Hideo Kojima is best known for the Metal Gear series and later Death Stranding, but his early work includes two notable games that never really got much love from publisher Konami: Snatcher and Policenauts. These graphic adventure games are more or less along the same lines, with the former being basically a Blade Runner riff and the latter a more ambitious adventure conspiracy built around the idea of police astronauts: the individuals who keep order in the space colonies of humanity.
Policenauts was released in 1994 and, somewhat unbelievably given Kojima’s later career, has never been released outside of Japan. A localization was started at one point, but was later canceled and left to fans to bring the game to English-speaking players too late, with a 2009 patch for the Japanese PlayStation version. The game follows astronaut Jonathan Ingram and explores themes that may sound familiar – social isolation, technological advancements, the impact of space travel – through essentially a galactic police drama.
In other words, if you like Hideo Kojima’s work, you’ll probably find something to your liking here. And even if you don’t have time to play it, you can see at a glance how influential this game has been on Kojima’s later path: just look at the visual designs and how today’s Kojima Productions presents its mascot and mission. This game marks the first time Kojima teamed up with Yoji Shinkawa, who has defined the look of Kojima’s games ever since.
“I miss the actuality of ‘POLICENAUTS’,” writes Kojima (opens in new tab), presumably meaning the universe he created for the game. “I completed the planning, setting, story, storyboard and assignments, but it was 1990, so 32 years ago. Then I had to transfer to the other department and the entire production was delayed.”
Policenauts would spend four years in development and the final product reflected what was going on in Japan at the time, including a public debate about organ donation. “Aerospace and medical development had changed dramatically,” Kojima said. “At that time, no one even imagined that a private company would go into space. However, Japan had no division of labor in dispensing and prescribing at that time.”
The game remains stubbornly unavailable and your only real option for playing it is emulation, which seems crazy: Konami is just leaving money on the table with this game. What it did for Policenauts, however, wasn’t so much its own reception as what came next for Kojima: 1998’s Metal Gear Solid was such a hit that this series would dominate its output for the better part of two decades.
However, it turns out that the director once came up with a Policenauts 2. “I was thinking about a sequel where Redwood returns to Earth (home) for revenge, but it never happened,” writes Kojima (opens in new tab). Tony Redwood is the game’s main adversary, another high-ranking space agent (who, for bonus points, killed your ex-wife), who ‘dies’ at the end of Policenauts by jumping to his death with a maniacal laugh. In the game, Earth is called home, while the space colony is called Beyond Coast (in fact, Policenauts’ working title was Beyond, until Konami realized it couldn’t trademark the word).
So: Policenauts was a game about a space colony cop unraveling a major criminal conspiracy, and the sequel would have been the return to Earth with the villain in tow. There are many possible events in gaming history, but this is a sad one: especially since Kojima’s two previous games in this line are so inaccessible. One can only hope that the director’s profile and contemporary reputation means Konami is ultimately doing the right thing: even if it missed its chance to finance the sequel.