It takes a brave team to release a game based around shooting criminals as police officers in 2015. Battlefield Hardline has continuously been questioned about its portrayal of the police force throughout its entire development following the controversial events that occurred in the USA last year. However, there is another cop-based shooter that has snuck under the radar a little, which goes by the name of LA Cops. The game is akin to Hotline Miami, sharing features such as the isometric camera and fast paced gameplay. Unfortunately though this is where comparisons between the two end, because LA Cops is a repetitive, frustrating and mundane shooter that does nothing to benefit the genre.
It is immediately obvious that LA Cops is heavily inspired by the detective shows of the 1970’s, moustaches and all. And while this is an interesting theme to base your game around, it has no real impact on the story. In actual fact, hardly any story is told at all. The plot focuses on six cops who are there purely to just do their job, get paid and then go home. The player learns a bit about each character through cutscenes in-between missions, but they feel out of place. This is because the missions our enforcers are actually sent out on are not given the same treatment. Every level is introduced through a text box containing one or two sentences detailing the situation and what you are there to do, which is far too basic compared to the cutscene we’ve just watched. It is confusing to see a large emphasis placed on the cops themselves, when there isn’t any story to actually tell there. The levels the player experiences form the crooks of the game and any motivation for progression, and yet they’re relegated to a simple text box? An odd design choice.
After a bare bones tutorial, we were thrown into our first mission in LA Cops. The player gains control of two policemen, who can be switched between on the fly. The game controls like your typical isometric shooter with movement mapped to the left thumbstick, aiming controlled with the right stick and shooting done with the right trigger. At its core, LA Cops is all about traversing through a level and killing anything that steps in your path. While this can be done manually, the game has a targeting system that will help you to no end. With a press of the X button, the aiming cursor will snap to a nearby enemy allowing you to dispose of them quickly. Unfortunately though, this only works well about half the time. On numerous occasions we would be faced with multiple foes and our cursor would lock on to the wrong enemy, meaning the criminal we were trying to kill would take us out first. Theoretically you’d think the mechanic would lock onto the attacker closest to your cursor, but there were far too many instances where it was seemingly picking an enemy on screen at random. The targeting system was handy throughout our time with the game, but it would need to be tuned and tweaked for us to say it’s something that could be relied upon.
To complement the unreliable targeting system, LA Cops’ eight main levels all look and feel very similar to one another. Almost every stage took the form of a generic office building, with only a few changes here and there to try and make things feel a little fresh. To make this even worse, the mission objectives tied to these environments are also very lacklustre. Targets normally include a general sweep of the building, taking out every villain inside, with later missions incorporating objectives such as destroying every server on the current floor or blowing up drugs tables. Everything you do revolves around shooting or destroying things, and this repetitive gameplay became boring after only thirty minutes. You’d think that things would get better and more enjoyable if we played through the game co-operatively, but it was baffling to find that no such option exists, neither online or locally. This is strictly a singleplayer experience that becomes tedious after only half an hour of gameplay, and that is unacceptable in this modern era of videogames.
If you weren’t already bored by the monotonous gameplay then you’ll definitely be frustrated by LA Cops’ uneven AI. While enemies generally always spawn in the same area of the map when you begin a mission, their paths through the environment are seemingly quite random, and this creates a lot of problems for the player. Sometimes you’ll be able to enter a room and take out guards one by one without their buddies hearing and continue your quest. If you were to die later on and have to replay that particular room then the enemies could have taken a different path and upon your dispatch of the first crook, every adversary in the vicinity would be alerted to your presence and hunt you down indefinitely. Due to the minuscule amount of health you have throughout the entire game, this AI mechanic creates random difficulty spikes for the player. You could say that this keeps things fresh for the player because one location will never be completely the same, but when you’ve just breezed through that particular area only to be greeted by a brick wall of death upon your return, it just feels unfair.
To combat this, players can upgrade the cops they use in the upgrade system accessed between missions. You earn points for every kill you make, completing objectives and finishing the level, and these are then translated into XP which is used to enhance your chosen police officer. XP can be used to improve speed, health, damage, clip size and unlock extra weapons for use at the start of a level. It’s a very simple upgrade structure but it’s easy-to-use, and we appreciated that. In a time where RPGs use huge skill trees that can become convoluted and confusing, it’s sometimes welcomed to return to something that is easy to follow and understand.
LA Cops is a short game, its eight missions can be completed in just under two hours. The previously mentioned points you gain for doing things throughout an errand are totalled up at the end and then placed on a leaderboard, and this does promote some replayability for those who want it. We did experience one small glitch where the loading icon didn’t disappear at the beginning of a level which meant our view was obscured, but overall the game ran smoothly.
Ultimately though, LA Cops is a very mediocre experience. The 1970s theme is largely unexplored, the story is almost non-existent and its gameplay is flawed in a number of ways. While the targeting system does have potential and we enjoyed progressing through the upgrade tree, they’re not enough to save this game from utter mediocrity. There is some fun to be had in LA Cops, but its repetitive nature, frustrating AI and tedious gameplay means it will be very short-lived.