This is the Police II is the sequel to one of the more unique games of 2017, one that I really enjoyed for its story telling as much as its game play. A mere year later and Weappy Studio alongside THQ Nordic have released the follow up to continue the story of hard nosed, under pressure, corrupt cop Jack Boyd. In that short timeframe it might be expected that it’s simply a bit of additional writing and some new scenarios, but no, the team have brought in new elements and expanded the scope of the day-to-day running of a police department. However, don’t be fooled by the simple visuals and comic style exposition, this is a tough game that takes no prisoners for those wanting to tread a fine line between cop and criminal.
Picking up after the events in Freeburg from the first game, Jack is on the run and hiding out in Sharpwood, a small, remote northern town that oozes Fargo at every turn. His plan of laying low and drinking himself into oblivion is pretty quickly scuppered after a nasty run in with two of the local cops leaves him locked up and talking to the sheriff. Unfortunately for Jack, his police instincts kick in and to get out of a scrape he offers to help Lilly run the department and save her from embarrassment. She knows the truth of who he is, the rest don’t, and so begins the tangled web of deception and blackmail… again.
The core of the game is ensuring that Sharpwood’s residents can rest easy knowing the law is protecting them. A map of the town acts as the main interface, and as reports come in of illegal activity or suspicious happenings, you have to dispatch officers to deal with the situation. So far, so similar to the first game. There are some subtle changes this time around though. First up – gone is the shift system which sees you managing staff rota’s, now it’s simply a pool to pick from and you manage their rest periods by keeping tabs on their stamina levels. Backing this up is a system that determines traits of the team under your command, a loyalty rating, skills levelling, and how likely they are to perform their jobs. You now don’t only have to worry about them coming in drunk or bunking off to play with their band, but also who they’ll work with, or even if they’ll listen to you.
With this set of dynamics in the squad it makes things even more challenging than the first game. To respond to an incident there’s a minimum skill level required so you need to pick officers whose ratings will hit the target then send them off. Usually not so bad, but get someone in the team that refuses to work with junior officers or ones they personally dislike and all of a sudden there’s a full day of crime fighting that can’t be done efficiently because there’s a single individual as a blocker to action. In the original game you could fire employees (with some risk), but there’s no blanket option in This is the Police II – it only happens in some cases; so it’s like it or lump it until they quit the force, you manage to earn their respect , or you deliberately send them into a bad situation in a raid and get their family a death in service payout.
If there’s a great cop that you’ve poured experience points into, built an affinity with and trust to get the job done, don’t get too attached because there’s multiple ways for that relationship to end. They may decide to retire unexpectedly at the end of a shift, or get injured in a what should have been a routine bust. Most damaging though is when they buy it through no fault of your own. The aforementioned raids are new to This is the Police II and are reminiscent of XCOM’s tactical battles. There’s a scenario presented with intel available from witnesses, usually at a price, and you decide your plan of attack from there. Each officer has a set number of moves and a skill tree that means they can be good for sneaking in, breaking down doors, shooting, or negotiating a surrender. The tutorial does a reasonable job of giving you the basics, but when it comes to the cops that are not loyal to you, it all goes out of the window because they act as loose cannons. One particularly disastrous siege ended with all but one of my team dead and the felons escaping because two of the police decided to storm the place on their own. Costly not only in payoffs to the victims families, but also on the overall safety of the town.
This is the Police II’s biggest challenge is the management of the force rather than the situations themselves. A call out to someone threatening local shoppers can be easily dealt with by assigning the right skilled cop with the correct equipment and making sure you pick the right option at the scene. The trouble is more often than not you don’t have the cops to respond and that means a failed arrest and a virtual black mark against your performance. At the end of each day you’ll work out how well you’ve done by the number of beer can ring pulls in a glass. You earn them for success and have to pay them back for failure – leaving you with cash to spend or nothing in the pot. End up negative 3 days in a row and Lilly will shop you to the feds and it’s game over. It’s all too easy to make that happen through the seemingly random events that are thrown up, and even when you think you’ve nailed it and have a full squad in for a day, I guarantee there’ll be something that takes half of them away from service before there’s a chance to crank up the sirens on the cars.
Procedural police work offers up a chance of redemption by giving you cases to assign detectives to and work through more intricate evidence to piece together who the perpetrator is. Some are blindingly obvious from the start, but without evidence you can’t solve the case. Making sure you’ve the staff with the right intelligence levels to handle these is essential, though 9 times out of 10 you’ll want the resource fielding the multitude of calls and false alarms the come in daily. At least some of the calls end up being useful for making new contacts… Lilly isn’t the only one that knows Jack’s secret and payments need to be made to keep it all quiet, so cash is needed. Selling confiscated goods on the black market pulls in some coin, as does doing favours for the community’s shady types, and there’s a neat reversal where you can pay them for off the books support in keeping the precinct happy. Just make sure you use it if you pay for it, dollars go down the drain when the town shuts down at 1 am each morning.
Regardless of the new mechanics in place and the variations on the strategic play, the real draw of This is the Police II is the way the story is told and unfolded. It’s what keeps you coming back for more even after the times when you’ve sworn at your PC for the way it’s cheating with the game – not that it has, it’s the unjust and down right cruel way the world treats Jack. Brilliantly acted and well written, this wouldn’t feel amiss as a commissioned series on Netflix or Amazon. In many ways the game really just wants you to sit back and watch the drama, many of the cut-scenes feel longer than the days you’re virtually living out in a balance that wouldn’t seem right in most genres, but works to great effect here. It sometimes makes you wish for an option where there wasn’t a game over state that could be triggered too early.
For those who played and liked the first game, this is a beefier prospect with more to get to grips with – from the tactical combat missions to managing equipment in the department. It offers more depth, more options and more reward. Be aware though that it’s even more unforgiving and brutal in its treatment of the characters and you. For newcomers diving into this game there’s a lot to enjoy with the backstory of the first game revealed as it progresses, and it does a decent job of not alienating those unfamiliar with the way it plays – but it’s likely to frustrate even veterans in the early stages. Perseverance and determination are needed to make progress, but it’s going to be up to the player on whether the payoff is worth it in the end.
A Steam review copy of This Is The Police II was provide by THQ Nordic’s PR team, and the game is available on PC now for around £14, and will be coming to consoles later this year.