Impressions: This Is The Police

I was waging war against the mafia – and they did not know it. The idiots kept telling me any time they had a ‘big job’ planned. They would then offer me big money in a brown envelope to ignore it. But as the chief of police, I could not be bought. I would use their little pre-warning to make sure I had enough officers in the station. And when the crime went down – a casino robbery, an assault, whatever – I would storm in, yelling the game’s title, This Is The Police!

During one of these planned crimes, a mobster on trial seized a gun from a bailiff and held everyone in the law courts hostage. I sent five officers and a swat team to take care of it, then lay back feeling pleased with myself. Suddenly, another call came in from the hospital – a patient was having a breakdown and attacking the staff but I had no officers to deal with it. As my boys in blue dealt with the mafia, a civilian in the hospital died.

Even though this cop management game from Weappy explicitly sets out to screw you over like this, I felt like I’d failed. It was one of the game’s better moments. Early in your days as police chief, there are lots of moments like this. But as the daily grind goes on, and the game starts to lose its novelty, I repeatedly swung between two states while playing: from being fully invested in its noir-ish nightmare, to being flabbergasted by its controlling, slow-motion design.

The tale goes like this. You are police chief Jack Boyd. You’ve just been told you’re stepping down – forced out by the mayor. You have 180 days left – stay quiet and keep the streets clean. But you also don’t have a pension. So you have to scrounge together half a million dollars to keep yourself alive in retirement. A clean cop all his life, Jack is now forced to make some dirty deals.

This means you have to manage the police force. Sending them out on calls, hiring and firing officers, leading investigations and scrabbling together money from both your weekly salary and private jobs. Eventually, you’ll get back-handers and other clandestine offers, which you can – theoretically – take or refuse. I say theoretically because the game ultimately gives you no choice but to get involved in the mafia side of things.

The management of your officers, while simplistic, is oddly satisfying. You get a model map of the city and ‘calls’ pop up, along with a timer. You have 30 seconds, or 20 seconds or 60 seconds, to respond to this murder attempt, that robbery, this arson. Drag your best and worst boys and girls in blue to the slots available and dispatch them. Sometimes, your officers will call for backup because a situation has turned out far worse than imagined. Sometimes, they’ll come back from a suspected liquor store robbery telling you that it was just two guys buying brandy for their granddad.

Later, other calls become available, like tasks for the mafia, or investigations, which see you sending detectives instead of uniforms. Days pass on these cases, with the detectives offering you more pieces of a basic picture puzzle as time goes on. You have to put these pictures into the correct sequence, then send your boys to arrest the perp.

This map screen and its emergencies are most of the game, and they always happen the same way (it isn’t randomly generated, so if you play a second time, all the events happen as before). Between working days you sometimes get comic-book cutscenes with decisions to make. The choice to help a dirty cop by taking on his “contract” with the mafia, or leave him to his fate, for example. At the same time, you have to balance orders from those pencil pushers at city hall – hire more Asian officers to impress an ambassador, for instance. Fire everyone who’s old. Keep a particular officer out of trouble, because they are getting a medal next week and if they die it will be a political embarrassment.

Having read a little about the game before going in, I’ve seen a lot of accusations of toothlessness. And these are somewhat justified. It doesn’t try to take on the grandest problems facing the modern day police. There are depictions of racism, sexism, and corruption – both petty and grand – but they are fleeting and disconnected. There’s no interpersonal problems that reflect ongoing tensions between one group and another, its all a little random and short-lived. It’s not a “clean” portrayal of police work, exactly, but it is tidied, spruced up around the edges. It’s as if the writers saw all the problems of society and decided to include a pulpy, bubblegum version of them all.

With all that in mind I still liked what it does offer, which is a neo-noir story of a police chief’s grimey last days on the job. It’s not exactly the Wire, or even the Shield, but the dialogue (or monologues, more appropriately) can be surprisingly colourful. In one scene, the crooked mayor comes into your office. “Mayor Rogers enters every room like he owns the place,” narrates Boyd in his gravelly voice. “Even the floorboards under his feet sound like they’re creaking an apology.” It’s pure pastiche but I found myself liking it.

My playthrough was an attempt to do things mostly by the book. No mafia, no private contracts or personal favours. The only thing I would tolerate was petty vandalism or stupid crimes. I let art vandals get away unpunished, for example. We had more dangerous calls to attend. I had other rules too: never send a police officer to a call alone. Never send officers to do work for private firms – only genuine emergencies.

Then my will started to bend in small ways. A truck driver wanted to give lessons to his new employees, using cops as tough examiners and he promised to donate a paddy wagon to the precinct. We desperately needed one of these, so I sent three officers to help him out. That seemed harmless enough, and rewarding enough, to forget my “no private work” rule. I thought the game might flow this way, in a Papers, Please direction, whereby you have to abandon your principles bit-by-bit, choosing your battles because you can’t hope to win them all. But then I was murdered by the mob.

And here’s when you realise This Is The Police is less a management game and more of a controlling visual novel. You are forced down a particular path – to become corrupt – and not in the clever way of the Arstotzkan border force, where your children are at stake, where you have mouths to feed and heating bills to pay – but in the simpler brute force way of Videogames with a capital V. Basically: do it this way or get a ‘game over’ screen. To me, this is a bigger problem than its avoidance of Big Issues. I can forgive evasiveness of hot topics more easily than I can forgive half-hearted “moral decision” style game design.

There’s 180 days of it too. And when days pass as slowly as they do here, and begin with the same unnecessary cutscenes, it starts to grate. I enjoy the newspapers landing on your kitchen table, forcing you to read the headlines every day, keeping you in the loop with the story. But there’s only so many times I can watch a key turning in the ignition, or a record player offering you jazz, before I start to click impatiently and sigh at the morning routine.

It’s a rare thing for a games critic to say, but it would have benefited from being shorter. If there wasn’t half a year of policing but just one or two months, I wouldn’t have got so fed up, I might not even have noticed when my decisions were being made for me. There’s a particular period of time when the city enters a gang war – an old established mob against a new group of punky immigrants. You are forced to play both sides, sending cops to help out as the upstarts and the snobs murder each other. While I liked all the characters in this conflict (the brutal pensioner mafia boss who also loves poetry, the perfumed crook who sends baskets of fruit to all his frenemies) I was exasperated by the length of the war, to the point where I started ignoring all their tasks, putting minimal effort into balancing both sides.

However, it does sometimes give a sense of corrupt pride in your own rules, if you can manage to stick by them. “I always send my officers in pairs,” I’d tell myself. “I never sold any surplus evidence to the mafia.” You can imagine yourself saying these things in a tribunal, trying to justify to a committee (and yourself) why there were so many other lapses in your leadership. Which is a lot like Chief Boyd himself, who takes pride in his “8 out of 10 crimes solved” statistic, while at the same time taking money to ignore inconvenient homicides.

But I found the management and day-to-day work of the chief became too grating too fast. It starts off well and has plenty of cutscenes and interactive dialogue between weeks of work. One sequence at the beginning puts you in a press conference, and the following day your answers are parroted back to you in the headlines of your morning papers – a wonderful touch. Another task sees you trying to take gangs by investigating one perp after another, using the arrested scumbag as an informer to get the next-highest member, until you have the leader and can eliminate the gang completely. But later on, these moments become far too rare amid all the tedium of police dispatching. I sometimes wished it had the gall to utterly abandon the “gamey” bits of Chief Boyd’s job and focus on the visual novel decision-making. Or to go the other route, forget story altogether, speed things up and invest in the management mechanics. But it kind of sluggishly hovers between both genres.

As a result, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. If you’re happy to sit idly waiting for balloons of jobs to pop up, and take each day as slowly as it comes, then you’ll probably get a lot more out of this tale of corruption and downfalls than I did. But if you’re interested in deeper systems and micromanaging your officers, forget it, it’s Chinatown.

This Is The Police is out now.

From this site

28 Comments

  1. Eight Rooks says:

    I appreciate the effort – seriously, I do; the angry reviews were all very well but they didn’t really give much of an idea how the game actually worked. Still, I kinda feel like you’ve gone too far the other way – “Fire all black cops” alone seems like utter nonsense, mind-bogglingly oblivious and intellectually inept, and I’ve not seen anything other than the developers’ ham-fisted GET YR POLITICS OUT OF MAH VIDYAGAEMS non-apology to even suggest I’m wrong to think that. I mean, if Donald Trump somehow produced the management sim to end all management sims I still wouldn’t play it and would urge everyone else not to play it solely because of its ideology (or lack thereof). (And I’d see nothing wrong in putting forward that argument.)

    • Distec says:

      I’m having trouble understanding something in this post. Is there an ideology (or absence of one) in the game or at the developer that makes you think it effectively requires a boycott?

      Is this specifically because of the “fire the black cops” thing, or do you think there’s something telling about the mindsets at Weappy Studio? Because I’m not seeing how this connects to your hypothetical scenario.

      The last game I recall inspiring such a reaction was Armikrog, and I could kind of understand that. I can respect the anger somebody may have towards the creator, and then his product by association. But that seemed in part justified by Doug TenNapel’s flagrant and explicit homophobia. The anger around This Is The Police seems so unwarranted by comparison, and honestly seems to stem mostly from a gaggle of writers not having their political positions validated.

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      teije says:

      I’m confused that you would urge people not to play a game because of its perceived lack of ideology.

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        gritz says:

        He’s saying that a game made by Donald Trump would lack ideology because it was made by a man with no discernible ideology (beyond base egotism).

    • Geewhizbatman says:

      For transparency’s sake: I haven’t played “This Is The Police!” Nor do I believe I ever will. I certainly doubt I’d be able to finish it were I to try. But from reading about it, it sounds much like how “Pathologic” rests in my brain. Or the various “Political Sims.” A concept I find fascinating but the “game” aspects don’t appeal to me. With all that on the virtual table, here’s what I think is interesting about this game’s set-up, its uncomfortable bits and all.

      Let’s get honest about the world. Lawyers don’t always represent or present what they think is morally right or what their idea of utopia is. Politicians, universities, hospitals, shelters, and yes–even Police Chiefs have to make concessions on ideals in order to keep the institution aloft. Change takes hold through gradual change. Part of the trick then becomes, “What can I change, what makes this closer to what I believe it should be–without rocking the boat so much it gets me fired, where I can’t do any good at all?”

      In that way, from what I’ve read it appears it all hits too close to home. It is too honest about some of these questions, or makes their choices too linear and harsh, and some of the real answers that society (be it the general public, or those in power) gives in response to those attempts. It slaps the hand that tries to renovate. It makes you want to play “This Is The Review Board!” instead. It makes its “survival” mechanic too honest, and you can starve or freeze to death, in this case–be cast out, just as quickly as in real life. The power fantasy is gone and it is work again.

      I think it is asking important questions and presents important situations for people to deal with. What I find odd/sad is that the blame gets put on the game. That what is frustrating about having to be asked these questions is the game’s fault somehow. When there are real people, in real positions of power who are being asked this. Some are probably Lex Luthor types, honestly and unapologetically corrupt–but some try not to be, and they get punished just as the player might. That fault isn’t the game, it’s the system the game is based around. It’s part of the question “Prison Architect” asked. Would you lower conditions, make concessions on certain features–if it meant you could get more money, more recognition, more support from the powers that be? I don’t think I want to answer that question, be it in real life or in a virtual world. I don’t think I have the will, but I am much happier if this game holds a mirror up to the situation (even if it shows some ugly things) rather than simply being a place to live out the ideal and more easily forget the harsh realities that need to be changed in the real world.

      It might not be the best, it may have done some things poorly–even to a point where they are legitimate faults. But I don’t understand the annoyance at its existence, or a frustration at how it may have been too honest about how this kind of situation would play out in some areas of the world.

      • AlianAnt says:

        I think this may be my favorite comment in a video game article in a long time.

        It’s almost like folks who review the game think it’s racist just because it brings up black people, or Asian people. Like one can’t even mention it without the reviewer standing up and calling racism-lite because it doesn’t allow you to pick between one political ideal or the other all-the-way. As if, take the firing of all black cops as an example, the player should be able to join Black Lives Matter and issue a press conference on your sweeping progressivism or the player should join the KKK outright and issue a press conference about how black people are the problem with 100% of the political falloit that would come in eachieving of those situations. No inbetween. And because it doesn’t go all the way with those, it’s a shallow, flaunting attempt at political commentary.

        To be clear, I haven’t played the game either but, every single article I’ve read has mentioned this point and I think your comment is the best thing I’ve read on this particular issue in this particular game. Sometimes it’s not so simple. And, it would appear the the player character has been a good cop all his life and is faced with these issues like any of us would be.

        Just my two cents.

        • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

          “folks who review the game think it’s racist just because it brings up black people” No one thinks it’s racist, the problem is it’s pointlessly vague and seems to use topics like that as a joke or source of drama. Making a game that punishes the player for doing the right thing is lazy and boring.

          “it doesn’t allow you to pick between one political ideal or the other all-the-way” If you’re going to make a game filled with politics, people will expect any kind of ideology at all instead of blandness and vague humour.

          “No inbetween. And because it doesn’t go all the way with those, it’s a shallow, flaunting attempt at political commentary.” It’s shallow and flaunting because it’s shallow and flaunting. It would be less boring if they made anything besides “do this because you must, oh no you became corrupt how horrible!”.

          “it would appear the the player character has been a good cop all his life” LOL no such thing.

          • cutechao999 says:

            Maybe you should actually play it. The “fire all black cops” and other racist tasks you’re given have a purpose. The issue with the game is that it has something like ADD, and quickly loses focus on stuff it brings up. The mayor is a bad man, a mean bigot, and whether to compromise your morals for the sake of making your job easier is a big part of the game, and it works well. What doesn’t work well about it is that it doesn’t commit to these things, and doesn’t actually explore things like the mayor’s intense racism. Although the “fire all black cops” thing is a bit out of context. The tell you to fire them because there’s literally neo-nazis patrolling the city killing all black people they find. That is an interesting thing to explore, too bad the game only brings it up again once.

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        gritz says:

        It’s valid (and valuable) to honestly and openly ask tough questions about society.

        The problem is when those questions are asked without nuance and presented without a wider context. At that point you aren’t reflecting on society, you’re drawing a caricature of it.

        • Geewhizbatman says:

          I totally agree. I’m just not sure a game (which requires a narrative) can ever be more than a caricature in some elements. In many ways, it is at best Speculative Fiction, which takes liberties in service of medium. Someone has to decide what action is even available, which is in turn determined by the story they are telling. These are the constraints of fiction, all the more glaring in the mean stories, dark stories, or sad ones, or frustrating ones. The soul of real life may just be out of the bounds of art to capture fully. I think there are, arguably better attempts perhaps than those “This Is The Police!” manage, but as a piece of the picture I’m not seeing the desire to shun it from the discourse. When taken alongside the twines, the experimental games, the moments of thought or question even in AAA games, the “Papers, Please” and the “Transhuman” mini-games or the “Sunset” games of the world. Definitely not perfect, but not so broken it isn’t worth the time–at least for me. I like the conversation it evokes about the real world–and forgetting those questions and ideas in the context of whether the game was “successful” at that goal denies it from at least one accolade I’d argue it deserves. It tried it, when it didn’t have to. This is something not required of games, but I personally am delighted to see when they appear.

          Hope that makes sense and doesn’t sound too contrary or any of that. I think its faults are real and valid and deserve as much exposure as anything else. I just worry when that appears to seem like a wish it didn’t exist, that the mistakes are inexcusable or don’t have anything to contribute. I feel that way about some games but this isn’t one of them, in my little world anyway.

      • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

        “if this game holds a mirror up to the situation” Except that has never happened in history. Games are the most unrealistic form of “art”.

  2. Shadow says:

    The management aspect seems ideal for randomly generated events, cases and such, and it feels like a wasted opportunity to kill replayability with an entirely fixed chain of happenings. I suppose it’s a valid compromise, to go for one good playthrough instead of 8 quintillion ultimately more generic ones. But the thing is they don’t seem to pull that off, if the game becomes grating and repetitive before long.

    On the other hand, and more importantly, I agree with the writer that it’s a shame you’re railroaded down one route if you mean to “win”. Particularly in this context of police corruption, it’d be most interesting if there were several avenues to pursue. It should be hard but entirely possible to succeed staying clean without suffering an instant assassination, which seems supremely lazy.

    That’s quite a challenge from the development standpoint, but it’s far more interesting than a plain “dirty cop” simulator.

  3. CartonofMilk says:

    I think outside of events where you can only send 2 or 3 cops you just can’t send a cop alone anyway.

    Also it’s not a full 180 days. Without spoiling the story, there’s two events that happen in the game that cut something like maybe i wanna say 40 days to the whole thing.

    My issue with the game is its way too easy (except for that time when a case killed 5 of my detectives within about 3 weeks) Also,when in doubt,taser. I have yet to find a choice prompt where tasering doesn’t end with resolving the issue.

    it’s an ok game by i would love to see a company like paradox make a proper strategy game of running a city’s PD but without a story. And obviously a lot more complex and involved.

    • FallOutCoy says:

      I love paradox because you crate your own story. Though, if they made a game like this, you’d have to buy each borough/district/whatever separately as dlc :P

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    Philopoemen says:

    As a serving cop, i decided to buy and play, not really going into it with any expectations. My main concern was that it would feel too much like work. It doesn’t.

    The game is a game, wrapped in a cliches. Nothing wrong with that, but trying to argue that it doesn’t cover the big issues facing policing is silly when it doesn’t cover the small issues facing policing – specifically domestic violence and paperwork, which along with mental health jobs account for majority of time for police across the world.

    About the only thing it gets right, is the dearth of officers to go to jobs. But the reasons that people ask for days off, the whole corruption angle, the simplicity of investigations etc etc. It’s a game.

    Reading anything more than that into it is a waste of time.

    • Geebs says:

      Yeah, society does love to pass over the responsibility for dealing with those two categories of problems to police, social services and healthcare, and then condemn them for dealing poorly with situations in which there is no satisfactory outcome to be had.

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      3001 says:

      From the sounds of it this game could have been fun but seems to be lazy. Not being able to stay straight and *having* to be corrupt is just a cop out (not intended). I wonder why games don’t learn from the golden RPG era – KOTOR being a classic example. You *could* make dark side choices and go to the dark side, they were often the easy, more enjoyable choices and you made more money but they were very much the easy way out. If you made light side choices, you had a few more benefits down the line and kept your NPCs to the end. Forcing the protagonist to go down one route or not at all, exposes this not so much as a sim but more a closed point and click adventure game.

      FWIW – Even as someone who isn’t a cop, this does sound a bit too much like work – any management sim that gets too far into the actual bureaucracy is often just a red tape sim (not my idea of fun).

  5. geldonyetich says:

    This game landed straight on my “not interested” list when you informed me that being uncorruptable just gets you ganked by the mob. I don’t care if that ideal gels with the writer’s vision of the story in this game, it’s just not a message I want to pay for.

  6. HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

    I don’t like these sorts of artificial sim games. It’s one thing to have a simple set of rules which force the player into situations, like in Papers Please, but these games create worlds filled with stupid rules that don’t actually matter.

    Replacing the world with a reductionist system doesn’t necessarily teach you about reality, if anything these sorts of games delude people into thinking they understand more.

  7. HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

    I just read their open letter on their website and found a painfully naive quote

    “that terrible moment when a person suddenly decides that he has the right to hit another person, that devastating moment when the thought enters his mind — that has no relation to governments, parties, or laws”

    That is laughably naive, almost certainly spoken from someone who has never been tortured by state sponsored officials. The fact is torture is an inextricable, fundamental part of policing.

    • Geebs says:

      Balls. People are horrible/violent to each other at a far higher rate than even the most insanely dedicated ‘state sponsored officials’ could ever hope to achieve.

      As to that last bit, not everybody lives in Mexico. Unless you’re one of those folks who joins the discussion about a police shooting purely in order to bitch about that one time you got a speeding ticket when you were, in fact, speeding.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      “The fact is torture is an inextricable, fundamental part of policing”

      I don’t trust the cops any more than the next guy, but this is really stupid on multiple levels.

    • TeePee says:

      “The fact is torture is an inextricable, fundamental part of policing.”

      I very much disagree with that, and I think anyone who has ever served in law enforcement outside of some of the less desirable regions of South America would likely disagree too. I’m not sure what baggage you’re carrying regards law enforcement, but that’s a VERY broad statement you’re making there that wouldn’t hold up to event the slightest examination.

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      Philopoemen says:

      I completely agree – death by Powerpoint is most definitely torture, and is rife in modern policing…

    • Eight Rooks says:

      It is an utterly stupid quote, and they seem like the textbook example of “No, no, none of this is political, it has nothing to do with politics, LALALALALA I AM NOT LISTENING” etc. But you’re doing yourself no favors with that last line.

  8. stormdude says:

    This review is dead on. Wanted to love this but just became a slog. A grind, stopped at around 100 days. Maybe being a chief is. Can’t even think on how to improve it…yawn.

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    keithzg says:

    It’s a rare thing for a games critic to say, but it would have benefited from being shorter.

    Actually, if anything I’d say that it seems games critics are far more likely than the average member of the internet commentariat to conclude that a game should be shorter. Part of that, I presume, is the pressures of the job. Of course, I tend to agree (nothing wrong with art/entertainment that doesn’t overstay its welcome and sticks to natural endpoints) so it’s also possible I’ve largely gravitated to sites like this whose outlook tends to match mine, and perhaps the wider corpus of games criticism doesn’t agree.