“Due to the graphic nature of this game, player discretion is advised.”
-Sheriff John Bunnell
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.”
It is 22nd May 2001. “Don’t Stop Movin'” by S Club 7 is the UK no. 1 single for its fourth non-consecutive week. Minor planet 28978 Ixion is discovered by the Deep Ecliptic Survey at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory and is named after the Greek mythological figure banished by Zeus for desiring Hera. Activision publishes Fox Interactive’s World’s Scariest Police Chases.
Some of you may have seen FOX’s World’s Wildest Police Videos. It started out as a series of specials, titled World’s Scariest Police Chases. Over time, the series – which compiles archive video from the world’s law enforcement agencies – gained a cult following, and that’s due almost entirely to its narrator, retired Multnomah County Sheriff John Bunnell. His melodramatic presentation and use of cliched word play came to define the series while he himself became the face of it. As such, it was in this capacity that he came to be the narrator of the series’ video game adaptation.
The main question that such a game raises is, how exactly do you adapt the concept? The series was compiled from police archive video the world over. In making that into a game, how do you bring the various elements of it together cohesively, and still justify it as a tie-in product when it differs from the source material in fundamental ways? That was always going to be a challenge when the very medium of a video game requires those decisions to be made. However, I do believe that, in spite of all that, this is still a game which can call itself an adaptation of World’s Scariest Police Chases.
To begin with, this game is set in one city: Ashland. For logistical purposes, missions couldn’t be on completely new maps that were just as detailed and as large as each other (this is, after all a PlayStation game), so that already contradicted the “World’s” in the title.
It also follows the same two police officers, one of which drives and the other of which shoots through the window at resisting suspects. You wouldn’t be wrong to link that idea to the later Starsky & Hutch game I covered previously. The difference here, though, is that the shooting mechanics are different. The aiming system is mostly manual, requiring the player to line up cross-hairs with targets using one of the analogue sticks while still steering effectively with the other. That alone will separate the experts from the amateurs.
Plus, there’s an ongoing story arc about drug smugglers, which converges in the final mission with a story arc involving a recurring villain.
So, the series was a documentary compiling archive footage from across the world, whereas the game follows the same characters throughout, takes place in one location and is structured like a serial drama. Those are complete opposites.
And it even includes tutorial levels set in the police academy. Of course, that was necessary for a video game, but for that same reason, it was never necessary to cover it in the series.
Those reasons are the most significant ways in which the World’s Scariest Police Chases game is different from the series. So how does it still tie-in? It’s simple. They brought in Sheriff Bunnell. So unique is his way of addressing the viewer that he gave the show its own, distinct “feel”, and bringing him in was the perfect way to connect the game with the programme that inspired it. In spite of everything else, Sheriff Bunnell’s narration at the beginning and end of missions is something so instantly recognisable from the original show that adding it here created the same effect in such a way that all the differences became insignificant. If the series and the game are different constituent components of the same franchise, then Sheriff Bunnell’s voice is the glue that bonds them together as a common link.
That sense of identity needed to be there. Without it, naming itself after the original series would’ve likely been regarded as a desperate marketing gimmick – or it might not have even attempted such a marketing gimmick anyway and instead have been a generic police game that no one today remembers.
And that would’ve been a shame, because even as its own thing, it’s still a great game for its era and platform that takes real police work more seriously than most. Many driving games include cars with police vinyls on them, but the approach and method is ignored. This is probably because real policing is likely considered too boring. In World’s Scariest Police Chases, there’s still not much exploration of the correct police process, but there’s still something. For example, the use of firearms isn’t always authorised, only being permitted when the pursuit is in a location where armed force is unlikely to endanger civilians. Thus, each mission’s environment influences the way you’ll be able to play it, which also reinforces that you’re not just driving a police car, you are the police, and therefore have to make the same kind of decisions that real police officers need to make when out in the field. To most other games of this genre, that doesn’t really mean anything, but here, it’s a respected status of doing things properly and by-the-book. There’s no good cop/bad cop routine, no one plays outside the rules, and there’s no corruption. It’s real police work to protect citizens and keep people safe. It promotes the same trust in effective law enforcement as the show itself did, since it was, after all, propaganda – police forces wouldn’t allow the broadcasting of any footage that makes them look bad.
The only thing that truly disappoints about a game based on World’s Scariest Police Chases is the limitations imposed by contemporary video game hardware. One of the iconic conventions of police video documentaries is the dashcam, showing the date and time and other information. It is included, but only as one of many views during mission replays. It’s a shame that it wasn’t available as a camera view during play. If this were released now, it would be a basic, and easily met, expectation. Gaming channels everywhere could record their own pursuits with it. Missions could be non-linear, featuring different outcomes to scenarios with several possible endings and a line of narration from Sheriff Bunnell for each one.
The potential that a remake of this could have for modern online gaming is incredible. Just think of it: playing as getaways or pursuers on a massive open world, each player given their own officer profile and career record. Players with headsets could communicate in the phonetic alphabet over a distorted radio. It would be the ultimate police role playing game.
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column and is currently working on a documentary about the Driver series for its 20th anniversary on 25th June. He also likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog, covering the World Rally Championship and generally posting about what he’s been playing, at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com.
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Categories: Racing Column