Review: This is the Police20 Dec 2018 0
Review: This is the Police
Released 13 Dec 2018
I’ve never been more completely and utterly done with a video game then I was by the end of Weappy’s This is the Police. It’s exhausting to watch a game with so much contempt for society and any attempt to do the right thing. Even our most jaded modern media allows for an acknowledgement of right and wrong, maybe even a few characters here and there to re-enforce it. The noir films that Police invokes with it’s smoky lounge jazz soundtrack and 'complicated protagonist' knows that the path towards right is always the goal. Even if your main character, in this case Police Chief Jack Boyd, doesn’t take the one of least resistance. It tirelessly feels dirty knowing Boyd doesn’t even want to attempt towards that direction at all.
Plenty of games put you in the shoes of bad guys who only want to do bad. Tommy Vercetti was unashamed about his one true goal, being the drug kingpin of 1980’s Vice City. But Grand Theft Auto didn’t pretend to offer you a choice in the matter, the player is Tommy, and you do what Tommy wants to do. After an investigation turns the Freeburg Police Department upside down, Jack Boyd is given 180 days to not make any waves, and coast his way to retirement - and a half a million dollar severance. Every single choice you make in his position is one that’s morally wrong, financially wrong, or both.
They don’t have to be 'right' mind you. If Weappy wants to make Jack the ultimate screw up that can’t seem to get it right ever, that’s their prerogative. The problem becomes the way it poisons the very concept of choice.
Take, for example, the very first big choice you make in the game: deciding whether or not to fire all of your black police officers. A racist gang is threatening to assassinate all of Freeburg’s black civil servants in a few days time, and City Hall has decided that the best course of action is to fire them all for their own safety. Since that is a completely stupid request, I ignored it. The deadline comes around and nothing happens. The headlines of the local papers mention the gang, but there’s nothing the manifests for me to do, operationally. For all intents and purposes, it was a false alarm.
Which didn’t stop City Hall from being 'disappointed with my efficiency' and cutting my staff. I learned quickly that not doing what City Hall wants garners no tangible benefits, except that warm fuzzy feeling you get for standing up to The Man. The same lesson is learned often when the local mob bosses want to use the PD as their own personal militia. Resist if you want, but in the end, they always win.
This cynical message is 'the point'. The job is hard, life isn’t fair, etc. But abstaining from the shadier elements of political and criminal influence can turn playing this game into such an annoyance that I’d rather just turn it off, than decide to be a flunky. That could be the design philosophy here, but it feels more like a lazy interpretation of crime stories, than a good one on it’s own merit.
Also, the actual story of Jack’s final days as Police Chief feel entirely separate to the actual, day-to-day act of running the police force. In his private life, Jack is getting pictures of his butchered friend’s family being sent to him from the mob. His wife left him for a younger man. The Mayor has him under pressure. The ramifications of the character work happening in the comic book strip cinematics are almost non-existent anywhere else in the game. I never feel like Jack’s problems are mine. He’s popping pills and drinking his life away at a strip club. I’m micro managing police shifts.
It should be said that, at a top level glance, the actual act of playing Police is interesting. You control the rosters of officers and detectives across two shifts, and send them out to spontaneous calls in the city. There’s no way to know who the best officers are to send out to particular calls outside of their “professionalism” number. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the higher the chance to succeed at solving the problem out in the field.
But this isn’t a very consistent system. Sometimes, you can send a high number officer to a call and it works well. Sometimes, the offender gets away. There’s no real transparency over how any of this works. This becomes a bigger problem when you need more officers for more dangerous situations. I’ve had days where on literally every call, an officer died. There was no explanation or way to know that this could be the outcome before hand. You just send them out and roll the dice.
This only helps to exacerbate the need to rely on corruption to fill the gaps. Or at least it’s supposed to. Instead, it serves to make it feel as hopeless as the rest of the game. Amid the crimes that pop up will be special assignments to help some criminal elements, do some petty favors for locals, or be a police lackey for the Mayor. Sometimes they’ll reward you with cash, or maybe the deed will go a long way towards getting your next request for a raise approved. Or not. Everything feels so cloudy that you can’t help but feel just as disillusioned with this as everything else.
It at least looks good. The menus are clean, and the minimalist art matches the dour landscape of the writing and design. Technically the writing is fine, if not seemingly full of it’s own tropey cliches’. The voice acting is completely off, though. Jack Boyd, played by Duke Nukem’s John St. John, sounds way more like a tv announcer than a weary old cop. If Police should have lifted anything from their cop drama inspirations, it could have been the voice direction.
Instead, This is the Police just meanders in the swamp of dirty cop fiction. It gets wet and muddy, but doesn’t seem to even attempt to find any of the treasures that the better versions of these stories often do.