Policenauts[a] is a graphic adventure game developed and published by Konami. It was written and directed by Hideo Kojima, and originally released for the PC-9821 in 1994. A hard science fiction story, Policenauts is set in the mid 21st century and follows Jonathan Ingram, an astronaut recently recovered floating in space in cryosleep after an accident at a space colony sent him drifting into space 24 years ago. Now a detective in Los Angeles, Ingram travels back to the colony to investigate the murder of his ex-wife and her husband's disappearance. As he begins his investigation, he starts to uncover an illegal organ trafficking ring.
|Platform(s)||PC-9821, 3DO, PlayStation, Sega Saturn|
|Genre(s)||Adventure, visual novel, interactive movie|
Kojima conceived Policenauts while working on Snatcher (1988), and started development in 1990. He wanted the production quality to match that of major motion pictures, and created a scripting engine to give him more creative control. He pulled creative influences from American buddy television shows, contemporary social debates on Japan bashing and organ trafficking, and Japan's heightened interest in space travel following the first Japanese man's trip to space in 1990. He wanted to explore the concept of how living in space may affect human society and life, socially and physiologically. The original PC-9821 release used pixel art while wider re-releases on the 3DO, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn featured cel animation by Anime International Company.
An English localization was planned for the Saturn, but canceled with Kojima citing technical problems with the translation. After interest in Kojima's work grew with the release of Metal Gear Solid (1998), demand for a translation built until a fan translation was released in 2009. Critics have praised the game's animation, voice acting, and overall presentation. Some called it a blend of cinematic influences pulling from science fiction, action, comedy, and buddy film genres. Many also picked up on Kojima's fascination with science and technology, and praised the technical writing for building an engrossing world and story. Along with Snatcher before it, Policenauts has been called one of the best science fiction works in games and a foundation for Kojima's later work.
Policenauts is a graphic adventure game with a point-and-click interface. It has also been called a visual novel and an interactive movie. The player moves a cursor freely across the screen to click on objects to examine them. During conversations, the player is given dialogue options to choose from. Once the right object in the scene has been examined or the dialogue options have been exhausted, the game progresses to the next scene in the story. In versions with cel animation, these scenes the player must examine are stills from the animated cinematics, so the game moves seamlessly between them and cutscenes. There are occasional action scenes where the player must fire a gun at enemies in a first-person perspective. The Sega Saturn version supports a light gun for these segments.
This article needs an improved plot summary. (March 2019)
The game centers on Jonathan Ingram, one of the five "Policenauts", astronauts with police training, assigned to ensure the safety of Beyond Coast, mankind's first fully functional space colony in the year 2013. Jonathan tests a new space walking suit, but drifts away into space by accident and is presumed dead by his colleagues. He is found alive and well 28 years later thanks to the cold-sleep module connected to the suit. Three years later, Jonathan (now a private investigator working in Old L.A.) is visited by his former wife, Lorraine, who asks for Jonathan's help in solving the disappearance of her husband, Kenzo Hojo, the only clues he left behind being a torn leaf, a set of capsules, and the word "Plato". Jonathan is reluctant to take her case at first, but after Lorraine leaves his office, she is attacked and murdered by a man in a black motorcycle suit. Jonathan, unable to catch the culprit, decides to fulfill his ex-wife's final request and travels to Beyond, where he is reunited with his former partner from his LAPD days, Ed Brown, who agrees to help Jonathan investigate the circumstances surrounding Hojo's disappearance and Lorraine's murder.
During the course of the investigation, Jonathan and Ed learn that former policenauts, Becker and Tokugawa, have been involved in running an illegal drug and organ trafficking ring in order to counteract the negative side-effects of being in space for long periods of time. Hojo had been included in the business in order to save his daughter, Karen, and ultimately wanted to leave, only to be murdered. During a stand-off with Becker, Jonathan records Becker's confession about the scheme and has Meryl broadcast the recording live, exposing the scandal to the colonists. Ed saves Jonathan, while Meryl and the remaining police arrest Tokugawa. Jonathan donates his bone marrow to Karen upon learning that he is her biological father, and returns to Earth.
Policenauts was developed by Konami and directed by Hideo Kojima. Kojima began to explore concepts for Policenauts during the development of Snatcher (1988) when memory limitation issues prompted them to take a break. He wanted the game to remain in the adventure genre, feeling it was the best method to express what he wanted with video games. He was also growing frustrated with game development and wanted more creative control. After the release of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990), he developed a scripting engine so he could maintain control over when animations and music played instead of the programmers. Development on Policenauts began in earnest in 1990 and lasted four years.
Kojima wanted to explore a near future scenario that could realistically occur rather than outlandish science fiction. The game's story was influenced by news that captured his interest at the time. One such influence was the public debate over organ transplantation and brain death injuries. Another influence was the rise in Japan bashing caused by the American crime film Rising Sun (1993). Some Asian-Americans held protests, fearing the negative characterization of Japanese in the film would lead to hate crimes. Space travel was also an influence after Toyohiro Akiyama became the first Japanese person to travel to space in 1990. Concurrently, many NASA documents about space travel and its effects on the human body were being published in Japan for the first time and were hot topics among Kojima's friends and family. Kojima was curious as to what effect living in space would have on the human body, relationships, and wondered what facets of humans would be exposed in space. He chose to explore these concepts in Policenauts. Kojima mixed his space interests with the aforementioned social issues to build the thematic basis of Policenauts and hoped the players would ponder these topics.
Earth was called "Home" in the game while the space colony was named "Beyond", names chosen to reflect a parent-child relationship. "Beyond" also references the colony's distance from Home and the 25 years protagonist Jonathan Ingram passed through during his cryosleep. Kojima hoped that these names would reflect the persistence of human society and relationships, even after extreme technological advances. The colony's cylindrical shape was inspired by Gundam. Policenauts was originally titled Beyond, but Konami changed the name after they were unable to trademark it.
Kojima's familiarity with film and television influenced the cinematography in Policenauts. Though not attempting to use video games as a vehicle for presenting movies, he wanted to fill what he perceived to be a lack of production quality in games. Kojima worked to take the excellence of acting, lighting, direction, and storytelling in filmmaking and match that quality in his games. He took inspiration from American buddy television shows he enjoyed growing up like Starsky & Hutch. The game was originally going to be marketed as a "Cinematic Virtual Reality". Konami did a trademark search early in development that turned up empty, but by 1994, the "Virtual Reality" term had been trademarked so it was dropped.
Policenauts was first released for the PC-9821 on July 29, 1994. Kojima received a letter from a hearing-impaired player after release, upset that modern games like Policenauts with its CD-ROM technology were replacing game text with actual speech. Kojima originally omitted subtitles to evoke a cinematic feel, but he added them for following versions to satisfy the players. The first port was for the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and released on September 29, 1995. A short demo with a game glossary, artwork, and design documents was released on April 21, 1995 called the Pilot Disk. The 3DO version and subsequent console ports had a drop in display resolution, and used newly animated full motion video in contrast to the animated stills used in the PC version. The visuals were animated by Anime International Company using traditional cel animation techniques.
The game was ported a second time to the PlayStation, released on January 19, 1996. A bonus disc called Policenauts Private Collection was released concurrently which has most of the same content as the 3DO's Pilot Disk bonuses plus storyboards and the game script, as well as select shooting segments from the main game. The full motion videos in this version run slower at 15 frames per second (FPS) compared to 24 on the 3DO. Some story details that suggested subplots were also removed. The PlayStation launched while Konami was still developing Policenauts for the PC-9821. Seeing the system's potential, Kojima promised himself he would make a Metal Gear game for the system, though first he ported Policenauts. In contrast to computer games, Sony and other console manufacturers ran quality testing on games for their consoles to check for bugs and rate game content. When Policenauts was being evaluated, Shuhei Yoshida of Sony Computer Entertainment told Kojima they were discussing the extent of breast jiggling in the game. This version was re-issued on August 7, 2003 through Konami's online store, and it was re-released digitally on PlayStation Store on May 14, 2008.
The final port was for the Sega Saturn, released on September 13, 1996. The version comes packaged in a slipcase containing the game case itself and a hardbound art book. It also includes some additional scenes and some modified story details, including the readdition of removed details in the PlayStation version. Kojima insisted that the Saturn port have increased video fidelity, retaining the 3DO's original 24 FPS and not using Cinepak encoding. The port also includes light gun support, a concept Kojima had since the inception of a Saturn port. His hope was that players would feel more emotion using the gun in Policenauts than in games like Lethal Enforcers (1992) which he felt did not evoke empathy. The Saturn version also has the same glossary featured in the Pilot Disk and Private Collection bonus discs released on previous consoles, accessible at any point in the game, allowing players to lookup keywords whenever they're used in the story.
An official English translation of Policenauts was announced for release on the Sega Saturn in 1996 in North America. It appeared in catalogs with promotional box artwork, but the game never materialized. Kojima discussed making an English translation three times, but encountered translation difficulties. As he explained, the Japanese dialogue was parsed into phrases with flags the program could reference, and making English dialogue work with this system would be too difficult. Journalist Kurt Kalata called this reason "idiosyncratic" and possibly false. According to Jeremy Blaustein, who led translation of Snatcher and worked in Konami's international business department, there were never plans to localize Policenauts. He personally felt it was one of Kojima's weaker games, not enjoying the "space cowboy" theme and feeling it lacked the tension and humor of Snatcher. Kalata and 1UP.com believe Konami may have passed on localization because of Snatcher's commercial failure and Policenauts' long scenes and protracted dialogue during an era of heightened consumer interest in 3D action games.
After the release of Kojima's successful Metal Gear Solid (1998), fan interest grew in Snatcher and Policenauts. Around 2000, a petition on the Konami of America online message boards prompted the subsidiary to discuss localizing Policenauts with Konami of Japan. Their attempts were unsuccessful because Kojima did not want to work on older games. In response to the PS One re-release in 2003, fans organized an email campaign to pressure Konami to localize the game once again. Their attempt was publicized and supported by IGN.
Work on an English fan translation began in 2002. In February 2007, the team announced it was nearing completion with a planned release for the second half of the year. The translation was finally released two years later in August 2009 as a patch for the PlayStation version. It can be played on an emulator, or a PlayStation modified to read CD-Rs by ripping the game files from retail discs, applying the English patch, and burning the patched game to CD-Rs. Because some fans consider the Sega Saturn version a superior port, fans released a translation patch for it in 2016.
In Japan, critics praised Policenauts for its high level of presentation. Both Sega Saturn Magazine and Famitsu praised the quality of animation, voice acting, and its engrossing setting. Sega Saturn Magazine found some of the text difficult to understand and warned that its heavy scientific writing may not be suitable for everyone. They also felt it was more like a movie than a game, and praised its unique blend of buddy films, science-fiction, action, and comedy. Famitsu described the narrative as "hardboiled". Both publications recommended Policenauts to fans of adventure games and anime.
Some Western publications reviewed the game even though it was not released in English. Computer and Video Games previewed the 3DO version and considered it a sequel to Snatcher. They felt the game had an interesting plot, "bizarre and inventive" characters, and they appreciated the "level of senseless violence and gratuitous rudity of graphics." GameFan reviewed the PlayStation and Saturn ports. They felt it pushed the genre of interactive movies better than previous games, particularly those that came from Hollywood when CD-ROMs were new and the genre was making headlines. GameFan also praised the game's intricate detail on medical and technical minutiae, although they cautioned its specificity may put off some players. They also praised the game's suspenseful storytelling, and felt it was worth players' time even though it emphasized text over action. They concluded that Policenauts was "a masterful achievement, a near-future scenario so intricately detailed, well thought out and full of originality it puts Hollywood's best attempts at sci-fi to shame." Konami was busy releasing many sports games at the time, so GameFan feared it would not be localized.
Policenauts has continued to receive praise for its writing and presentation in retrospective reviews. Critics highlighted Kojima's obvious cinematic influences from science fiction films, buddy cop films, and other Eastern and Western films. In particular, the character designs drew comparisons to Lethal Weapon (1987). Eurogamer wrote that "Kojima's Hollywood fetishism is more rampant in Policenauts than any other title in his oeuvre." IGN called the game a manifest of Kojima's film obsessions, and accomplished in its "unique direction and striking moods", aided by the well done animation and voice work. 1UP.com felt its production value matched that of anime in the mid 1990s. They liked how the "organic" animation transitioned seamlessly between cutscene and gameplay. They found this style of presentation better than other games that attempt to flex technical prowess and large budgets with cinematics that don't match the gameplay. Kotaku wrote that "Its flashes of Lethal Weapon-esque intrigue give way to the deep metaphysical meanderings that makes for the usual Kojima mind meld on top of fantastic production values and mesmerizing art."
Some critics picked up on Kojima's fascination with space and future technology. 1UP.com felt that like other Kojima games, Policenauts was a "collage" of Kojima's obsessions during that era. For Policenauts, this happened to include space travel in a near-future "painted with the brush of Kojima's excited and optimistic imagination." Critics praised the elaborate detail placed into describing hypothetical technologies and commonplace items. Eurogamer called it a fascinating and believable speculation into the future, writing that "each and every piece of technology is so thoroughly justified in the descriptions that the world takes on a weighty sense of verisimilitude." Critics felt the game's scientific terminology and dark plot themes were translated well by fans into English.
Regarding the game's story, IGN wrote that the "somber dialogue" progressed it in a unique way. Hardcore Gaming 101 criticized the story for being easy to predict, and described it as "empty, merely a buddy cop film with some sci-fi elements. Eurogamer wrote that it may by a detective story on the surface, but felt it was a game about middle age at a deeper level. They found it fascinating how the game followed middle-aged characters as opposed to adolescents in most other games. IGN also praised the game's strong characterization.
The game did receive some criticism. Some felt its sexism conflicted with its otherwise more serious tone. 1UP.com explained that this was a mark left over from the game's origins on Japanese computers, a market flooded with hentai games when it was first released. The game's slow pacing was also criticized. 1UP.com wrote that the game requires patience, as some scenes linger for too long and subsequently remove tension. Hardcore Gaming 101 criticized the lack of a dialogue skip option, especially since the player sometimes needed to read through the same dialogue multiple times to find the option that progresses the story. Eurogamer wrote that its format is outdated and not for everyone, however still called it "a triumph of gentle interactive storytelling" and accomplished within context as a science fiction novella from the 1990s. They felt it could be enjoyed by those with interests in "thrillers, point and click adventures, science fiction homage and Japanese esoterica".
Policenauts was not well known in the West until the fan translation was released 2009. Critics have expressed interest in a re-release or sequel. IGN included it among a list of games they want to see receive a high-definition remaster. Kotaku included it on a list of desired sequels, and expressed interest in a proper English port of the original. Writing in 2013, GameSpot wrote that they wanted to see the game re-released for the PlayStation 4, feeling it could be a good mainstream push for visual novels and adventure games. While still working with Konami in 2012, Kojima expressed interest in exploring a follow-up to Policenauts, but felt it was difficult to carry out from a business perspective. 1UP.com has criticized Konami for failing to acknowledge and or pursue localization of Policenauts and other Kojima non-Metal Gear adventures.
In retrospect, the game is often called a spiritual successor to Snatcher. Kotaku wrote: "Snatcher was a masterpiece. Policenauts took it a step further." Both have been called some of the best science fiction works in games, and are credited for establishing Kojima's style that propelled him to excellence with his later games. Some of the Policenauts staff went on to hold lead development roles on Kojima's later efforts, including the Zone of the Enders and Metal Gear series. The character Meryl Silverburgh and the Tokugawa Corporation in Policenauts were repurposed for the Metal Gear series.
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- Official website (in Japanese)
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