Police Quest 3 was developed and released during a period of change at Sierra. As Lucasarts began to redefine the parameters of Adventure gaming for the PC, the Sierra team followed suit, updating the original text-based interface used in Police Quest 1 and Police Quest 2 with the Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI), a point-and-click interface featuring controls for walking, looking, touching, speaking and an inventory. While the game did not require a mouse in order to play it, it was certainly recommended. Graphically, the game also saw improvements, moving from 16-color EGA graphics to 256-color VGA graphics (an EGA version of the game was also made available for purchase). Unlike the Lucasarts games, however, the player could still die if they did not successfully perform certain tasks, or initiated certain scenarios in the game. When doing this, the player would be visited by series creator Jim Walls, one foot perched on the bumper of a squad car, who would briefly (and often sardonically) explain what had gone wrong.
A number of Sierra staff members have Lytton Police Department Officers named after them, including Daryle Smith, Carlos Escobar, Maurice Morgan, Jim Larsen, Jon Bock, Jane Cardinal, Jeff Crowe, Mark Crowe, Kimberly Eidson, Frank Ferrell, Desie Hartman, Jane Jensen, Cheri Loyd, Robert Swafford, and the ever-present Jim Walls. They are listed in the Department’s personnel directory found on any of Sonny’s various computers throughout the game. The listings are often accompanied by a humorous quip or inside joke.
Lytton, once a quiet and peaceful little town, has been growing like a weed. There’s new industry, good jobs, and a decent standard of living. Unfortunately, progress is not without its side effects. Poverty and crime are going up about as fast as the new cultural center.
Homicide Detective Sonny Bonds and his wife Marie (formerly Marie Wilkins in the previous Police Quest games) are still on a “honeymoon high” from their wedding a few years back. Marie’s got a good job at the Oak Tree Mall and the two have a beautiful new home. As for Sonny, he was promoted to Detective Sergeant with the Lytton Police Department.
The game begins with Sonny beginning a seemingly ordinary day on September 14th, 1991 at Lytton PD, returning to the force following the completion of his Sergeant’s training. Overburdened as the department is, he’s been assigned to Traffic Division for a bit. Seems Traffic’s always understaffed. Sonny’s day consists of such tasks as delivering the morning traffic duty briefing, investigating a citizen’s complaint regarding a colleague, obtaining a new keycard for his office computer, and so forth.
After an afternoon of traffic duty, a cutscene appears showing the attempted murder of Marie Bonds in the parking lot of the Oak Tree Mall. The game then shifts to a murder investigation involving a serial killer, a satanic cult, illicit drugs, and a visit from an old nemesis. Immediately following the attack on his wife, Bonds is re-assigned from the Traffic Division to Homicide.
The game, along with the newly released Space Quest IV and King’s Quest V, showcased Sierra‘s new SCI point-and-click interface, and is almost always displayed from an overhead, third-person perspective. Game progress is almost completely linear, and depends upon the player successfully performing a series of actions during game situations, usually in an inflexible order.
Most of the game’s characters were modelled using an early form of motion-capture technology. Hired actors and Sierra staff were captured while performing against a blue screen, and were then used in the game.
The player was also introduced to a new driving system, involving a map of the city combined with a third-person view of the car, which allowed the user to accelerate, stop, and perform turns. The player was also required to turn the car’s ignition on and off, as well as turning on the car’s siren. Signs would pop up before intersections, alerting the player of which street they would soon approach.
Various tools related to police work were available during the course of the game. In one instance, the game asks that a composite sketch be constructed of Marie’s attacker. In another situation, the player is required to plot several locations on a map of the city in order to find a pattern.
The game’s combat controls were not terribly sophisticated, and generally involved selecting a weapon from the inventory, and clicking said item on an assailant. In its defense, combat situations are few and far between in Police Quest 3.
Police Quest 3 featured multiple endings, with only one good ending. If the player failed to address one crucial part of the game’s several plot threads, they might not get the good ending, but rather a bad ending resembling the game’s many death sequences (featuring Jim Walls and the squad car).
Police Quest 3 was scored by Jan Hammer of Miami Vice fame. Hammer’s soundtrack was designed to be heard through a Roland MT-32 sound module.