I'm at a bit of a disadvantage reviewing this game, because I've never actually watched a single episode on the TV series on which it's based in my life. The rest of the office have given me a quick beginner's crash course in it though, so I should be okay - just forgive me if I miss any important little plot points or subtle nuances along the way.
So okay, into the actual game. This lends itself in some ways to comparison with Sim City, in as much as it puts you in control of a city precinct - you play Captain Furillo - whereby you've got to deal with half-a-dozen problems at once by zipping (although I use the word 'zipping' in the loosest possible sense here) around the scrolling map, getting to where the action is and doing something about it.
The 'doing something about it' bit is where things start to differ slightly. Here there's no solving the problem with a simple budget decision - you have to get out there and get your hands dirty.
Being a cop game, the problems are all of an identify-perpetrators-then-chase-them-and-catch-them nature, but being a licence of Hill Street Blues, with its 'realistic social milieu'(well, that's what the rest of the office told me), things turn out to be rather more complicated than they are in, say, Narc.
Not that you'll be tempted to use your SWAT team all that often anyway - a policeman's lot is not all high-speed chases and big shoot-outs, and sometimes it'll seem a lot more sensible to simply put up a road block to trap the baddies rather than take any more drastic action. Be careful though, because blocking roads tends to create traffic jams, and if the whole city transport system grinds to a halt, you're not going to be Captain Popular.
Your ultimate objective is to get promoted to Police Chief, but since to do that you're going to have to keep 90% of the people happy with your work for a significant length of time, it's not something you'll be achieving in a hurry (even at the easiest of the five difficulty levels).
At first, Hill Street Blues is a little hard to get a handle on. The mass of icons which are used to control your actions are easy to get mixed up in, and things cn swiftly become totally overwhelming. There are annoying little bugs too - such as the way an officer on foot can quite happily cross roads and railway lines, oblivious to any traffic that might also be attempting to use the same section of highway.
Rather than getting messily run down, the character appears to simply walk under the car or train and emerge smiling at the other side. It's a silly oversight and knocks a bit of a hole in the game;s realistic feel. (Or maybe I'm just a sicko and it teaches me right for trying to get my characters deliberately killed in the most unpleasant manner possible...)
I guess what you have to bear in mind here are that the graphics are functional and representative of what's going on rather than arcade-style perfect, with painstakingly worked out collision detection and the like, so it's not too big a fault. What really matters is that the inhabitants of the city (some 400 of them) are all unique and identifiable, so it becomes quite easy to believe in them as real people, and thus get quite closely drawn into the game.
Hill Street Blues is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of a game
The game can sometimes come across as an odd blend of painstaking detail and occasional carelessness, lending everything a slightly shizophrenic air. It doesn't quite give the impression of quality and confidence in the product so prominent in something like, say, Sim City.
This is starting to come over as slightly negative though, and it's not meant to at all. If you can stick with Hill Street Blues for a while, you find yourself drawn in by the atmosphere of it. The fact that the game opens with high-quality digitised pictures of the whole TV team makes it easy to identify with your characters and care about what happens to them.
It's worth putting in a good word for the music at the start too, so here's a good word for it: really nice. Oops, that's two words. Never mind, it saves me having to think of a word for the sound, which would be tricky, as there isn't any. Well, that's not strictly true, but effects are so few and far between (the odd toot of a horn, or the slamming of a car door) that they're hardly worth the mention.
The most impressive thing about Hill Street Blues, though, has to be the attention to detail. Favourite bits include the way that every time you shoot a criminal yo have to call in a coroner to cart the body away, the citizens getting stroppy about the streets being littered with smelly corpses, and so on.
Also, if you let a perp escape, the likelihood of him committing another crime is increased, and continues to increase the more he gets away with. Even the time of day is simulated, with everything getting darker and street lights coming on as the day turns into night.
ONE FOR HILL STREET GROUPIES
For all the nice touches though, the game is the important thing, and eventually things do get a touch samey - possibly a limitation of the police-work format. Still if you're a fan of the show you'll probably jump at the chance to step into your heroes' shoes, and the similarity to the TV storylines will actually be a good thing,
Krisalis certainly have to be congratulated on taking a brave, unusual and true-to-the-spirit-of-the-source-material approach to producing a TV licence - far rather this than another horizontally scrolling blaster, Operation Wolf clone or whatever. This isn't a bad effort at all, and it has an advantage over games like Sim City and Railroad Tycoon in that everything happens on a much more personal level, so it's easier to get involved.
I don't think it's quite zippy enough to appeal across the range of every sort of game player (like Sim City did) though, as the initial mass of icons is just a little too off-putting for all but the dedicated god sim fan.
Hill Street Blues is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of a game. On the one hand it's well thought-out and friendly, on the other it's demanding and sloppy, and it might well be the case that for many people the bad points outweigh the good ones. Then again, the kind of people who habitually buy this type of thing (to generalise things) don't tend to be all that pernickety about programming finesse, and for them it could be more than acceptable. If you're one of those people, this could be for you.