Hard boiled detectives framed for crimes they didn’t commit; good cops turned bad because they just want to earn enough to retire on; personal, racist and sexual insults directed at all and sundry with equal abandon – these were the staples of any law enforcement focused movie or TV show that I gew up with. Obviously, these politically incorrect times are way behind us and no one would think of producing content like that now… would they? Not in Hollywood they wouldn’t (unless it’s helmed by Spike Lee), but it turns out if you play Beat Cop then the answer is a resounding “YES!” for the gaming industry. Before you’re left with the impression that this is a game designed to offend and shock, it’s not. Look beneath the bluster and you’ll find an affectionate homage with a surprising amount of depth.
Jack Kelly is a top notch detective, or rather he was. Answering a burglary call one night at a senator’s mansion he’s framed for the theft of some diamonds and busted right back down to the street whilst the internal investigation goes on. Transferred to Brooklyn’s 69th precinct, he’s given the unenviable task of patrolling, writing parking tickets, stopping petty theft, and watching out for warring gangs. It’s a kick in the teeth for a man of far superior talents, and it doesn’t help that his notoriety means everyone wants a piece of him and the loot he supposedly stole. He’s not going to take it lying down though, and even though outwardly no one wants to touch him there are some resources that he can draw on. What he needs most though is time to investigate and run down the leads, and that’s what he’s usually left short of.
Beat Cop is at heart a time management sim – complete the given tasks in the correct way and within a tight time limit. It starts off with issuing parking tickets to those who ignore the signs or let their meters run out; progresses to light and tyre checks, and then starts to add suspicious vehicle searches. This is the bread and butter of the game and where Jack puts his stamp on the street. Will he be a harsh enforcer of the law, or more considerate to the plight of others… for a price? That’s up to how you want to play, but the straight pointing moral compass might start drifting off to the side when various parties start to push Kelly’s buttons. Alimony is needed for his ex-wife at unreasonable levels. The mob have a vested interest in owning the street. Local crews are trying to move in on the turf to run drugs. All the shop owners seem to have ulterior motives and secrets. It gets busy fast, and that’s before he has to start meeting the people who actually live there.
Whilst the main play area is the street and a lot of the interactions are with the vehicles that park up, there’s quite a bit happening in the buildings as well. Aside from the shops and eateries, the apartment buildings are filled with unique characters that Jack helps out or questions in the line of duty. Engaging with them typically happens when something bigger than a broken tail light or bald tyre comes up. To keep things interesting, murders, disappearances, cultists, drug manufacturing, porn movie making and Kelly’s own quest to discover who’s framed him keep things ticking along at quite a pace. In fact, the only time things slow down are when there’s a conversation going on, and that’s the point to take stock and figure out what’s next and how to come out of it on top. Completing the objectives for any faction will reward in some form or another, but is likely to upset another one and keeping that balance all the way through is tricky if you’re desperate to play in a particular style. Survive a day on the mean streets of Brooklyn and at least you’ll get your paycheck… though maybe not all of it.
Beat Cop’s pixel art style and jaunty music belies it’s more unsavoury elements. The text only language is raw and the situations grim, especially when they start rolling out a lot of familiar tropes. Yet there’s a lot of humour layered in that makes it feel a much more lighthearted game that it really is. There are also too many references to pop culture than it’s possible to mention. Whether it’s stereotypes, story lines or just character names, there’s something for anyone of a certain age playing this. Younger generations might miss out on some of the gags, though it doesn’t impact how things play out, it just adds to the richness of the content. The story is solid and the investigation scenarios well thought out, and it’s easy to lose big chunks of time just playing from one day to the next. There are very few gripes, but the time restrictions will get to some because the clock ticks by just a little faster than you really want and it’s easy to miss out on finishing an objective. I also found the lack of instruction a bit awkward in the early stages, and trial and error is needed to figure out the mechanics underpinning some of the tasks. Fortunately, those elements don’t turn up too often, it’s just the completionist in me that doesn’t like missing out.
Beat Cop is based on childhood memories of what cop shows were about. It’s gritty, dark, funny and forces the player to walk a moral line, whilst presenting it as a mild mannered 16-bit game. I expected one thing from it and got an entirely different experience, and couldn’t help but get drawn into Kelly’s tale of falling from grace and trying to clear his name. The presentation style jars with the content and that’s one of the things that makes it work. When it wrong foots you it distracts from the time management style parts of the game and pushes you into acting like a… well… Beat Cop. Manage your neighbourhood, get to know all the players, and turn it into your own personal bank or small totalitarian state. It’s entirely up to you, just don’t be surprised if you make more enemies than friends whilst on the job.
A PS4 review copy of Beat Cop was provided by 11 Bit Studios PR team, and the game is available now on all mobile, console and computer platforms for around £15.