This Is the Police Review – Incompetence Doesn’t Pay (PS4)
This Is the Police is a Kickstarter-backed adventure strategy game where you play as a police detective out to make himself a little retirement nest egg, and in a hurry. Originally released in August 2016 on Steam, the game has been ported to the PlayStation 4. Let’s find out if the transition to console was a smooth one, or if Weappy Studio should’ve left well enough alone.
Didn’t See It Coming
Who’s a guy gotta back-stab in order to get some retirement money around here? That’s kind of the motto of Jack Boyd, the police chief whom you play as. The story in This Is the Police is gritty, like a hard-boiled detective film in game form. It’s the late 1980s, and you’re being forcibly retired in the next six months by the city of Freeburg’s corrupt mayor. You’ve just turned 60 years old, and have no pension. Oh, your wife also left you in a rather unconventional fashion. So you’ve decided that you’re going to collect $500,000 in that six-month time frame, but you really have no plan to go about gaining that money. Things are only going to go downhill for you from this point – don’t play this game expecting a happy ending.
Boyd is voiced by Jon St. John, of Duke Nukem fame. It’s an excellent narration, one which Mr. John seems to have been perfect for. Other major characters are fully voiced during cutscenes as well. As you play the game, you can choose a record (later, cassette) to play while you work. These are various classical and jazz tracks, which fit the general theme of the game very nicely. Sending units out to a crime scene, and receiving reports from out in the field all come through on the DualShock 4 speaker, which is always a nice touch. It genuinely sounds like a walkie talkie, and adds a unique level of immersion that you can really only get on the PS4.
Cutscenes in This Is the Police are presented in a strip-like format, with flickering vignette and dust effects simulating the look of a drive-in movie. There’s a striking art style on display here, and the story is so interesting that you can’t help but get invested in the main character and his many troubles. The city of Freeburg has its own fair share of problems, such as a seedy criminal underworld, rampant racism, xenophobia, homophobia…the list goes on. Police Chief Boyd is tasked with making the city at least a little more peaceful before his time is up.
Roll of the Dice
This Is the Police seems to have a consistency problem. The game’s mechanics are simple enough to grasp. You have two shifts of employees, each made up of police officers and detectives. Your day starts out nice and early, with the occasional call from home with an employee begging to skip out on work today for whatever reason they can think of. Calls come in, and you dispatch officers and detectives as you see fit. Of course, you only have so many resources, and some calls will come in that turn out to be false alarms, and you end up wasting time and resources if you chose to send officers. You’ll get the hang of everything there is to do in This Is the Police within a few in-game days’ worth of time. Speaking of time, it zips right on by, as an hour in-game only lasts perhaps five real-time seconds, though time does stand still whenever a dialogue screen is up.
The problems begin to seep in after playing a few in-game weeks. Most of your cops are woefully inadequate at their job, and will fail cases left and right. Others are frustratingly lazy, and will often ask for the day off for reasons as stupid as wanting to go see a new movie starring their favorite actor. Saying “no” to them too many times can result in a formal complaint, which removes some officers for questioning, and a successful complaint will result in fines levied against you. Fail too many cases, and City Hall becomes unhappy with you. Fail too many mafia jobs, and you’ll eventually find yourself in some terrible circumstances. Finding the right balance between corruption and walking the straight and narrow is key early on in the game, because if you start to falter, the game doesn’t let up, and it’s very hard to dig yourself out of even the tiniest hole when City Hall keeps cutting your budget. There are a handful of ways in which the game can end abruptly before your planned retirement, none of which are pleasant. Thankfully, there is an autosave feature which enables you to simply wind the clock back a few weeks, and try out different choices to see how things play out.
This autosave functionality also shines a light on one of the game’s weaknesses. The format of This Is the Police, in which small, self-contained scenarios are pushed your direction throughout each day, would seem to be a great fit for some procedural generation. Yet every single day plays out in exactly the same way. The only thing that can differ is which cops you send to what scenarios, and whether or not you remember which calls that come in are false alarms and/or pranks.
We’re All Gonna Die Anyway
At certain rare moments, you will be presented with a binary choice to make – either help out the mafia, or refuse. Help out one mob boss, or the other. Yet these choices are generally meaningless but for their immediate consequences. Ever heard of the phrase, lose-lose situation? That is basically the story of This Is the Police in a nutshell – there are only two real endings to the game, if you can make it to the final day. In today’s world of branching dialogue trees and multiple endings, this will either delight or disappoint you, depending on which style you prefer. Then again, perhaps the ultimate futility of your choices is a statement by the developers about how at 60 years of age, a man’s life has largely already been decided due to decisions made earlier in his life, and we are simply joining Boyd along for the ride. It’s up to the player to interpret whatever messages may be found hidden in the game’s storyline.
Controls are a little awkward on the PS4, as are most strategy/resource management games ported from PC to console. Most players will have few problems adapting, however. Since the action is slow in a game such as this, there’s not a whole lot to complain in this department. However, the crime scene investigation board, upon which evidence photos are displayed, appears to have a bug whereby previously selected photos still pulsate as if they are still selected, requiring that you highlight them again in order for them to stop their broken animation. On occasion, holding L2 to highlight calls coming in does not highlight any call, resulting in precious seconds spent fiddling with the shoulder button.
This Is the Police will most assuredly find an audience. There is a tinge of Tharsis in the way that difficulty is handled – the world is out to get you, and things only get worse as you lose more and more resources. Most people won’t like this approach. But for those of you who enjoy having the odds stacked against them, for that one triumphant run in which luck is finally on your side and you come out of it all bruised, battered, but ultimately victorious, then This Is the Police may be right for you.
Review code for This Is the Police provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.