By: Brian Gunn
This is the Police is a sort of hybrid adventure game / management sim. Given the current state of the world, a sim where you control crooked cops abusing their power might seem incendiary and tasteless. Sadly, the reality of the game is a lot blander than that.
Standard management sim controls are in place and everything’s mouse based and generally snappy. There are some questionable UI decisions, though. For instance, when a cop is idle, you can click on their icon for some information on them. There are some additional functions like sending an officer for training or to a barbecue to recover energy, but it requires going through other menus to assign that could’ve just been added to the icon to save some tedious menu hassles.
This is the Police has an odd art style. During story moments, it’s sort of comic book inspired, though with characters that lack distinct facial features. During gameplay things seem to be looking more to board games, especially with the officer icons. Most of the time these work, though the investigations often suffer with images that make it difficult to tell what exactly is going on in them.
Each day of the story, lead character Jack puts on a record to act as soundtrack for fighting crime. A lot of these are public domain stuff or tracks meant to invoke nostalgia of police flicks of the ’70s or film noir. They are a decent mood setter, though none stand out, and selecting a track 100 different times can feel tedious — eventually I opted for silence.
That often ended up working well too, with stormy nights and the chirps of the various police codes often my preferred companions. Most of the story is fully voice acted, and the cast of old school tough guys and slimy politicians work well to round out the experience.
Jack Boyd is a police chief on the edge of retirement. He’s being slowly forced out by the mayor, so in order to secure his future he has opted to steal a half-million dollars in the meantime. The mayor has given Jack 180 days to keep the city in line and get his affairs in order; from there a variety of stories involving corruption, serial killers and occasionally police work spring up.
Each of those 180 days acts as a game level, though story reasons will make it so you don’t actually end up playing every one of them, which is a blessing given the game has some pacing problems. You’ll have a squad of cops that’s initially small, and they’ll need to respond to a variety of emergency calls throughout the day.
These can range from full-scale prison riots to false alarm calls that some racist called in because they didn’t like seeing a black man with a white woman. You’ll need to learn the signs of when things are serious as eventually the calls will pile up and potentially leave you without anyone available to respond when you really need it.
The other major element of gameplay is investigations. You’ll assign detectives to each case that requires you to put a picture together of what happened via matching frames in sequence. These will trickle to you slowly, often three per day, and some may not be used, so you’ll have to match them to witness testimony and evidence to figure out if they’re relevant. This was often the highlight of the game for me, thought it was sadly too infrequent.
The story takes place in Freeburg, a fictional town that stands in for a variety of areas and timeframes. Despite the game taking place in less than half a year the story itself tries to cover several decades in tone and mood. For instance, the musical selection at the beginning of the day starts with records, and then eventually shifts to tapes and CDs.
Some of this works, though the tonal shifts can feel pretty bizarre. Sometimes it feels like a hard-boiled crime drama, while other times things are childishly cartoonish. There are attempts to include modern issues like the “Black Lives Matter” movement, but those don’t feel like they are saying anything.
Despite some good ideas, This is the Police has some pretty glaring balance and content problems. Each day often leaves you with moments when there is just nothing to do. Typically management games, when the big tasks are in progress, will either offer something smaller to handle, or at least a fast-forward button. Neither is offered here, which leads to a lot of waiting around.
There are often choices that feel hollow as well. That “Black Lives Matter” analogue, well, the mayor wants them dealt with by force. You can do this or resist, and although resisting these things often feels like it should have consequences there’s always some other minor task that city hall wants you to do that will resolve any flak received from insubordination.
There are similar situations involving the mafia. At one point you have to take sides in a crime war, and whether or not your side wins there’s no big story difference — there aren’t even many changes in what they want from you. They’ll still offer a measly $800 to look the other way on a crime 100 days into the game when you’ve already got $300,000 squared away. It hardly feels tempting.
This is the Police often feels like a great concept unfulfilled. There are a lot of attempts to make things seem like they matter, and early on I bought into them. However, during the game’s lengthy and slow running time, it became clear everything was fairly shallow. It’s a shame, as the premise and timeliness could make for a compelling game. This just isn’t it.