There is no feat as challenging as trying to do something different with the police genre. In video games, cops are often caught in this binary where they’re either dutiful dogs that never stop to question the amount of people they kill or property they destroy in the pursuit of “justice” or cops so crooked that they never end up living at the end of the game for some reason or another. Indeed, the story of This Is The Police does not diverge from cop canon. It truly embodies the Harvey Dent maxim of “dying a hero or living long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

However, the game’s originality rests in its gameplay delivery and the genres they chose. The game sold itself successfully on Kickstarter as a police force management simulator set in the 80s. The story revolves around the whirlwind world of Jack Boyd, an almost-retired police chief with 6 months left on his contract. Throughout his time on the force, he’s followed police life by the book, even when almost all of his colleagues are in the mafia’s pocket. As cliché canon dictates, our beloved anti-hero has been rewarded with a nasty divorce, a borderline addiction to booze and pills, and an iconically gruff voice (spoken by Jon St. John, the voice actor for Duke Nukem; no, he doesn’t make a cameo). Naturally, these vices have emptied his bank account and smashed any semblance of a secure retirement fund. Your goals for the next 180 in-game days are to stay alive and collect at least $500,000.

And how exactly do you spend your last days on the force? Playing records, smoking endless cigars, and managing the city’s police force from your office.

You spend a majority of the game staring at a bleak-looking cityscape. There’s your regular cops who go to whatever events you send them on. The more you dispatch to one crime, the likely you’ll have an ideal resolution to a crime (the suspect is arrested, no one dies, and maybe you get an item you can keep in evidence or sell). Then there’s the detectives, who gather witnesses and photographs that you need to piece together to show a logical sequence of events that accurately depicts the crime. There are also non-violent events that require police attention. They’re not about direct criminal confrontation, and will usually reap rewards from city hall, the general public, or the mob. Another element of the police station is your love/hate relationship with city hall. They’ll ask you to do perform a range of questionable tasks in exchange for upgrades to your force. If you don’t…well, just remember that they control your budget.

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The story and its art style plays out like a low-poly Max Payne. It’s conveyed exclusively through comic book frames, just with drab colors, minimal detail to the characters or environments, and less-clever metaphors. The written content is enough to sustain a mediocre story that mirrors a PG-13 version of what Max Payne would look like if he stayed on the force. A few lines of dialogue might surprise you here and there, but I should have lowered my high expectations. I really enjoyed the work they put into Boyd, which was enough to carry me through the bland interactions I had with the supporting cast. Sections of the story are unevenly spaced out throughout the days, and the repetitive nature of the game’s management system will leave you hoping that someone says something at the end of the day. Just hope that the decisions you make carry you through to the end–or else it’s back to day one.

If that deters you in any way, then you’re not prepared for the other six courses of this tough-shit supper. In my first playthrough, I tried to be a saint–I let my police force stay home for any reason whatsoever as to not upset or exhaust them, and I refused to give into the mafia’s demands. I didn’t last two weeks. As much as it hurt my moral compass to cave into the mafia’s wishes, I realized that the cutscenes stayed mostly the same regardless of the decisions I made. Same goes for the dispatch scenarios (though dialogue choices and events that call for more backup remain fairly random in the outcome). This made it both easy and boring to play again, and could even be seen as a deterrent to those who aren’t as interested in the story.

I also found that my greatest criminal obstacle in the game were the bureaucrats at city hall. They’d threaten me to wrongfully dismiss employees to uphold their agendas on race and gender or else they’d take away my units and investigate my department for corruption. I’m not sure if this one of the game’s stronger moral overtones about the force, but it hit me deeper than I thought it would. The game has an excellent system that shows the officer’s loyalty to the badge, but I found it hard to gauge who I could trust to do my shady mafia dealings with in the beginning of the game. In other words, I would have appreciated a feedback system where individual officers could talk back to you to better illustrate the force’s ethical climate. While your web of corruption spins out over the course of 180 days, the days are long and repetitive. I found that the tension and the actions I had to perform to keep myself rich and alive didn’t really ramp up the tension in the way I expected it to.

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Graphically, there’s nothing much to it. The cityscape is bland, and the character profiles are simple. The comic window panes use bleak colors on minimally-designed figures. It oversells the game’s depressing story and quickly became a series of monotonous sequences.

The sound scoring in this game is painfully sub-par. Before you begin an in-game day, you can choose a record (or buy some from the catalog if you’re rolling in the dosh) to play. It’s almost always lighthearted jazz, and I never found it to fit with the stern nature of running a police force. It sounded great in the trailers, but got to the point where I just turned the music off. The sound effects and voice acting effectively sold me on the story, but wasn’t noteworthy.

If you’ve been hankering for a passable noir story with an interesting take on the management simulation genre, look no further. You might find the core mechanics to get a bit boring and art style a bit tedious, but you’ll want to see how Boyd makes it through–or how he doesn’t. I have to give this game credit–it made me think. Not just in a puzzle-y game kind of way, but about the overarching factors that have created the police experiences we hear about or experience today. I can’t attest to the level of research the developers did to back up the scenarios they created, but I can commend them for opening my eyes to covering many of the facets that could influence a cop’s actions on the field. I’d easily throw $15 at a game that tackles such a hot button issue in such an interesting way, even though the execution is far from perfect.

This Is The Police was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: Weappy | Publisher: EuroVideo Medien | Genre: Indie, Management Simulator, Action | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: N/A | Release Date: July 28th, 2016

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