It’s been a while since I played a gritty game about cops, so This Is the Police really hit the spot. L.A. Noire is still my favorite video game of all time, so I knew pretty much what to expect from the Noire sub-genre even if This Is the Police is at least partly a police station simulator. Now that’s something you don’t play daily. Developer Weappy Studio’s first Steam project and I have to appreciate their attempt to simulate a topic that few PC titles approached so far.
To call This Is the Police a story-driven experience seems more like an understatement. Along with the soundtrack which I shall detail further below, the story is the game’s strongest point. Ironically the weak points are also drawn from its narrative thread. I shall do my best to avoid any spoilers since you need to find most of the subplots yourself while playing. Noire sub-genre means first and foremost, a story about flawed characters in an equally flawed environment. In our case, city-wide corruption. Freeburg seems like a small-scale carbon copy of Gotham City. With morally questionable city officials, it’s no surprise that the Freeburg Police Department shall have its share of the taint.
Our journey begins on the day Police Chief Jack Boyd finds about “his resignation” during a press conference. Freeburg’s shady Mayor Rogers wishes to install one of his cronies in Boyd’s place and get rid of our seemingly incorruptible protagonist. Boyd may be the perfect stereotype of the aging police officer with his own assortment of vices and dysfunctional family, yet so far he avoided taking bribes or following through on amoral orders from his superiors. This is sadly about to change and you have to accept that This Is the Police won’t let you take the Serpico path of unrelenting justice. To understand how rare an incorruptible cop might have been in the 1970s media, see Al Pacino’s 1973 classic, Serpico. The action in the title I’m reviewing today might be estimated to have taken place in the 1980s, judging by the cars and prevalence of vinyls and turntables.
What’s important to understand in Jack Boyd’s shifting behavior is that he only has 180 days remaining in office before he gets forcibly retired from the police force and curiously, he has so far gathered no amount at all in his pension fund, despite the fact that he’s 60 years old. Jack drives a jalopy, has a modest house and often clashes with his corrupt superiors from City Hall and even some subordinates from his police station. So the chess pieces have been set in motion: six months to amass half a million dollars for Jack’s apparently carefree retirement. If you think that you can earn that much through honest cop work, you missed the point of the game. I guess in the end, This Is the Police wants to see how far will players go in their quest to earn an insane amount of cash (as far as civil servants are concerned, at least) in such a limited time frame. The salary won’t cut it, that’s a certainty.
I mentioned above that you can’t reach far without getting your hands dirty. That is sadly true and I am not particularly fond of being offered just the illusion of gameplay or storyline choices. Being a hardworking and completely honest police chief and refusing to cooperate with the city’s thugs, shall get you whacked by the local mafia in less than two weeks of in-game time. On the other hand being rotten to the core and helping them out all the time, may result in a quick illicit profit, but the State attorney general and Internal Affairs shall put you behind bars in about a month. Getting killed or incarcerated spells “Game Over” in both cases, naturally.
So you have to alternate between the good cop/bad cop routine as if you’re suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. Boyd mustn’t follow the corrupt mayor to the letter, but he has to assist or turn a blind eye to the criminal activity on some occasions and also keep his staff happy while splitting the loot with them. Not the kind of police chief I was expecting to simulate, to be frank. Don’t give me black & white options if you know grey is the only way to complete the game.
This Is the Police is made with Unity Engine assets and has opted for a mix between the minimalist and comic book visual styles. It’s pure 2D rendering along with skippable cutscences and no graphical elements that might put a strain even on older GPUs. I experienced no bugs or glitches and obviously no problems running it at a stable frame rate and 4K resolution.
No gritty cop tale is complete without smooth jazz playing in the background. Couple that with some very convincing voice acting and you have a video game that successfully manages to endear or antagonize by case, the title’s rich cast of characters. The OST needs to be included separately on Steam, in my opinion. It reminded me of Boardwalk Empire and its sharply dressed and equally corrupt officials of Atlantic City. Freeburg draws inspiration from many gangster-infested cities. At least the music was great back then. Here’s a sample of This Is the Police’s soundtrack:
Storyline intertwines perfectly with the gameplay so I’ll try to write over here, what’s been left out on the Story section of the review. You might be tempted to compare This Is the Police with a board game since it offers you the interface of Freeburg’s map and deployable cards for the patrolmen under your direct control. You need to send out either policemen/policewomen to daily cases & emergencies or detectives for the more sensitive operations involving gang warfare and organization. The fact that you have to collaborate with so many corrupt individuals does take a toll on your overall performance and ability to rid the city of offenders and suspects.
Your subordinates work in two shifts, alternating daily. Yet some of those lazy and/or drunkard cops might find even the most outlandish reason to skip work for a day or two. It’s up to you to reign them in and also request from the City Hall more employment slots. The more officers you have at your disposal for various tasks, the better the chances to right at least a few of Freeburg’s many wrongs. In a darkly humorous manner, the prosecution team breathing down your neck (meant to be the incorruptible faction in the game) seems to harm justice as well by always trying to reduce your work force. Fire half my team, guys. That’s gonna do the city a whole lot of good!
The game is fully worth its price tag and offers the Steam Auxiliaries that any collector desires. As for a conclusion, I consider myself to be more pragmatic than cynical yet my version of cynicism doesn’t seek out victory at any and all costs. L.A. Noire’s Detective Cole Phelps may be deeply flawed yet he stays true to his convictions and chosen profession: upholding the law. This Is the Police’s Chief Boyd? He burns as many bridges as he has to, in search for his damned retirement fund. It’s still blood money, Jack.
All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.