When I last played Police Stories, I was pretty delighted by how much the two level alpha had to offer. So it was with somewhat mixed feelings that a year later I found myself playing a four level alpha – this feels like slow progress, albeit it with a graphical overhaul. And yet I am just as captured and occupied by the levels it has, and really impressed with the improvements made.Police Stories sees you as a SWAT-like cop, along with an NPC/co-op buddy, bursting into buildings to defuse bombs, save hostages, and arrest or “neutralise” criminals. Top down, chunky Amiga-like graphics, and about barging through doors and swinging your cone of sight to take on enemies… yes, admittedly, it does sound a lot like Hotline Miami. But in delivery, it feels like a very different game. (As does it to Doorkickers, about which it also shares some ideas.)
For one thing, this is about trying to keep as many people alive as possible. Shooting first, asking questions later, is not an approved approach, although the game is designed such that you are scored on your success and rated at the end, rather than prevented from playing a certain way. Kill a crim before he’s drawn his weapon and you’ll lose points – it’s much better to below out a warning to “GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!” and see where things go. But lightning reflexes are required to do this well, because there won’t be any hesitation by a baddie to fire at you as soon as their gun’s pointing your way.
It’s even worse for hostages, who will be shot dead by the criminals if they see you first. I think this is, in this current build, perhaps a little over-sensitive, but such things are of course a long way off being finished. You’ll want to take out anyone holding a gun to an innocent’s head straight away, and of course do your best to avoid anyone getting in the crossfire.
Then there are the bombs to find and defuse, ideally by getting codes from interrogated arrested suspects. And you’ll need to gather evidence you spot as you go.
The big change is the addition of equipment. Previously the game was about flinging open a door and reacting. Now there’s a lot more on offer, with C4 charges to plant on locked doors, motion detectors to throw ahead, and, best of all, a tactical camera that lets you poke a camera under doors to see who’s visible in the room before you go in. The latter is, however, a slow tool to use, so when there’s a timer on a bomb, or the chance that an enemy may come creeping up behind you, it’s a risky move.
While shooting enemies isn’t exactly an unusual act, the game far more highly rewards successful arrests, and as such the new tools let you create more opportunities for this than previously. C4 is useful for blocked doors, but it’ll also stun anyone nearby. Stunned crims are far more likely to drop their weapons and let you arrest them. As are those confused in smoke bomb clouds, or pepper sprayed.
Best of all, your buddy cop carries equipment too, and smart radial menu on right click lets you instruct him. A default has him run to the spot you’ve clicked on, but you can also have him set charges, use cameras, and, most helpfully of all, open doors while crouched beside them, letting you burst in.
It’s still lacking a whole bunch that feels necessary. You can now smash windows and shoot through them, but you can’t jump in, which feels like it should be vital. It also definitely needs a bit more variety. The levels on offer here are all fun, but all essentially variants on the same theme, albeit those with the countdown timer on a bomb.
The newer levels here include Blood Brothers, in which a group of gangbangers have taken over a restaurant (currently called “restaurant_name”, which would be a brilliant name for a restaurant), with hostages. And Medical Center, a level that needs to be unlocked by scoring high in the previous encounters, where much more highly trained enemies have hostages and a bomb planted in a hospital. This is definitely the hardest level so far.
It’s still great. It really doesn’t perhaps feel like another year’s worth of great? Especially for a Kickstarter that was aiming to finish last October. But I still completely love it, and have a seemingly infinite capacity to keep replaying the same small levels in an effort to perfect them. Restarts are instantaneous, which makes a big difference, and of course each time you approach a level the guards, hostages and bombs will be in different locations.
With a more complete suite of tools, and hopefully a lot more variation in levels (for instance, the design is perfect for asking for much more stealthy approaches, perhaps sneaking hostages out without getting spotted, as well as far more violent bullet sprees), and it’d make a big difference to see other ideas it has.
You can still play the two level alpha version from last year for free, and I really suggest you do. Currently this four level build is a closed beta for backers. The final game is promising 18 levels, and is currently slated for September, but as the developers themselves say, “Turns out, we’re really bad at planning… we can’t really promise this won’t change.” I do wonder if this is one of those cases of a single-player game that might benefit from an early access release.