In This is the Police, players step into the role of Jack Boyd; a grizzled Police Chief who’s looking for one last big payday before he’s forced out of office. Whether you earn the $500,000 Jack needs from mostly legitimately means, or through more nefarious ways, is up to you - but with only 180 days in which to make your cool half million, you might find that the old adage isn’t actually true: crime does pay after all.
As well as keeping Jack’s superiors happy, players must also take into consideration the wellbeing of their employees, many of whom will come up with any excuse to get out of a day’s work. Say no too often, and you may find disgruntled officers go over your head and spark an investigation into your performance, which could lead to a severe pay cut. You can fire troublesome officers, but doing so without reason can lead to messy legal challenges.
Each officer has a numerical score and a coloured meter ranking their ability and mental state, which need to be taken into consideration when deciding who to send out on a call. Choose a weak or tired team and they may botch the response, leading to the perp escaping, or worse, civilians and other officers being killed. While a tragedy, a dead officer can also be an opportunity to earn some extra cash; by not declaring them officially deceased, Jack can keep on collecting their paycheck for himself, but at the cost of hiring a replacement officer
Occasionally, a crime will pop up that requires a detective’s skills to investigate. Answering these calls works in much the same way as a regular crime, in that you pick which detectives respond, but the results are less immediate.
Detectives provide witness statements and theoretical snapshots (some accurate, some less so) of crimes to give a summary of what went down, but it’s you who must piece it all together in the correct order. Do this, and it could lead to the chance to take down a much larger criminal organisation and earn a hefty cash reward.
While breaking up crime syndicates can be satisfying, investigations sometimes end up stagnating if you can’t quite pin down the correct sequence of events with all the evidence your detectives have provided. There is an option to call on a retired veteran who can bring new insight to investigations, but at $50,000 a pop, it’s a steep investment.
The way all these incidents spontaneously appear on the map might lead you to believe they are randomly generated encounters, but after a mishandled mafia war meant we had to restart the game from the beginning, it became apparent they are entirely scripted. Discovering this was slightly disappointing, rather than game breaking, but worse was learning that the earliest (and arguably biggest) of the narrative impacting decisions that the game occasionally presents the player with was not actually that much of a choice.
The decision in question is whether to help out a friend who’s in trouble with the mafia by taking his place as the mob’s inside man. After deciding to be a good pal the first time around and agreeing to help, this time we had Jack refuse, thus sealing our buddy’s fate. As it turns out though, the outcome of this decision is the same either way, with the only real difference being that Jack is effectively forced into helping the mafia rather than reluctantly volunteering, and your friend and his family meet a gruesome end instead of getting out.
Freeburg is overflowing with mobsters, petty criminals and caustic city officials, all of which can be used to your advantage.
Knowing this took some impact away from the rest of the decisions we encountered, and had us questioning whether our actions were having any meaningful influence on the story. Despite this, some solid writing, morally ambiguous characters and a narrative that frequently blurs the lines between good and bad, wrong and right mean it’s still an engrossing story, even if the ending doesn’t quite deliver. In fact, it’s in the latter stages of the campaign that This is the Police really starts to struggle.
After an initial flurry of cut scenes sets up an intriguing contest between Freeburg’s elite, the pace at which the story segments are delivered drops off massively, and the game’s second and third acts become increasingly drawn out. At around 20 hours of playtime needed to reach the finale, it’s not exactly the longest game out there, but with nothing to break up the core gameplay, This is the Police quickly becomes a repetitive slog, and not even the excellent soundtrack can rescue it.
Towards the tail end of the campaign we found it increasingly difficult to care about the welfare of our officers or the people of Freeburg; a stark contrast to the pang of guilt we felt the first time we turned a blind eye to a crime to make a quick buck and it led to a civilian’s death.
It’s hard to say whether this is intentional from the developers, and that your discomfort as the player is supposed to reflect the increasing level of detachment Jack begins to display. There’s a line towards the end of the game where Jack says he simply doesn’t care anymore, and it’s a decidedly profound moment, as chances are, at that point, you won’t either.
● Juggling the responsibilities of a Police Chief is surprisingly fun, if a little stressful
● Well-written dialogue with excellent voice acting
● Captivating power struggle between the city’s elite
● Busting your first crime syndicate is a rush
● Building up an effective crime fighting force is satisfying...
● … Losing it all to budget cuts or bad decisions is not
● Outcome of the opening choice is the same either way
● Gameplay becomes repetitive towards the second half of the game
● Disappointing ending
● Outstays its welcome