This Is The Police 2 Review
As the follow up to 2016’s This Is The Police, Weappy Studio has produced a sequel which expands the core mechanics of their resource management simulator in significant ways. Unfortunately this new entry is still prone to some of the bugbears of its predecessor: the unsatisfying way in which you are dragged through the campaign — and being somewhat rough around the edges — may prove too unsatisfying for much of its potential audience to be able to recommend too highly.
Commencing with a lengthy introductory cutscene interspersed with tutorials, This Is The Police 2 shows rogue police commander Jack Boyd on the run since the events of the first game, and settling into the small town of Sharpwood — a frostbitten and isolated community far away from the repercussions of his chequered past. A case of mistaken identity later, and Jack is locked up in the county jail by step-up Sheriff Lilly Reed. The previous sheriff has been ambushed and killed by a local gang, so struggling under her new responsibilities and aided by a swift dash of this-doesn’t-make-any-sense plotting, Reed allows you out of your cell to take over the daily duties of running the precinct.
As crime reports come in each day, your job is to assign troops to answer the calls, and then make multiple choice judgements as to how best to resolve each situation. Your available roster is displayed along the bottom of the screen, and holding up on the D-pad when highlighting each officer will show you their individual merits, which can be upgraded over time by earning experience from successful arrests. Instead of just throwing random officers in the direction of the disturbance — whether civil unrest, assault, theft, or the activities of the many followers of the local cult — you need to ensure that you’ve got the right people for the task at hand. A hostage situation would need attending officers with a higher negotiation or shooting ability, whereas a more directly physical altercation would be best suited to individuals with strength or speed bonuses. This Is The Police 2 does a great job of making your squad individuals instead of faceless grunts, and you’ll quickly develop associations with each one under your direction. It will come as no surprise that a number of officers are unpleasant, bigoted, or prejudiced in some way. Taking into account which cops will work together and obey your orders adds another level to the management system. The first couple of in-game days play out smoothly enough, but as the incoming distress calls rise in frequency and requirements, you’ll find yourself short-staffed and struggling to juggle time-sensitive crime reports with over-exerted troops. Your officers have energy levels, which are depleted initially by responding to events, but even further if you force them to work multiple days in a row.
Balancing the many different components needed to make a successful run as the improperly elected police chief of Sharpwood takes a deal of finesse, and completing a day can feel satisfying when everything has been resolved without issue. After the first week or so, the game begins to dig its heels in against you. Inundated with crimes that need responding to, limited staffing means snap judgement decisions have to be made about which crimes need the most immediate response, and which you hope will be false alarms that can resolve themselves amicably.
Additional spanners are thrown in the works thick and fast: officers not turning up for their shifts, or turning up drunk if they do (often resulting in a car crash if you send them out on a mission); loyalties turning against you if your charges disagree with decisions you have made, and refusing to follow direct orders; pressure from local business owners and crime families to answer at their beck and call, or risk them blowing your cover to the feds. This Is The Police 2 has the tendency to spiral out of control in a short period, where being short staffed leads to exhausted officers which leads to accidents which leads to fewer people available to cover a shift which leads to more unanswered crimes which leads to a lower and lower rating each day — and all the while there are side investigations to research and snitches to pay off and special missions to complete. The game punishes you exponentially and without mercy. There’s no sense of identity either as you assume control of Boyd. Corrupt as you may be when taking bribes in scripted events, you can’t ignore one crime over another without being penalised.
Criticising the difficult nature of the game isn’t what I’m going for here. This Is The Police 2 establishes a tight rule of order for you to learn to maximise your success in the early stages, but then throws random, uncontrollable events at you. My top officer was randomly kidnapped by gang members while returning from a standard call-out. Another officer was unknowingly allergic to nuts, and died responding to a tame argument at a bakery. Unable to prepare for the unexpected, and with no control over events when they do arise (having it narrated to you in the past tense undermines any sense of agency you thought you might be attaining) means that the only reward for surviving another day is to see what undeserved punishment is in store for you next. These upsets don’t disrupt; they decimate — and no amount of preparation can avoid them. As a result, you are just too helpless and too powerless, and this is in a genre which traditionally rewards decisive actions and strategy. Even as you perfect your internal strategies for your squad, external factors on the day-to-day gameplay override everything that the game has taught you previously.
A new feature for This Is The Police 2 is an XCOM-style third-person strategy approach to select special missions, which requires tactical planning and careful turn-based actions to survive an encounter with numerous suspects. These are presented very nicely in a traditional isometric view. The fixed camera angle and height gives the well-detailed settings a diorama feel, and directing your officers around the stage is a tense affair. Each controllable character has two moves to take in each round, and these can be spent how you like on movement, shooting, arresting, or to utilise a number of specialist skills the individual may have acquired through experience from completing jobs in the main game mode. These tactical missions are varied in setting and goal, and break up the monotony of the day-to-day call and response of the core gameplay, although they do only crop up every week or so.
Between each day played out in This Is The Police 2 comes the overarching storyline. It’s a tired story of corrupt officials and clashing personalities as Jack Boyd struggles his way through his new position heading up Sharpwood’s ‘finest’. These motion-comic styled cutscenes can last anything from five minutes up to fifteen, and when your actual gameplay time for each in-game day is only around five minutes on average, you’ll begin to question whether you’d rather just skip it all and get back to running your crooked ship. If tiresomely lengthy cutscenes are still your bag, more annoying is the actual audio performance. An early interrogation scene has a character hurling abuse at a suspect, and as their voice reaches a volume which the recording equipment wasn’t set up to handle it produces a crackling distortion. The voice acting is uniformly two-dimensional, with characters often choosing a tone that confuses the message that they’re meant to be conveying. The script is generally fine, but also grossly overwritten, and loves belabouring a point until a scene has outstayed its welcome. The quantity of the dialogue and background writing which has gone into this game for cutscenes and case descriptions is impressive, but would benefit from a close edit, which you would imagine to be patched in soon after launch — especially when spelling mistakes and repeated words jumble the walls of text which you’re required to read before making decisions.
The most interesting aspect of This Is The Police 2 is the tone. Whilst at times bizarre, the behaviour and corruption of the Sharpwood residents are not presented in the satirical way you might well expect in the wake of titles as popular as the Grand Theft Auto series. Instead, the events of this game are consistently presented as muted and matter-of-fact. This is not the game to lend you hope that no crime goes unpunished, or that one plucky soul can change the system from within. Throughout your control of Jack Boyd you aren’t even presented with a wheel to put your shoulder against — all you can do each day is re-apply plasters to the shotgun wound that threatens to bleed your small slice of America to its last drop. The game is frustrating, and deeply unfair on an initial playthrough, but tone dictates that this should not be viewed as an uphill battle with some grand victory at the top. Instead the monotonous trudge is to just tick as many boxes as you can each day and hope to be able to continue it all again the next. This Is The Police 2 isn’t against you: it just doesn’t care.
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