Policenauts

Policenauts (00)

For a few months after I finished playing Metal Gear Solid V, I felt a lingering nostalgia for Hideo Kojima’s signature over-the-top cinematic storytelling. Thankfully, there were still a couple of Kojima-directed games outside of the Metal Gear saga that I’d never gotten around to playing. So I picked up Snatcher, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. But that meant that only one game remained. Policenauts.

I was hesitant to play Policenauts because it was the last of its kind. I knew that once I finished the game, there would be nothing quite like it left to experience. I had every intention of savoring the game, so I set it aside until I would have the time to enjoy the game without interruption. A few weeks later, the opportunity presented itself. My wife went out of town to visit some family, and I had an entire weekend to myself. I was going to play Policenauts. And thus began a memorable weekend.

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In 2013, Jonathan Ingram is selected to join an elite astronaut police team (dubbed the “Policenauts”), tasked with the protection of a developing space colony called Beyond Coast. During a routine operation outside the colony, his spacesuit malfunctions. Jonathan is flung into outer space, and ends up in a sort of cryogenic sleep for 25 years. The game begins in a few years after, and the man-out-of-time is struggling to find his place in an unfamiliar world.

This is a clever use of a storytelling trope. The world is as new to Jonathan as it is to the player, which accounts for the fact that the world must be explained to the player. Though this setup would probably be interesting enough to sustain a game-length story, Policenauts isn’t simply about Jonathan trying to find his place in the world. He quickly becomes entangled in an increasingly complicated murder investigation.

For me, the game pressed all the right buttons. The not-quite-cyberpunk setting is unique and imaginative. The plot is paced to near-perfection. The conflict strikes a wonderful balance between sweeping societal issues and heartfelt personal dilemma. The characters are far from original but are charming nevertheless. I was hooked immediately.

I found it easy to become attached to Policenauts because of the game’s immediate familiarity. The game’s protagonists, in particular, are unabashedly inspired by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon. Yet the emotional tone of the game seemed more reminiscent of Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, whose naive schoolboy protagonist is as unfamiliar with the world as Jonathan is with Beyond Coast. Both narratives eschew much of the larger conflict in favor of a more personal story. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of explosive action (I am a sucker for mecha anime), but those moments are more poignant because of their scarcity.

Policenauts (1)

During the few days that I spent playing, I grew quite attached to Jonathan Ingram and the diverse cast of characters in Policenauts. And when we got to the end of our journey, I felt the weight of my solitude for the first time that weekend. It was late, but I needed to get out of the house and find somewhere full of people. So I walked to my neighborhood bar to bathe in the noise of one hundred conversations, have a drink, and then go to bed. It didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

I stood at a table in the corner of the patio, enjoying a cold beverage and texting my wife. A woman approached me and asked me what I was doing. Nothing really. Just having a drink and texting. She invited me to join her friends (she intentionally mentioned of her boyfriend… a calculated move to prevent me from getting the wrong idea). My immediate thought was to politely decline, as the lateness of the hour was just starting to tug at my eyelids. For some reason, I agreed.

I found myself among a surprisingly cordial group. My one drink turned in to three. And when it seemed appropriate that I should finally make my way back home, they implored me to accompany them to the next spot. I did. Then on to yet another spot. Each destination was more lively until we ended up at a dance club. It’s no surprise that I enjoy dancing, but this was not the sort of place that I would chose to go. Every time I managed to finish a drink, a new one would appear in my hand—along with a smile and a pat on the back.

With each of these offerings, I felt just a little more attached to my new friends. In the back of my mind, I knew that the relationships that I was forging were as permanent as my camaraderie with Jonathan Ingram, who I’d left behind only a few hours prior. And I was right. Eventually, all the bars closed, and we went our separate ways.

I had gone from strangers to best friends to distant memories in a matter of hours. Certainly, I could contact them again, but it couldn’t possibly be the same. Some moments are too beautiful to repeat; they are best left as memories rare and sweet. The memory of the game was made all the more impactful by the events that followed.

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