The world of indie games can be a bit hit and miss at the best of times; yet in among the countless cash-in clones you can find some wonderful innovative gems. This is the Police certainly falls into the latter category, if only just about. It takes the risky path of a text based narrative and combines it with an almost god-sim strategy, all in an art-style like an aeroplane safety card come to life. However, while the strategy side holds its own as a refreshingly simple and fun approach to the genre, the story side manages to fall a bit flat on its face.
This first time outing for developers Weappy studio puts you in the shoes of Police Chief Jack Boyd; a ‘hero’ to the citizens just six months away from forced retirement due to a corruption scandal. In fact the game starts with you in the middle of a press conference discussing that very thing, allowing you to get a feel for the game's tone and style, as you navigate various questions with answers that range from optimistic to to non-committal or just plain rude.
This gives you the idea that you may be crafting a character, that your responses here might be shaping Boyd’s outlook and personality, but it is all an illusion of choice, something the game does far too often.
Tired of fighting against corruption from the Mayor and in his own office Boyd has decided that he wants to make half a million dollars before he retires, and it's up to the player to decide how far he will go, except the choices you make don't seem to make any difference at all. Despite how much you might try to cling to the moral high ground the narrative will not allow you to deviate from its set path in any meaningful way. The story leans heavily on a cocktail of noir cliches, stretching for gritty realism, and at points Boyd starts to sound like a slightly less cynical Watchmen’s Rorschach. The main issue is the disconnect from what the player is actually doing. You could make Jack the most corrupt and sleazy police chief there is, working for the mob and collecting paychecks for officers he had killed to avoid the mess of firing someone, and the story would still paint him as a champion of the people.
This Is The Police comes into its own during the strategy side of the game. These sections encompass the day-to-day workings of the Freeburg police. A model of the city is used as a map, incoming calls and emergencies popping up in little coloured bubbles over their corresponding location, and you have to assign officers, detectives or resources like SWAT or a paddy wagon to each one. Officers appear at the bottom of the screen in the form of cards, each one showing their performance level, their energy, and rank. After clicking on the emergency you drag and drop the officers you want to send into the open slots; the more slots a mission has available the more difficult it is, and the officers are then unavailable until the mission is complete.
Here's where some degree of planning comes into the game. If you send an officer with low performance, or professionalism, then there's a high chance the task will fail. Failure can lead to a drop in performance levels, officers quitting, or even death. You can back up your low-level officers with better suited ones, increasing the chance of success, but that could leave you understaffed for the next call which could be a lot more serious. Do you send a handful of officers in an attempt to complete the call successfully and increase the future performance of your weaker cops, or do you risk it and hold back your better officers in case a homicide comes in? Of course there is always the chance that even if you send in all your best people the mission can still fail. On occasion you might be called on to make a decision on their behalf. Do they go through the front door, or back? Do they try to talk the person down from the ledge, or tackle them and hope? One wrong choice here can lead to not only all your police officers dead, but civilian casualties as well. There are also times when the mafia will call on you to complete tasks. There's no risk of death, but whoever you send may rat on you, leaving you to make the decision - bribe or kill?
As if this wasn’t enough, the game decides that the grit just in the main story doesn't get the point across, it needs to trickle down into the management sections. On the fourth day the Mayor's office calls on you to do one thing: fire all black officers due to rising racial tensions. You can chose to obey, and be rewarded with a roster upgrade or pay rise next time you have the option to ask for one at city hall, or you can ignore the mayor and suffer a pay cut, downsizing, or even a firing. A few days later you are tasked with suppressing a feminist protest and told to “show them what intimidation looks like, up close and personal.” If you fail to authorise force then you fail the task. After that point most of the missions seem to be for the sole purpose of making the player uncomfortable. They go through the dystopian noir tropes and clean out the other side. Soon missions begin to flood in ranging from deal with the blacks that ‘just want attention’ to someone's strapped a bomb to a child and worse. While it's undeniable that terrible things will happen in every city in Freeburg they seem to happen on an hourly basis. Weappy have released a press statement insisting that This Is The Police is “not a political game but a human one”. This means that the issues addressed in the game are only there for the sake of the story which, between mob wars, Boyd’s runaway wife, and the mayor's increasingly twisted requests, is quite dark enough.
In the end the management of the police force, with detective ‘make a story’ puzzles and juggling gang informants, makes for a nice break from the text-heavy story; but at 180 days long it becomes a chore. The length of the game is disproportionate to the amount of content available; it feels spread thin and repetitive. The enjoyment felt by the innovative mix of visual novel and resource sim soon gives way to tedium. Coupled with the non-stop barrage of difficult issues that the writers mistake for dark realism the game soon becomes akin to a dirge; narrated by Duke Nukem's Jon St.John.
This Is The Police is Weappy’s first outing into game development and its shows promise. Gameplay-wise it is a solid performer, it's easy to pick up and get into, with no difficult mechanics. The only downfall is the story attempts to do too much and as a result it drags on a bit. If they can learn to lighten up and provide a bit more variety in future titles, then Weappy are certainly ones to watch.