Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: This Is the Police


One great thing about indie games is that because of their reduced scale they can do things differently and take you to places you’ve never been mentally. This Is the Police is an excellent example of this in action, putting you in the shoes of an aging police chief, Jack Boyd, who gets embroiled in a pretty insane series of situations. While perhaps the outcome can only be influenced so much by all of the collective decisions you make through the game’s ultimate conclusion the journey was completely unique for me, and there’s something to be said for that.


You begin the game a bit off-balance, finding yourself facing the cameras at a press conference and being asked about many things you’ll ultimately come to understand much better but for the moment you’ll need to wing it. Within the first few days you’ll get to know all of the major players and you’ll even be forced to start making hard choices as well. There’s a sense as you make them that perhaps regardless of which paths you choose there are likely inevitabilities at play but you can still feel a gravity in which way you decide to go. The narrative side of the equation, as a whole, I found to be the strongest and most interesting element in the game. Animated in low-poly art slides and excellently voice narrated there’s a story going on that grabbed my interest and kept me playing through to the next day, curious about how events would unfold and how my decisions may have influenced them.

Your control in the day-to-day sim side of the game is also interesting, and often hectic, but perhaps deliberately it often feels like an exercise in aggravation. At the high end you’ll need to manage the cops and detectives on your force, dispatching them to incoming calls for a wide variety of incidents or assigning them to investigations. Oh, if only it were that easy! Every day is a resource battle and the moral of the story seems to be that no matter what in order to make that omelet some eggs are going to have to be broken. Your choice in the matter will often be who is paying the price for that.


If members of your force ask off for the day (for a truly amusing variety of reasons) do you tell them no and risk reduced morale? Do you let them and risk encouraging irresponsible behavior and being short on staff, potentially putting citizens or other cops at risk? Do you simply decide not to respond to calls that you assume aren’t that serious? Do you send inexperienced members of your force to a scene and risk negative outcomes of a variety of types? To complicate matters as the game progresses you’ll have additional layers of motivations for either responding to or ignoring calls. Want to keep someone in the mob happy or get a cash infusion for looking the other way? There will also be incidents that begin to go south where you’ll need to make judgment calls on how to resolve them, whether through more peaceful means or by force. Often the fate of your officers and civilians will rest on which path you choose and you ultimately can’t predict the outcomes so you’ll need to be instinctive and hope for the best. What you’ll find are a lot of decisions to be made and that all of them can create as many problems as they solve. If you’re the type of person who wants to play a perfect game this will likely frustrate you, and in many ways I think that’s the point in the game to a large degree.

That sense of futility may also be one of the game’s greatest flaws, and a lot of the problem is that there’s simply too much going on at once. There are timed events that could require you to fire (or find shadier means to get rid of) personnel or to completely dedicate your resources to a single purpose and then neglect their normal duties. You can choose to comply and risk problems on one side of the coin in the form of litigation or investigations or you could ignore the orders and be forced to live with the consequences of that in the form of penalties, especially when dealing with city hall who could choose to cut your budget and force you to eliminate positions. The detective track is there for longer-term investigations, which mostly end up being about reviewing pictures that represent the crime and you try to put together the proper sequence based on eyewitness testimony, but it seems half-baked and under-utilized. There are your ongoing problems with trying to deal with people asking off, people who are hitting the bottle too hard, and simply officers you may lose in the line of duty. You’ll fight with city hall. You’ll be pushed and pulled in different directions depending on how you decide to approach the various factions of the criminal underbelly of the city. It can be a bit overwhelming and ultimately you often get a sense of helplessness in trying to believe that you’re truly managing things for anything more than simply staying alive.


The thing is, to a great degree, I believe that’s the point of the exercise and for the most part I commend the effort that has been put into the overall experience. This Is the Police ends up being a pretty fascinating character study of a man with good intentions who’ll need to make a lot of bad decisions. You can try to maintain your integrity but the game seems to be written in the direction of not letting you do so for long, or at least not without paying such a steep price that you see the wisdom in picking and choosing when you’ll need to go dirty with good intentions… or at least you’ll tell yourself that. Games like these ask you to put yourself in a different position and then force you to play out events in a world where the deck is stacked against you and you don’t have the luxury of surviving without doing some unsavory things and pairing with terrible people. While it isn’t a perfect game in execution and it can be frustrating, often on purpose, it does make for a fascinating ride.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A strong narrative full of drama, intrigue, and moral ambiguity for you to ponder over
  • The presentation of the cut-scenes does a fabulous job of sucking you into the story and is the backbone of the overall experience
  • I never felt at ease or comfortable and on top of the situation, and in this case I believe that is intended

Cons:
  • The nature of the story and events can be challenging and won’t leave you much room to be moral, you’ll only have control over which bad paths you decide to take
  • There are overlaps in timed and random events at times that are aggravating. Even if you’re not supposed to be able to dig out of all situations unscathed this can still push into feeling unfair at times
  • Some aspects of the overall experience are better developed and full-featured than others, the investigative track seems a bit light and is more of an afterthought than I’d have liked


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