Contraband Police is a new simulation game from Crazy Rocks that pushes the boundaries of its genre. You are the new commander of an outpost tasked with watching the border and inspecting the documents of anyone attempting to enter the fictional Eastern European nation of Acaristan in 1981.
The gameplay loop will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played Papers, Please; you must examine an ever-growing pile of legal documents searching for any inconsistencies or expirations. Is the name on your ID Sokolov, but the name on your passport is Sokolev? Denied, go away! Did that driver shave his beard without updating his photo? Sorry buddy, get that fixed and try again.
The first twist to the gameplay is the titular contraband; the player will receive several clues about different smugglers that will attempt to trick you and sneak their dastardly goods in, ranging from a few packs of cigarettes to truly prodigious amounts of weaponry or cocaine. The player must find where the goods are hidden and dismantle those sections of the car before the contraband bursts out like candy a villainous pinata to for the player to collect, store, and deliver to the local police station while you drive the smuggler to a local quarry to serve out their sentence.
I had expected this to be the core gameplay loop: check papers, search vehicles for contraband, and do deliveries.
And then they gave me a gun.
This is where Crazy Rocks’ vision begins to truly deviate from their inspiration. Occasionally during an inspection your outpost will be attacked by bands of rebels, and the game quickly shifts from a dry simulation game into a first-person shooter. The gunplay itself is serviceable, but nothing to write home about. Each enemy has a small icon marking their position and only take a few shots to defeat, but there are often a large amount of them.
In response, the game adds another small innovation by offering a reasonably extensive suite of upgrades to help the player weather these assaults; more personnel, superior weaponry, and different vehicles that can themselves be upgraded. And you will want those vehicles, since some of those runners you’ll be chasing can drive pretty quickly.
This is the true gameplay loop: a balance between routine, ever-growing clerical work and short bursts of action, and it serves reasonably well. There are numerous optional activities that the player can engage in such as hunting for collectibles hidden across the map or diving into another gunfight, but these are pretty infrequent. Periodically, the game will ask the player to handle a local matter that gives some insight into the people living near your outpost and give a brief glimpse into the wider political struggle.
The game does have a couple issues; the first and most obvious being the frequent attacks you’ll endure simply driving about the map while doing your business. It’s fun to fight the bandits off the first few times, but the sheer frequency of attacks quickly made it a chore, and most players will likely either drive through the ambushes or, like me, simply turn off the roadside attacks in the options menu.
Contraband Police does have a few bugs; one persistent one I encountered sent me clipping under the map before teleporting my character a short distance away, but it did once send me halfway across the map.
Ultimately, Crazy Rocks makes a valiant attempt at evolving the formula but doesn’t quite stick the landing. If you want another game in the same vein as Papers, Please but with a little extra spice and an additional dimension then this is the absolutely game for you.