'This is the Police' PS4 Review: A Fun Management Sim Hidden Inside A Disappointing Story

this is the police
Artwork for This is the Police. (c) THQ Nordic

This is the Police has been out since summer of 2016 on PC, but only recently launched on PS4 and Xbox One. With no major changes to the gameplay, how does This is the Police stand up as a console experience?

It still feels like a PC game. The port controls are fine. You spend much of the time staring at the same gray management screen, which feels normal on a PC but is a huge waste of my 55” TV.

Speaking of which, on my TV, the screen was cropped on all sides. Part of the charm of consoles is laziness: pop it in and it should just work. So let’s just say that was a big disappointment straight out the gate.The game offers no visual option to fix this, and fiddling with my PS4 and TV settings did nothing. There is a “settings” cog wheel in the middle of the bar atop the screen but no way to reach it. I could never tell how much money I had exactly, never read the first full word of any mission on the left-hand side, and the bottom and right sides of the screen were cropped as well.

The still frames that comprise the game’s narrative element also don’t need a 55” screen in order to be appreciated. The art is not super intricate and can be appreciated just as well on a 15” laptop screen. The voice acting and music didn’t benefit in any appreciable way from coming via my TV speakers instead of my PC speakers.

About the only console-tastic twist I appreciated in This is the Police is that the dispatcher’s voice comes out of the PS4 controller. It felt kind of cool in a little kid way, like you could hold up the controller and pretend it was a radio and talk back to the dispatcher. “4013 in progress kkkt we’re on our way kkkt copy kkkkt over!” But the ongoing display issue was a bigger bummer than anything else.

As far as the game itself, I never played it on PC, so I came to This is the Police with new and fresh eyes. At first I was drowned in wonder: I loved the writing, I loved the character of Jack Boyd and the tough-as-nails, tired-as-shit voice Jon St. Jon gives him, and I was all about this Mafia war. I carefully followed directives to make sure I didn’t give one crime family too much of a lead over the other lest I get killed. Then the victor of the Mafia wars is crowned, and… it turns out not to really matter, ultimately.

The investigations aspect of the game could be fun, but it ends up frustrating more often than not. You have to assign detectives to a case and they will provide frames for you to place in order, constructing the case’s narrative based on the interviews from a handful of witnesses. You never know whether or not you have all the frames available; the detectives might stop coming up with frames, but does that mean you have to assign more detectives? The game doesn’t let you know.

After you put together the frames correctly you get a lead on a suspect. You send a detective along with two officers to pick the suspect up and hopefully you picked the right location. Then you may have the chance to either turn that suspect into an informant (if it’s gang-related) or interrogate/torture that suspect for more information.

That’s when This is the Police goes where I can’t follow. I understand dark humor and edginess; the game loves dancing all over that fine line, dropping lots of “feminists this” and “dark-skinned men that” and “crush the LGB protests” (where’s the T?) and random hate speech in the cases and missions you get, reflecting the colorful population of Freeburg. But a torture mini-game? I can’t even tell you how it plays because my stomach flipped over and I immediately backed out of the screen. It’s as viscerally repulsive as a rape mini-game and really reflects poorly on the game’s taste level, which I’d made excuses for up to that point.

As for the writing, what’s exciting during the Mafia wars gets markedly less so as the game drags on through days 60 to 160 or so, with long monotonous stretches of mission management in between narration that feels increasingly less impressive. At first Jack is worried about his missing wife, but then later it turns out to be a big nothing.

Jack also strikes up a vaguely creepy friendship with Lana, the most unbelievable character in the game, who calls Jack out of the blue to tell him that she will be the city’s next prosecutor and spends lots of time giggling on the phone with him about how she’s like, totally used to older men and oh hey, the Mayor raped her, which is definitely something a young woman on the verge of a career triumph would spill to the Chief of Police. Nothing about Lana rings true as a character; it’s like Jack collaborated with Woody Allen to make her up out of a haze of loneliness and pills.

At the end, there’s something about Lana mentioned in a letter but I have no idea what because my brain had turned off 40 days ago, so Lana doesn’t even get to be present in her plot’s own resolution.

Another thing that makes the game a whole lot less fun? Getting on City Hall’s bad side. I mean, it’s budget cut after budget cut after budget cut. In most management sims you’d have some kind of graph or tracker that measures City Hall’s attitude towards you and helps guide you towards actions they’ll like and dislike. In This is the Police , I can only guess that refusing Municipal missions because I don’t have enough officers will make City Hall like you less, leading to them cutting more officers, leading to definitely not having enough officers to deal with Municipal missions ever, leading to an end game where you have 3 cops on each shift and only 2 detectives.

And if City Hall hates you (I think), you get hit with tons of special investigations, which will take three officers off the roster for a few days until the investigations are over. When you only have three officers on your roster, that means a lot of time staring at the gray city management screen, watching homicides and false alarms roll through while helpless to do anything about any of it. They’ll also take 25 percent of your bank account, which is brutal.

By the way, if you thought you could offset your losses by cutting detective slots instead of cop slots? The entire endgame is dependent on having enough detectives to investigate where to place troops in a final assault, so you will be 100 percent boned if you don’t have at least five. If you only have five, you’ll need to have them work days and days in a row. You can ignore investigations and detectives for literally the entire game if you want, yet the endgame is totally dependent on them, which doesn’t seem right. (I ended up just seeking out the answer online, since the placement of troops is just as finicky as the placement of investigation frames.)

Finally, there’s the ending, which could provide Mass Effect 3 fans a master class in disappointment. I understand that the game’s not sunshine and roses, but literally not a single goal that was set for you matters at all. You play a game so that the things you do have a result that matters somehow. Your actions are meaningful in a game; you play the game and get an ending based on how you play, or you follow a hell of a story, or the gameplay itself is the reward.

This is the Police just stabs you, leaves the shiv in for over a hundred days, then yanks it out at the very end. For the pacing to be so haphazard, followed by a completely unsatisfactory ending, really leaves one feeling sour.

There are also at least two instances in the game where it will suddenly switch to a retro game mode, which is baffling and annoying. There’s no explanation or warning and the results of your little retro game affect nothing. You can’t just decide to play the minigames whenever, you can’t go back to them, you can’t get better at them. What is the point?

The music in the game is a fun selection of jazz, classical and some retrowave towards the end (you can tell what act of the game you’re on based on whether you’re purchasing vinyl, casette tapes or CDs). But the game makes you pick a song every day for 180 days . Please kill me! Just let me make a playlist or something and auto-play it. This choice is so insignificant and yet I have to make it every single day. Why?

There’s an endless mode unlocked after you finish the game which just lets you focus on the management part of This is the Police, which is fun in its own grindy management kind of way without the focus on all of Jack Boyd’s goals that don’t matter in the end. The investigations, deciding which cops to send on which missions, little niceties like sending professional high-ranking cops out with unreliable scrubs in order to end up making a good cop out of garbage, all of that is actually pretty fun. But it’s the accompanying narrative that really lets you down, so playing without it is the most fun you’ll have, console or not.

This is the Police is available via Steam, the Xbox Store and the PlayStation Store as well as in boxed editions at your local games retailer.

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