Police Chief Jack Boyd has six more months before he can walk off the job. Will he come through as a clean cop with a group of happy, trustworthy officers? Or possibly, walk out of the station a mafia crony barely able to climb out of the back pocket of Freeburg’s ruling family, broken, alone, and disgraced. This is the Police, created by first-time developer Weappy Studios, puts you behind the actions – and consequences – of Jack Boyd on his 180-day journey to retirement. You will: take press conferences, manage personnel, make investigative decisions and call the next move when your cops get into sticky situations. Unfortunately, the poor management system is a soft spine to an otherwise full bodied plot line. What This is the Police does well are the minimally stylized vignettes of story featuring a tight but dispassionate, bordering on purposefully standoffish, screenplay. What it doesn’t do well is plot portioning, which made worse by the fact that there’s so much of it. It’s like an Applebees entree you didn’t order.
This is the Police wants to a give you a mature and culturally timely tale of apathy, where the days continue to tick by and you are only getting older behind that desk. You sit wondering “Where did the time go?” In a way, it tries to play on that idea, its tone invoking stoner-paranoia of the 5-0 knocking on your door and screaming that they’ll bust it open. It also leaves you feeling helpless, like “This is it. This is what being a police chief is about. I am who I am because that’s the nature of the job.” The main character is the embodiment of “too tired for this shit.” Jack Boyd sees the finish line on the horizon and is letting nothing get in his way, this includes City Hall, the Mayor, various gangs and serial killers, and the crime families that are pulling on strings.
One of the things this game does right it is making you believe in the character of Jack Boyd and much of the credit due to the performer, Jon St. John of Duke Nukem fame. He towers above the rest of the cast in pulling Jack from the script, breathing life into every story board. That is significant praise as much of the cast does an excellent job giving the feeling of being down-to-earth. They really do feel a part of this seedy town, living their own lives in orbit with Jack’s. The game shines brightest when it is displaying its narrative and introducing the characters you’ll be interacting with several times over in the coming month. There is ton of political intrigue, back-stabbing, stabbing-back, strong arming, and head bowing. It’s not exactly The Wire, but it is better than what most games about cops try to give you, particularly because the game isn’t about the action but the people (or person) behind the action.
This is the Police plays out in cartoon panels with a blocky minimal style. The artistic design of the cut scene visuals and the visuals of the city you’ll be holding reign over are lovely. They have enough variety where you can be truly dazzled… sometimes. It is an aesthetic choice that only benefits the story and the setting. The game also allows you to lay your choice of dozens of smooth jazz records in the background as you send out patrolmen and conduct investigations. It brings the crime noir tone to a head and I appreciated it even though it may seem a bit tacky at times. The original and the curated soundtrack are both phenomenal.
While you can stare at the screen and the art style all day, there would be no game without the screenplay, It’s the most engaging and powerful aspect of the game. It’s witty, philosophical, coherent, and isn’t weighed down with needless exposition. That isn’t to say it’s perfect; This is the Police can feel uneven in how it wants to present the main character. In one instant you’re a police chief trying to make it through the day, and in another you’re the new John Wayne – a hot-headed boss leveraging his power to upend rocks that are best left lying. The tonal shift is jarring only because it seems to disregard the way that you want to be playing Jack Boyd, even when you’re picking a more “evil” character path. Jack eventually loses all manner of sympathy and just becomes a jerk, making the game even more of a slog. Imagine if Han Solo never came back to save Luke from being run into the trench wall by his future father-in-law, he would just be a morally bad person.
Now changes in mindset and development makes Jack a complicated character. He is disillusioned and jaded by a career of constant loss. He has his own ups and downs and thanks to the narrative, we’re able to process and understand these changes. However, putting that sort of heavy characterization into the hands of the player in a game like this, a management simulator, is a harsh duality. Glamour, wealth, power, a clear conscious, can you have it all in that position without selling yourself out or getting everyone around you buried?
Weappy Studios places their game in the genre of strategy, but that’s hard to extrapolate from playing, as there’s little strategy to be found in its seemingly never-ending day in and day out of police shifts. Every day you are set up with either your Shift A or Shift B groups of police officers and detectives. Every day you will send them out on patrol duties, busting up drug sales, possible homicides, suicide attempts, loiterers, public indecency and several other criminal activities. The strategy lies in sending out certain officers to particular instances. Should you let an officer take off the day? Do you allocate resources to kill off someone or silence those outspoken against you? Do you burn your SWAT team support card on a homicide or send them on a protection ride with detectives?
The strategy is extremely light and more or less boils down to random chance. A criminal will escape or won’t. A civilian will die or won’t. A cop will be killed or won’t. It’s an incredibly monotonous cycle of chores that takes up far too much of the experience in This is the Police. Making this aspect even harder to swallow is having so many personal decisions to make, yet there’s little benefit to either completing task in a moral light or completing them at all. By the end, those hundreds of choices you’ll have made will mean little to the characters inhabiting Freeburg and to Jack Boyd.
It’s harsh. We get it. This is the game after all. But too often do you find yourself: under the complaints of employees, investigated by city hall, fined for not firing all elderly staff, having enough Asians on the force, not quelling protests with violence, the list goes on. In reality, this game doesn’t owe the player anything. It shouldn’t shuffle the player along into the ultimate power rush that most adventure games provide. It is completely understandable why this game should beat you down, but it in no way makes it a more fun game to play. When you do have enough cops on hand to send out, you can simply load up all available slots with cops and rinse and repeat until all criminals are caught. Mercifully, they don’t make you play through all 180 days as there are time jumps, but the management portion of the game is either static or benign to the point that I thought of it as an actual second job.
Unfortunately there is poor porting of controls to the gamepad, which has plagued console gaming for years. Given all the time you’ll be spent looking over the map of Freeburg, you’ll undoubtedly ring them in with practice. Getting through 180 day span, there are few moments where new mechanics are introduced that will surely bring a desperately needed shot of vigor to the humdrum. These are far too few and far too spread out.
Famously, Brian Cox’s character in Adaptation gives writers the secret to win over any audience: “You can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end.” If you’ve read anything about the PC release from back in August, you’ve noted that endings are regrettably unfulfilling. After nearly fifteen hours of making decisions, losing cops, solving investigations (or not), the game ends in similar fashions. You’re left with the Cormac McCarthy “life is harsh” style of sendoff. Jack Boyd is sad in the beginning, angry in the middle, and sad in the end, This is the Police is a heavy game but there is nothing but lament, and who wants to be sad for that long?
In small chunks the tedious management simulator portion of This is the Police grabs moments, and these tasty morsels are best digested in emergency sized rations. They serve as a function in breaking up the story portions from washing over too quickly. However, those stretches – the three, four weeks of patrolling in a row, This is the Police sags low. The story line has intrigue and maturity – and the performances may be enough to get you to the end of the six month term, just be sure to curb your expectations when it comes to sending out your daily shifts. This is particularly true when the game seems to be out to get you around every corner. There is plenty to uncover in the game, but if you want an excellently written and performed crime drama you may want to experience this in a stream, or if some blessed soul puts one together, a supercut. The game portion of This is the Police simply wears out its welcome, leaving the best parts of a great story at a woeful distance.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
This is the Police - 6.0/10
A Crime of Bleh-sion
This is the Police is its own worst criminal. There is a story here that is at times fantastic, with even the possibility for one of best straight narratives of the year so far. Unfortunately to get to the chunks of story and the decisions that truly matter is a sub-par management simulator that far too often relies on total unpredictability and takes up incredibly large portions of a game that would be long in the tooth at half its actual length.