Ever wanted to run your own police department, deciding whether to be the big fish in a small pond or the lackey of the local crime syndicate? If that’s your bag then now you can in Weappy Studio’s This is the Police. It’s been on PC for a little while already and has now switched shifts to appear on the current gen consoles, bringing a blend of strategic staff management, detective work and absorbing story to a new audience. So, are we ready to interrogate the suspect?
You’re Jack Boyd, chief of police in Freeburg, a small metropolitan area in Nowheresville, USA. You’re 6 months away from retirement, your wife has left you for a younger man, and the mayor has just thrown you under the bus. What do you do? That’s your choice. To retire comfortably you’ll need $500,000 in the bank and you can rely on successfully tackling every crime in the city and hoping the municipal offices reward you for your commitment to the pursuit of justice; or you can double deal with the mafia and snaffle away all your ill gotten gains. Either playstyle is valid, and more often than not you’re ending up blending the two to try and balance the expectations of the law and lawless.
As a strategy game the task is simple enough, use your staff to respond to randomly occurring crimes during working hours and successfully manage the situation. Each time a crime appears, read the details, decide on the reaction and number of officers to send, then commit to it. After a short travel time there’ll be a report back saying how the incident has gone, ask for further input, or even request additional resources to help out. Crimes range from the most serious like murder, through riots and thefts, and on to the absurd like UFO cattle abductions (or false alarms if you prefer). There’ll be several a day and depending on the what the game seems to feel like it can be a trickle to keep an eye on, or a torrent of high intensity events. No matter how many come up, there’s enough variation in both the scenario and explanation that nothing appears to repeat. Quite a feat given there are 180 in game days to work through.
On the surface there’s not a huge amount to see in This is the Police. Outside exposition heavy cutscenes, there’s only a static map view screen, a rota page, some options in menus, and the investigation section. It feels stripped back and basic, but it really does help focus you on the decisions you should be making… and contrary to many strategy games, it actually gives you time to think too. Taking in a scenario and considering the response is really the core mechanic at play, and you can never please everyone and have a truly successful shift. Play for money with the crime bosses and you’ll likely end up on the wrong side of city hall, losing staff as they cut your budget. Tackle the gangs and there’s no real cash for your retirement, and then there’s the chance of losing cops as the violence escalates. There’s nothing more disheartening than seeing a report come in of your best officer getting gunned down during a routine call. It’s a good job I don’t run any law enforcement, I’m pretty sure I’d end up with no team left after 3 days.
Given the light touch interaction with those under your command, there’s actually a strange type of bond that forms where you want to see them come back alive from a call. They act like normal people by being ill, not turning up for work, or quitting for better opportunities, and you develop your favourites. As they gain experience they become more reliable and more capable, and teaming them up with SWAT and a Paddy Wagon gets quite satisfying when they get through a situation without police or civilian casualties. It’s not quite the same with the detectives because you use them less, and solving the more severe crimes is a picture puzzle that’s 2 parts deduction and 1 part trial and error, but it’s a nice diversion from simply responding to what the public are calling in.
Every now and again the story interrupts the flow of the game, and it works really well. Told in comic panel screens, text and voiceover, the focus is on Jack’s struggles with office, addiction and a strong moral compass that’s drifting off true North. It’s a deep and intriguing tale that draws you in and makes you feel like the daily events have purpose. Press conferences are a nice touch where optional responses present you the opportunities pull rank with the public, speak your mind about the running of the city, or even play your cards close to your chest. There are also key decisions to make that influence which direction you’ll end up moving in. It’s like a pulp noir novel pulled off with style and panache and drip fed at a steady pace to keep you invested in the game.
This is the Police has its flaws – there’s a lot of game to get through given that you’re playing a day at a time, even when there are events that move time along faster, so it can feel a bit slow. Sometimes the requests from city hall are contrary to how you want to really play, and even if you follow them to the letter they can still fail which is very frustrating. There’s also a habit of severely restricting your available staff, then bringing in internal affairs that tie them up completely for a full shift so every situation in the day goes south whilst you just sit and watch. You can plan and make sure you’re set then still be hit for six when half the shift just doesn’t show up at all. It’s all part and parcel of being in charge and having to manage your way through the murky world of politics and nefarious deeds. On the up side, you can always put some jazz or blues on your record player to help pass the time. It could do with some more guidance at times too – your deputy informs you of things to keep an eye on but not your progress, same with the tasks from city hall too. One in particular was managing two rival gangs to make sure one comes out on top over a 2 week period, and proved quite challenging to remember what day it was and who needed to come out on top that day.
There’s are really good game here, a moral maze at times that forces you to compromise on things you’re not comfortable agreeing to, even though there’s a chance it’s actually the right decision. This is the Police is well told and very nicely executed, keeping your focus in all the right places. It’s also got that “just one more day” vibe. Start off with the intention of running through a couple of days and gaining a bit more for your retirement fund and before you know it a couple of hours have gone by. If you’ve ever harboured a City Saviour or Corrupt Cop fantasy, this is an arresting title you should really think about checking out.
A PS4 review copy of This is the Police was provided by THQ Nordic’s PR team, and the game is available now on PC, Xbox One and PS4.