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Disclosure: the author received a review code of the game from Dead Good Media
Last year saw Belarus studio Weappy Games successfully kickstart videogame crime drama This Is The Police, starring Duke Nukem himself: Jon St. John. Back in January 2015 I came to this conclusion on what the game would be like:
The mature subject matter and seedy player role means This Is The Police, much like Papers, Please has the potential to be an engaging moral conflict that players will be thrilled to experience.
Yes, like Papers, Please, the game puts players through the daily grind of a job, but applies enough intrigue and entertaining context that it becomes an enjoyable experience, even if on paper it sounds like it’s some manner of mundane work simulator.
This Is The Police‘s chessboard as it were is the city of Freeburg: a 1980s metropolis home to theatrical crimes, city hall protests, and mob wars. Freeburg’s aging chief of police has 6 months left until retirement, but has little in the way of a pension. Jack has decided he’s going to spend this half a year on acquiring half a million dollars for his future. Options such as selling contraband to the mafia or deceiving city hall are no longer off-limits. However, crime never sleeps and it seems like fate is determined to make the next 180 days as disastrous for Jack and his city as possible.
The main gameplay takes on a strategy format, with the player looking at a map of the city and seeing new crimes pop up as the hours go by each day. Click on one, and a brief description will detail the situation; whether that be a hostage situation, a stolen vehicle, vandalism, and anything else you can think of when it comes to criminal activity in the 80s. It’s not just generalised either, as each and every incident has a unique scenario written for it, so there’s a hell of a lot of variety in what the police department deals with in the game. From serious and grim incidents like rapes and drug overdoses, to hoax calls from children and outright bizarre threats – it’s worth reading the description of every case because there’s so much to be surprised by.
The sad thing about it though is that there’s little in the way of closure for most of these events. The result of sending officers for a case or not boils down to a quick summary that just says “Offender apprehended. Officers unharmed. Civilians unharmed.” or conversely “Offender escaped. Officer killed. Civilian killed.” with little to no variation despite the level of severity a crime was implied to have. Those vague results are all you’ll really get even when a case offers additional choices in the middle of tackling it. For instance, I sent a few officers to a club in order to put a stop to a fight between two strippers. Multiple choices then appeared. I could have turned the lights on to catch their attention or break them up by grabbing them, but I picked the option to throw a bucket of water on the two of them to see if that would get them to stop. All I got after that was a message that “Offender escaped” the officers despite being in a crowded club, and having freezing water thrown on them. It’s a shame these cases couldn’t be more conclusive because when they go in-depth, they take the player to some fun places.
Aside from strategy, This Is The Police‘s gameplay also has a big focus on management of employees. Each call will suggest an amount of officers to send in, as well as occasionally the SWAT team and paddy wagon. Not every case requires the entire force to respond, and it’s rare that players can ever be able to do that due to the frequency of incidents occurring and the limited pool of cops available. Each officer has a stat that decides their effectiveness in fighting crime. They won’t be successful without backup if this stat is below 150, but it will raise by 10 each time the officer successfully deals with a call. Don’t get too attached however, as cops can be killed in the line of duty, quit due to the chief’s decisions, or need to be fired and replaced with better experienced officers.
Also at the player’s disposal is the criminal investigation department. Several detectives are on hand to investigate crime scenes as well as tracking down members of elusive gangs. Investigators can be assigned to a case, and at the end of each day they’ll return with a set of photo frames depicting events they believe could have happened at the scene after interviewing witnesses. To solve one of these mysteries, the player has to assemble a timeline using these frames in order to figure out the correct sequence of events. The detectives can then go apprehend the suspect and gain a large boost to their stats. Some of these can get a bit too tricky though, as detectives will also submit frames with the suspect wearing different clothes, or using the wrong weapon, so it’s difficult at times to nail down the right order with all the correct frames. At least cases can be archived if they’re too much trouble.
When it comes to difficulty though, the biggest threat to employees isn’t violent criminals, but city hall. They are utterly ruthless towards players who don’t follow their demands or satisfy them with an effectively run police department. Some of their commands present serious moral quandaries such as an early one where they ask that Jack fires all his black employees lest they fall victim to a racist gang. It’s a hell of an ask, but sadly the scenario feels like a rather poorly implemented moral choice. This happens within the first 5 days of the game, and will result in players losing about 3 cops and 1 detective (2 of these employees having decent stats) if they agree to city hall’s demands. Disobey their orders, and the department will be forced to cut one role, meaning players will have to fire an employee with no room to hire a replacement for that position. However, the gang never follows up on their threats to kill black cops, so in the end both outcomes put players at a disadvantage.
This is the main issue with This Is The Police. The odds are severely stacked against the player, and unless they have a decent amount of foresight and luck, they’re going to hit hard times after a few hours of playing. I blame city hall for this again, as they’re a cruel taskmaster demanding the player to forcibly suppress civilian protesters, then penalising them for not doing what they wanted. Further punishment came for me as my workforce was shrinking further and further due to a vicious cycle of my department being too understaffed to successfully fight every crime – resulting in city hall being unsatisfied with my work and forcing me to cut yet more positions. Eventually after around 70 days, I was subject to investigation following complaints from my employees, and was sent to jail. Game Over. The game does autosave and at least allows the player to reload from the beginning of each week, but by this point I felt I might as well start a new game, losing 10 hours of progress as a result.
I like what I’ve played of This Is The Police. The clean low-poly style of visuals used throughout is pretty nice, and especially interesting to see animated in the introduction movie. The cutscenes are fully voiced, though take a motion comic kind of approach. They last a little too long when they appear and disrupt the gameplay, but nonetheless the story is pretty interesting while presenting its own mysteries and moral choices, while Jon St. John delivers a top-notch performance as the voice of Jack Boyd. There’s also a great little feature where players can purchase music to play while they’re working, with a lovely selection of blues, jazz, and classical music.
Weappy has put together a commendably produced and lengthy package of content, but it’s let down by gameplay that could have been more fleshed out, and a level of difficulty that’s outright stressful and frustrating in how punishing it is. I’m having trouble finding the motivation to go back and complete the game, and because of that I can’t give it a glowing recommendation. If you’re interested by the concept and what you’ve read here, by all means buy This Is The Police if you’re eager to play it. Otherwise it’s a hard sell: not because it’s a bad game, but because it’s a cruel one. There’s a fair amount of things to enjoy about the game; just be aware that you may want to retire from the job yourself before you’re half way done.