Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, macOS, and Linux.
“Usually before I go shaking my tits for the press, I like to see how the professionals do it” This is how This is the Police starts up with the opening cinematic every time you boot it up. There’s such a long delay on the skip button, that it’s impossible to avoid the word “tits” being said by the game itself. It’s a crass line that doesn’t age well, and hearing it close to 10 times, I cringe every time I hear it. It does try to set the mood for the game, but if this is the first thing the game wants you to know about it, can it really be hiding anything?
I think This is the Police as a concept is a problematic game for a number of reasons. If it was made 10 years ago, it’d be a radically different game. However it stepped into a world where we have Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and so much more going on. It’s a minefield that most writers and developers should be fearful of stepping through. It actually came out two years ago, in 2016, two months before the election, and was developed when quite a few major stories were on the police. As I write this article, there’s a new case in Minnesota involving a shooting of a man named Thurman Blevins, and again, it’s fanning the flames around the police department.
And This is the Police ignores all of that.
You see I’m a person who likes to avoid real-world politics when I’m enjoying my entertainment. So I get miffed when DC comic’s TV shows hamfisted gun control stories into a plot of the week, and then ignore them the next week. I like my politics heavily hidden in my entertainment, or absent. That’s completely my choice of course.
The problem is This is the Police tries to do this as well. However, it tries to do this about the topic of the police at a very political time for it. And it doesn’t work well. Nor does its treatment of the topics during gameplay.
Though, the biggest problem I have with This is the Police, is there are two parts to the game. There is a rather involved and deep story here, and then there is day to day gameplay for the police department.
What’s my problem with that? Well, the big problem with the game that I normally would save for the conclusion is the story doesn’t connect at all with the game. The story says that the player needs 500,000 dollars, however getting it or not getting it only changes if there’s a bag of money on the passenger seat at the end of the game. The game ends the same no matter what you choose or how you do.
There are even a few critical choices during the game itself. These sound important and the game wants you to feel that you are involved in the story, but they don’t affect the story, the end result is always going to be there.
There might be something interesting to say about a nihilistic game, that no matter what you do, you end up with a bad ending, but there’s no connection leading you to the story.
So with all that being said, let’s discuss the story and what This is the Police is saying. I will say that the story could be somewhat of a good story. The problem though is it’s not a video game story, and, as a story for the video game, it has a lot of issues. The biggest problem has already been said, there’s no interaction, your character always does the same stuff, and while that’s true for many stories, such as Uncharted where there’s no interactivity between the player and the actual story, the player still feels like he’s part of the story because he’s assisting moving Nathan Drake from point A to point B.
Instead, here even that limited feeling of interactivity is gone. The game starts with the police chief having a press conference about his retirement that’s occurring in 6 months, 180 days. It sounds like this is a forced retirement and during the press conference you’re able to make some decisions, and blame the mayor, or your deputy, and say the police works with the mafia and other pieces. However at this point, you’re new to the game, you literally don’t know what’s going on. The good news is that press conference really doesn’t matter in the long run. The bad news is nothing else really matters in the same way.
From there we start learning about the people we’ve been talking about during the press conference. The Mayor is a typical corrupt politician, the deputy has clearly been caught with corruption, and we find out that the player is trying to amass 500,000 dollars, an odd number as everyone says, which the game will eventually explain, but the answer only adds to the pointlessness.
Here’s your corrupt deputy, giving you the names of all his corrupt buddies.
Worse, we find out our player character is corrupt, and if there’s a really big problem with the story, it’s this, we find out the player is corrupt. There’s a slight feeling like the need for the 500,000 dollars is a recent turn of events due to the retirement. But the problem is the player is told what his character is, he’s not led to it. Consider Grand Theft Auto 5, Michael starts as a robber in the game, and then we see him living what looks like the high life in witness protection. From there, over the course of the game, we learn why he turns back to the life of crime, and that gives us a better understanding of the character and situation Michael is in. The same is true for Franklin and to a lesser part Trevor in GTA 5.
In This is The Police, you’re corrupt that’s it. You do find out how you become so corrupt to work with the actual mafia, but the need for the money isn’t explained until far too late, and the game doesn’t practice “Show don’t tell” at all. It constantly is telling you what you are. Yes it’s gussied up, and it tries to hint at it, but it doesn’t “show” how you become corrupt, why you’re corrupt, or even make you want to help this guy. It just gives you the arbitrary goal of 500k and expects you to blindly follow it to “win” the game.
The thing for me is that if the game went back a week or two, many of these issues could have been fixed. Give the player a week to feel like they are the police chief, then hit them with the surprise retirement, even have the “evil” mayor come in and say that something will go wrong and you won’t get a pension, even if that’s probably wrong.
Or maybe the player’s family gets sick, or something happens and you are on the hook for a million dollars, but your savings and pension pays for everything but 500,000 that’s due in 6 months. You should be able to get a loan but let’s just say you can’t let anyone know about this or other reasons. Now you could have a reason for needing the money, and you should get the feeling the police chief was upstanding at the beginning but his need for the money drags him down into corruption.
Instead, the game just has you be a “corrupt police chief who needs money” and doesn’t explain it until half the game is over, and even then, it’s not that important. You’re just corrupt and need money.
What a mouth on this game.
The thing is if this story was in another medium, like a movie or a book, it’d be rather interesting. There are some great moments in the game, and the development of the character is good. The problem is it’s not important in the game itself and so I found myself not caring, just trying to get to the end so I could write this review.
That’s really the outline of the story and the big problems with it, and as I said it doesn’t connect to the gameplay at all, the thing is, you will always reach the endpoint and there are only very minor changes that can be done. You might end up with a different criminal organization. You might work with a secret organization or not. It’s up to you, but really who cares…
So let’s start talking about the gameplay because at least that should matter.
The entire gameplay is set up as a resource allocation game. You have a certain amount of cops of varying quality, and there will be calls made to the dispatcher, requesting assistance. You might have to deal with a possible breaking and entering, or a murder, and from there, you send a certain amount of officers out to deal with it. Their effectiveness rating will decide the outcome of the event, and you’ll either catch the criminals or they escape. Your cops will either live or die and sometimes civilians might be injured or not.
Unfortunately, these are the only choices. You can either catch the criminals or all of them escape, even with 6-7 people involved. Killing a criminal is the same as catching it. Same for your staff, no one is ever injured, no one is ever harmed. They either fully die, or survive.
Also, the game literally tells you that it doesn’t care if your officers die, it only cares if civilians are injured. A lovely though there.
Be prepared for this type of result, simple, sterile, without context.
There are some calls that are a little more advanced and the game actually tries to have you tell the officers what to do. There might be some guys in a house, and you have to decide which entryway to go through. You can’t choose both the front and the back door, instead, it’s a choice between sneaking in the back window, knocking on the front door, or using the bullhorn to tell them they’re surrounded. The choice will affect the result a bit, but this is also where it’s obvious when you kill someone, and the game calls him “Caught”. Nice and sanitized for your experience.
These advance calls though are some of the more interesting aspects of the game, but it also brings a really obvious problem. You never get a resolution of any call. Even when it gives you a choice of what is happening you make your choices, such as sneaking in the back window, and then the game “resolves” the event silently, and tells you if you caught anyone. However the story that was the original call, or even the advanced call doesn’t get resolved, you don’t learn what actually was happening unless it was a false alarm. Otherwise, you simply get “Offenders captured”. That feels weak to me because some of these events are interesting and I’d like a little more story to them. Most would be routine but at least give me some reason to go on the calls.
Again sterile, it doesn’t tell you what leads to this, just the current situation.
There are special events and… well if the politics are mostly out of the story, they aren’t here. City hall tells you on the third or fourth day, that “Some group wants you to fire all the black civil servants so fire the black police officers”. Oh boy that’s ripe with problems, right? I mean I have to be careful here right?
Actually, you don’t. Either fire them, and City hall thanks you, or don’t fire them and City hall says “we expect better from you.” Uh, what? This is your commentary?
Later on, the game has a feminist protest (which is followed several weeks later by a “black” protest, “LGB” protest, and eventually an elderly protest) and each time City Hall tells you to deal with it. They don’t mean monitor it, rather they’re telling you to physically assault the protestors, bluntly. Jesus Christ.
If you do, city hall is happy, and there’s an inquiry about it, but you can shift the blame onto another group, whether it be one of your officers, the mafia, or even blame city hall. If you don’t break up the protest, city hall is mad at you because you didn’t beat random people in a crowd. Wonderful storytelling people.
And no, there’s no moral high ground here, there’s no “I did the right thing” reward, you either get yelled at by City hall and possibly lose staff and potentially wages, or you do the wrong thing, but if you don’t blame someone else you lose half your salary, though you’ll probably blame someone and get off free.
There’s a lot of other special requests as well, City Hall will make one almost every three days, and most of the time they just sideline an officer for part of the day, if not the entire day. Denying them makes them angry which again, will have you lose officers or money.
You thought I was kidding, didn’t you? .
At the same time, you will quickly get opportunities to make a little extra money on the side. There’s a number of people who ask for the police’s help and will give you a kickback if you help them. Sometimes it’s something on the level, like someone who needs his record collection back, and sometimes it’s a little less legal, and the mob will come around eventually as well because the game pushes the 500,000 dollar target, you constantly feel like you have to take these options and they definitely work.
The downside is that you can get called out and investigated by internal affairs if you’re doing anything too corrupt. What’s too corrupt? Well, the fact is, I’m not sure, I accepted every single shady offer made to me, because I love money, and I only got investigated twice. I believe both times I had recently chosen an option to “not share money with the staff” of a few items I had the mafia sell for me. Literally, you can tell people to do the most corrupt things ever and shake down people, but as long as you share money with them, they don’t rat you out. That’s the extent of the corruption from my experience.
There’s also a rather interesting Investigation system here. You have normal officers and detectives. Your detectives can’t go out on normal calls, however, there are purple cases that require an investigator, and from there, you actually investigate major crimes. Each day your active investigators gather images or “scenes” about the major crime they are on, and you can look through them, and piece what happened together.
Do you see the right images? Do I have the right images? Is the crosswalk image right or wrong? Too many questions.
The first four or five of these are rather good, there are 3 panels missing and most of the time, you’ll get those three on the first day, so you can piece it together, and then send two officers out with your detective to arrest the bad guy.
Sadly as the game goes on these get more complicated. There’s a number of false panels for each case, and if your detective isn’t skilled enough, or aren’t lucky enough, they’ll find those instead of the true story. You can usually figure out the false panels by going through the testimony of up to five witnesses and selecting the right image.
However, a number of these images are a bit hard to identify. There was a case where a person was walking in a crosswalk from left to right, or from right to left, and one was correct. Why? I still don’t know. There are others where a person might have a helmet on in one picture and not another, and that can make sense, but if you don’t have both images, you might not realize that the picture you have is wrong and you’ll be trying to get a correct storyline with the wrong image.
Even if you have all the right pictures, sometimes the order you put them in makes little to no sense. A guy might break a window, go steal a painting, take a brick from his bag, and plant it. But it’s also possible he stole the painting first, and also possible he planted the brick before stealing the painting. Which is the correct order? Well, you’ll have to move the images around and hope you can figure it out. In the beginning, this isn’t too bad, but by the end of the game, even knowing you have all the right images, still means there’s a lot of pointless shuffling that you have to do, and it becomes more of a hassle than anything. I started looking up the solutions because they got a bit obtuse, and there was a number I swear I had correct but the game didn’t agree with me.
So each day in This is the Police takes a decent amount of time, if you really work on it, it can take up to 5-10 real life minutes to play through a single day. Now with 180 days left in your career that sounds like a lot. The good news is that “Story reasons” come in and shorten that number, but there are still over 90 days in the game, and that’s a LOT of time. About a month into the game (30 days) I was seriously dreading playing the whole thing because it wasn’t that interesting. After 45 days played, it was worse, I had already gotten my 500,000 dollars and no longer has a reason to play. Yet I pushed on because I felt I had to see how the story turned out, and you can see the end result above. It’s not worth it.
Ultimately it’s not a very exciting game to play through and it’s about, I would say, almost three times as long as it should be. There are days that don’t matter, and really probably could be compressed into a shorter tighter gameplay experience. Yeah, it takes a lot of time, but it’s not time I would say is well spent.
Now there’s more I could talk about, there’s a number of issues I have with this game, but ultimately I think I made a case that the gameplay isn’t great, it has a lot of issues, and nothing really made me enjoy the game.
And as I thought about the game I had a thought, what if I didn’t do anything? I made the case that the story and gameplay are heavily disconnected, and I stand by that as a reviewer. But am I right?. You can make the case that the same is true in many games, and really you just have to beat a level to see the next cutscene. What if, instead, I just ran out the clock. I never send my officers out on a single call ever, and I completely fail at my job as Chief of Police. Surely the game will stop me from doing that.
Well, I started that as I began writing this review, and as I write this line, about an hour or two later, I am on Day 16 (ed. Now day 23). City hall is furious with me, cutting officers left and right, I literally have 6 officers on each shift. No crime has ever been solved, no false alarm has been visited.
So what has happened in response? I’ve lost cops, my salary is slashed, investigators were sent in to find out what’s wrong with my department, and ….The investigators pull officers off my force for a couple of days and then leave slashing my bank account (wut?) by 25%. I also somehow made 15k because I ignored calls that the mafia wanted me to ignore. (The joke is on them, I wasn’t going to go to those calls in the first place) and the story is progressing the exact same as it always has.
I did find a way to actually lose the game, and that’s by having 0 officers available on a day… oh that’s only a problem if it’s the beginning of the day, if you start the day with at least 1 office on duty, the game won’t fail. The game allows you to do nothing as long as you have 1 officer that shows up per shift, and the story is still the same.
And if there’s anything that illustrates the problem with This is the Police, it’s that exact situation. This is a game you wait though, you can try to do whatever you want in the game, but the only thing that matters is you sat in your seat pressed a few buttons and clicked the end the day button at the end of each day.
In conclusion, there’s a lot of problems here. The story has some issues, but I could live with them, however, the fact the story has no connection to the gameplay is a major issue for me. I can appreciate a game that doesn’t bend to your actions, but I still want to feel like I have agency in the story even if it’s illusory. I want to feel like I’m part of the story. Quantum Break didn’t have much interactivity with the game portions, but there at least was skill challenges that I had to beat to proceed.
Here there’s nothing. This would be like playing a game of Planet Coaster and every year of game time no matter what’s going on, you pause the game, and watch some amount of “Adventureland” the movie with Jesse Eisenberg, it’s an enjoyable movie, but it has nothing to do with the actual game.
And of course, the gameplay is interesting until you realize how utterly pointless it is, and the fact is you can literally ignore the 20-30 hours of gameplay you have to put in because it doesn’t change anything.
After a lot of deep thought on it, I think I might be right that this game is trying to be nihilistic. Nothing matters, you always fail, and you always end up without a job and without anyone. Maybe you have 500,000, maybe you have a 1,000,000, maybe you have nothing, but you’re empty inside at the end. And if so, maybe the game is good, because I leave it feeling empty. There’s nothing good, there’s nothing meaningful, there’s just a pointless waste of time.
Still, that doesn’t make it a good game and they chose the worst topic to make the game about.
Note: I really want to give this game a 1 or lower, but the fact that the game is fully functional, and just poorly designed stops me. The calls to the police are at least interesting, and there are some minor points that are good, but the pointlessness of the entire endeavor ruins the small sparks of quality here.
What’s shocking to me is that the fact the game does so poorly talking about such a major issue such as the police departments makes the entire game even sadder. Blue lives matter, Black lives matter, all lives matter? Any way you cut it, you’re not going to enjoy this game.
Final Thoughts: A dangerous topic, handled poorly and resulting in a truly awful game. The gameplay has nothing to do with the story, but worse the gameplay doesn’t care if you play it. Just wait out a timer.
Stats: 30 hours and counting (on the no action replay) 6/10 achievements earned