One of my Pulp Revolution cohorts gifted me a Steam game called This is the Police not too long ago. I remember having seen this one but hadn’t really given it a close look. Well, a couple weeks ago I decided to take it for a spin.
First impressions – a cool, noir-ish setting, neat art style, decent voice work, and some swinging tunes (mostly jazz and big band stuff). Very interesting gameplay.
This is the Police is a police management/RPG in which you take on the role of Jack Boyd, the esteemed police chief of the fair city of Freeburg. Within the first few minutes you find out that you’re being forced into retirement by a scumbag mayor and that while Jack is very well-liked by the community and has a reputation for being a straight shooter, he paints in grays. The chief subscribes to a 8/10 rule – that is, for every 10 crimes reported to the police, his goal has always been for 8 of them to be properly handled or solved. Sometimes a couple are uncrackable or else it may to the greater good for the paperwork to go missing.
As the story progresses, we learn more about Jack and get to make some decisions for him. So far as I could tell, they don’t affect the final outcome of the game all that much, which is a shame. Jack is dealing with some personal demons, including a search for his wife who suddenly up and left him. Meanwhile he (most likely) becomes entangled with the mafia and other unsavory characters and groups.
Before I get into my gripes and major spoilers, let me tell you what I liked about running the police station. As a management game, This is the Police provides a fresh yet relatively simple new offering for the genre. Each day you get up, get a glimpse of the morning headlines (and later on some insider political tips), and are off to work. You’ve got two shifts of regular cops and plain clothes detectives who work on alternating days.
Police’ve got two major stats – professionalism (which reflects their competence and effectiveness) and energy level. As calls come in, you get to choose who to dispatch to the scene of the crime. Successful resolutions raise professionalism – this is the main way you’ll build up your cops. As the days progress, you’ll need to use your judgement when sending out police. You’ve got a limited number of staff, so if you send them all out on a call and another crime report comes in, you have to just shrug and hope no one gets killed. At the same time, certain jobs are more dangerous or tricky and may require more bodies or cops with more professionalism. A bank robbery isn’t nearly the same as going to pick up a kid who got collared by a store owner for shoplifting. You’ll also get a SWAT team and eventually a paddy wagon that you can use to supplement your regular officers. Sometimes your police will request backup or ask for your orders in certain circumstances.
Some calls won’t be jobs at all. If someone demands a SWAT team to repel the yeti tearing up their lawn, you may well decide not to send anyone.
You’ve also got to keep an eye on your cops’ energy level. Ordering double shifts is possible, but will run a cop down. And tired officers make mistakes. Also older cops don’t seem to recovery energy as quickly. Sometimes officers won’t show up for work or will ask for the day off (some excuses being more reasonable than others). It’s up to you how to deal with this.
In addition to micromanaging your police force, you’ve got to deal with factions like City Hall. The mayor’s office controls your budget and all requests go through them. Therefore if you keep them happy, you can request more staff slots (more cops is always a good thing), SWAT upgrades, and salary increases. If the mayor gets too pissed at you, he’ll cut funding and you may have to lay people off (hopefully not illegally, as you can be sued for that, no joke).
The factions are pretty much all scumbags, but they provide you with perks. For example the mafia can sell things you find and confiscate on jobs (like drugs or guns). One faction will provide you with a secret bank account to hide your illicit earnings, and another will keep City Hall from making certain ridiculous requests of your staff.
The ability to collect more music as the game progresses is neat. I was also pleasantly surprised to go from jazz and big band to some random Ogre tracks later on.
Oh, also – there’s a mildly complimentary shout-out to pulp fiction. Though I’m not convinced the devs really understood it, as one character eventually talks about how the heroic comic cop protagonist is loved because he’s perfect and never makes mistakes. People would despise him if he made mistakes, we’re told. Nah dude – go back and read some real pulp. We love pulp heroes because they unflichingly do what’s right and because they’re real men; not because they never foul up.
Ok, that’s the good stuff. Now I’m going to turn to negatives. Before traipsing into Spoiler Land, let me just say that the gameplay, while engaging, does get a bit repetitive over time. You won’t play ALL 180 days, but you’ll play a lot. Periodic cut scenes are welcome breaks in the steady grind of police work, but there could have been more.
Also, while the game seemed like it was trying to be evenhanded in painting everyone as potentially bad (and therefore potentially good, too), there was a lot of Catholic villainy. This may have stood out to me in particular because I’m Catholic, but there weren’t really any other “identity” groups painted as badly. There are some black criminals, but no Black Lives Matter or Black Panther group. LGBT people are frequent victims, of course. Not many Islamic terrorists to speak of (though the retro feel of this game could be a fair explanation for that).
There is also a bunch of pro-lifer skulduggery, which made me roll my eyes and wonder if this games writers had done any research (violence against abortions and abortion clinics does occur, of course, but really uncommon).
That stuff smacked of message fiction, but could be easily overlooked in light of excellent gameplay and story. And here be spoilers!
While I’d argue that the gameplay comes close enough, the story winds up falling flat. The plot and voice acting had me engaged for most of the game, but ultimately it all comes to naught! Jack’s wife has left him for a young rich man and she’s not coming back. His flirtation with the new city prosecutor goes to shit when she finds out he’s not squeaky clean.
In the final power struggle, Jack winds up with a knife in the back and loses his job either way. Even if you’ve saved a ton of money, Jack seems to somehow lose it. If you have too much cash, you wind up indicted by the Feds.
Oh, and forget even trying to play a straight cop. The game is about compromise – trying to limit the corruption and picking and choosing your battles. If you don’t play ball, you wind up with no funding and a shitty police force, or else dead (doesn’t do to piss off the mafia before you can gather evidence and make arrests).
So there is no good ending, and there is no real win.
I’d give This is the Police a 3/5 because the gameplay is creative and for quite a while it’s fun. I don’t regret spending my time playing it. Unfortunately there’s no satisfying end, and you may wind up feeling cheated at the close of the story.