Western cinematic influences (and indeed, in creating the copious anime cutscenes, many of his heroes contributed to the game's creation in more direct ways).

When Ingram finally joins up with his old Policenauts partner back on Beyond, Ed Brown, the pair's resemblance to Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon is overt. From this point the game settles into a familiar buddy movie rhythm.

The filmic quality of the story is mirrored by the game's mechanics. As with spiritual predecessor Snatcher, this is at heart an interactive novel. The puzzles, such as they are, generally involve finding the right character to reveal the right piece of information required to move the plot along. The occasional frenetic light-gun style shootouts (which, on every system other than Sega' Saturn must be played with a pad and cursor) jar with the game's cerebral focus, albeit offering some kinetic thrill to break up the long dialogue trail.

Nevertheless, for many gamers, the prospect of such light interactive engagement will be alarming. What use is an interactive film where your hands aren't even free to pick at the popcorn? But approach the experience for what it is - a gently interactive science fiction novella that's peculiarly of its time and origin - and you'll discover one of gaming's esoteric gems.

The science fiction, in particular, is some of the medium's strongest. Kojima's obsession with the science of what it is to live in space, the illnesses we might develop if we lived with weightlessness and then how those scientific prophecies might impact on a human level is totally engaging.

Frozen in space, Ingram's physical aging process was slowed. As he's an older man trapped in a younger man's body, the opposite predicament to that of Old Snake.

The story's vision of the future is creative yet also sober and believable, its innovations evolutions of current world systems and products rather than fabrications. Each and every piece of technology is so thoroughly justified in the descriptions that the world takes on a weighty sense of verisimilitude.

As the game's been translated by fans and not a sensitive publisher, the original grit of the sweary Japanese dialogue and darker scene-setting incidentals has survived localisation. For example, the shop across the street from Ingram's office sells VR kiddy porn, illustrating the inevitable darker capacity of all technological progress.

But despite the game's stabs at maturity it's also beset by characteristic Japanese sexism, which sits at odds with the game's more serious themes (which include a portrait of a family living with a severely autistic child). The option to joggle the breasts of many female characters during conversations may be little more than some lighthearted salaryman misogyny (and, as some of the girls recoil in horror, there is at least some payback to your lecherous pride); it sullies the game nonetheless.

However, Policenauts still emerges as a triumph of gentle interactive storytelling - a product so polished and rounded it's no surprise Kojima left so much promotion for the game in his subsequent title, Metal Gear Solid. Its Miami Vice-style soundtrack couples elegantly with the late-20th Century anime styling to produce a game that's not only distinct from but, in many cases, more than the sum of its influences.

It's also a style of game we'll perhaps never see again, its form and function too outdated to warrant much attention today. But in simplicity of function lies longevity. While Kojima's more ambitious recent games will age inexorably, the sharp anime lines and raw accessibility of Policenauts have a timeless edge, something shared by its older, more rounded cast. It's not for everyone, but in the dark sky of thrillers, point and click adventures, science fiction homage and Japanese esoterica, Policenauts is a bright, shining star.

8 /10

NOTE: Playing Policenauts in English will require a legitimate copy of the game, the fan patch and either an emulator or PlayStation hardware equipped to play copied discs. The original language version of Policenauts is available on the Japanese PlayStation Store for PS3 owners.

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About the author

Simon Parkin

Simon Parkin


Simon Parkin is an award-winning writer and journalist from England, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Guardian and a variety of other publications.


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