When I started playing the new indie title “This Is The Police,” I was pretty enamoured by it. Turns out that your opinion can change a lot about something, even when that something refuses to change itself in turn.
The premise of This Is The Police is that you are playing as a police chief Jack Boyd, a man who works unbelievably hard to put the c*** in constable. Yes, I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but you shouldn’t know how to spell such a rude word anyway, you lout. After years running the fictional city of Freeburg (which feels like Hell’s Kitchen just kept growing until it ate New York), circumstances contrive to force Jack into an early retirement despite his desire to stay on. In the six months remaining before his exit, Jack decides he’s going to try and raise half a million dollars to live off after that point, and must make the money however he can without compromising his ethics… Well, not unless it’s something small, right? Right?
So the basic idea of gameplay is that you’re given a big map of Freeburg and a list of the officers available to you, all with their owns stats to signify how competent they are. When crimes start to pop up like weeds, you have to send whatever officers you think would be best (or just whoever isn’t busy at that moment), and hope that the criminals end up in cuffs without turning your men into pate. If the situation is more complicated than it seems, you’ll be contacted to ask your opinion on the best course of action, though it’s pretty annoying when you get interrupted on your coffee break because officer Gormless isn’t sure if he should open fire on pedestrians or not.
There’s also investigations you can work on, which are simultaneously the moments of This Is the Police that seemed most filled with potential and yet seemed to be given the least effort to make. As you assign detectives to the case they churn out holiday snaps of possible events that might’ve happened during the crime, and you have to piece them together in the right order according the fragmented testimonies you’ve been given. But there’s times where it seems frustratingly vague, and I found myself getting chippy when I had every photo I needed in the right order except for two, which could’ve easily been interchangeable regardless and still would’ve fit. This happened quite a lot, and I don’t blame anybody for checking the solutions online because the answers aren’t challenging most of the time, just irksome.
But when you begin This Is the Police is quite hard, which was one of the reasons I liked it. You have to make do with only a skeleton crew and the kind of budget that wouldn’t fly in a band meeting for Flight Of The Concords, trying to smother crime waves as they pop up and occasionally having to pretend you didn’t hear the call come in. “What’s that? A slopping maul has been grown up with aplomb? Oh.Uh… Sorry, you’re breaking up. Can you call back later?”
This Is the Police also appeared to be doing moral choices pretty well. At one early point a friend (who looks so much like Walter White that I can’t imagine that’s not an homage) approaches you claiming that a deal he made with the mafia has gone bad, and now they’re threatening to hurt his innocent family. With no chance of arresting those involved, he asks that you take on his debt to keep his wife and daughter safe from harm whilst he gets them as far away as possible.
It wasn’t easy to decide, but I begrudgingly decided to help him out, not wanting the first week in the game to be marred by a multiple homicide. The problem is that This Is the Police doesn’t have the strength of convictions to really show the consequences of choices like this. Heisenberg cuts and runs whilst the Soprano family turns their attention to you, but you never meet the daughters, never see your friend, and the mafia thing just becomes mechanics and not motivation. And I didn’t want them to be brought to justice, I just didn’t want to lose – you see what I mean? It’s not the same. They should be the villains I hate; the ones I want to wrestle into a jail cell myself, spitting blood and teeth while the Undertale “Hopes And Dreams” song plays triumphantly in the background. Instead, they’re just another thing to manage, another factor I have to manage that doesn’t seem like a legitimate threat.
Honestly, the whole game just seems to lose energy as it goes on, and it goes on for a very long time. With a six-month bracket to work in, This Is the Police seems to realise some way through that this story is paced too slowly, which is why I suspect it has Boyd go into TWO UNRELATED COMAS to cut some of the time out. The trick doesn’t work, though – the game is just too long in general, with all the significant mechanics laid bare in the first third of the game. The rest is just micromanagement, and it gets distressingly easy once you get a nice pace going and manage to acquire a team of super cops to sort stuff out.
But the story isn’t bad. Boyd is relatively sympathetic from the start, and it’s fun to see him get his groove back once he comes out of his coma and decides to stop compromising with everyone. There is a problem with tone, however – the narrative swings awkwardly between slightly pantomimic villains and genuinely horrifying acts of violence, so you get Bugsy Malone and Death Wish smashed unnaturally together for your viewing pleasure.
On the other hand, audio-visual presentation is nice. The faceless, minimalist aesthetic works quite well in short bursts (though struggles to convey the emotion that’s lost by the unimpressive voice acting), and the music is a very enjoyable mixture of jazzy tunes and escalator music straight from The Sims character customisation menu. One of the little details I like is that you pick the songs by actually thumbing through Boyd’s record collection. Gotta respect that old school touch.
Is This Is the Police Worth Buying?!
Do I recommend This Is the Police, then? Yeah, I suppose so, in a tentative, noncommittal way. It’s a lot cheaper than most games and it took me almost fifteen hours to start losing steam over it, which certainly isn’t nothing. Not to mention that I still keep going back to it in a sporadic manner, so it’s doing something right. Give it a go if you like this kind of game, and keep an eye on upcoming sales if you haven’t decided yet. Maybe you’ll be able to snag a bootleg copy from some unscrupulous source on the street. I certainly won’t be able to stop you – everybody on my team is still trying to find that lost dog downtown.