I honestly was not sure what to expect from this game going into it. It is a game that has been on PC since last year but now finally coming to consoles, which to me means that opportunities to correct faults and adjust gameplay based on feedback were aplenty before it came to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. But I also do love a good cop story and this game had the promise of delivering something rather different. So I made a fresh pot of tea, notepad and pencil at the ready and fired up ‘This is the Police’ and got to work.
‘This is the Police’ is an intriguing game to be sure, putting the player in the role of Police Chief Frank Boyd a seasoned and grizzled cop whose life has been on the rather unkind side of late with his wife having left him, in charge of a Police Force full of dodgy officers in a city on the precipice of falling to the criminals and corruption, with a Mayor who perhaps is purest example of everything that is wrong in that town. Frank does not have an easy job, made suddenly worse when the Mayor forces him into retirement, giving him just six months on the job and one huge problem for Frank, no pension to look forward to. This all makes for one bad situation for our hero and the making of what should be a very interesting story and game.
The story is told via narration from Frank Boyd himself, telling the player about his life, his views on the city and about the job itself. Voiced by Jon St John, most known for the Duke Nukem character, it really sets the tone for this late 1980’s world and very quickly gives the player the sense that old Frank is pretty much on the tail end of a terrible run of luck. Opening with a press conference where Frank has to explain his sudden retirement announcement, giving the player the opportunity to respond as Frank is a neat little way of putting the player into the role of Frank straight away, with dialogue options following a lengthy narration by Frank into how bleak it all is.
It does take some time to actually get to what you could call real gameplay, a slow pace which runs all the way through the game that grows rather tedious after an hour or so of trying to actually do something other than listening to Frank moan and complain. ‘This is the Police’ is an adventure strategy game at its core, but 50% of it is pretty much just listening to Frank narrating stuff which starts off kind of cool but quickly becomes more of a “just get your own blog dude” annoyance. Thankfully when you do get too actually to the strategy gameplay element it does become far more interesting, well at first at least.
As Chief of Police, Frank’s main job is organising the shifts for the Police Station for the day and assigning cops to the crimes that get called into the station. Crimes range from mundane day to day stuff to much deeper themed crimes later on. The aim is to not only catch criminals but also to run the police force in a profitable manner in order to help increase Frank’s salary and provide the sum of $500.000 he feels he needs to retire on. Now the city of Freeburg is pretty much a hellhole of a place, with corruption and crime pretty much overflowing everywhere which makes the task of policing this town somewhat…tricky.
At first crimes seem fairly routine, ranging from fights to drunken behaviour and sending a couple of cops to the scene will lead to capturing the criminal quickly enough and the days pass without issue. But soon it becomes more of a challenge as not only will the number of reported crimes increase but the quality of the police force becomes more apparently rubbish than first thought. Cops will start to ask for the day off for a number of differing reasons from feeling sick to crazily wanting the day off to see a film with their favourite actor. The truth is, the cops Frank is commanding over are lazy and some are just as corrupt as the criminals. On my second day on the job, sending a cop to investigate a disturbance at the local casino resulting in the cop resigning from the force after the casino owner made him a better job offer paying far more than a cop’s salary. I also had two cops from the off who were unable to catch any criminals at all, each job I sent them on had the culprit escaping meaning a reduction in their worth. Soon cops that were unhappy with me refusing their day off or felt I was over working them by you know, making them do their jobs, soon starting filing complaints against me as chief which led to the Mayor’s office decreasing my budget and hating me even more. One thing is for certain, this game is out to get you!
The strategy side to this game does feel very much in line with that of X-Com in terms of the need to keep a balance between all the different factions in the game to try and keep them happy in order to make Frank’s job as easy as possible. This will mean trying to keep his squad happy, the Mayor’s office happy and at certain points, the criminals happy such as the Mafia. Like X-Com, this game will punish you for making the wrong call and when things start to go bad, they will continue to go bad for you. However, unlike X-Com, This is the Police rarely gives you the opportunity to put things right or get on a better path which for me becomes the biggest pain of this game. The results of sending cops to crime more often than note simply feel like a random game of chance, with only the element of luck determining whether or not it goes the right way. So whilst you can try to put the best squad together, ultimately it is not a guarantee you will catch the bad guys and save the day. This leads to playthroughs that can ultimately turn straight to hell with some poor choices or mistakes that have no recovery options. Due to how slow the pace of the game is, you can lose hours of gameplay as a result of something turning sour randomly and even if you firefight from that point, in the end it wont count for anything leaving a real frustrating dissatisfaction with the game.
That is where ‘This is the Police’ really falls down. It puts really emphasis on having Frank’s life story told in the cut-scenes and narration sequences with a pace so tedious at times you just end up skipping it entirely in order to get to the gameplay. But then the gameplay can be really unforgiving if it all starts to go wrong with the only option to start over again and hope rather than plan, for a better run next time. I never got the impression that I could actually save the city nor did I actually care that crimes were failing to get solved or if giving half the shift the day off so they can go bowling or to the cinema meant leaving the shifts under-powered for that day. The action can be broken up by actually running investigations where you can assign detectives to work a case, giving the chance to look at clues to try and solve the crime but these don’t last very long or have any real impact on the gameplay when the normal day to day cop stuff goes pearr shape on you.
If you have the patience to persevere through the narration and the cut scenes to get to the gameplay, the old school desire to beat the game can be the driving force to help old Frank get to retirement. However for me, I needed more gameplay and the sense I could actually make a difference instead of the few seconds given to me to select which cops to respond to which crimes that would lead to me cleaning up the city. I just never felt that what I was doing was making a difference, so imbalanced was the games need to make everything go wrong, there just is not enough there to give the player a chance to crawl it all back. Something I would have expected to have been addressed before it came to console. Having the game making the player feel rubbish is never a fun way to spend several hours in the game only to have to restart or just accept failure.
This is the Police just trips up on itself far too much to be completely enjoyable, and whilst it has some really intriguing elements to it, it simply ends up falling flat too many times which is a real shame,