Sadly not a tie-in for the Limmy sketch of a similar name, This is the Police is nevertheless an interesting if flawed corruption simulator. As the outgoing chief of police of Freeburg, Jack Boyd, you have 180 days to earn 500,000 dollars before you retire. You’ve also got to oversee investigations, assign units to tackle everyday crimes, and try not to get your head cut off by the reigning kingpins of organised crime.
So there’s a lot to do, and for most of its gametime This is the Police does actually feel quite a lot like work. While the main screen is an isometric map of Freeburg, the game is at its core a resource management sim. Each working day sees you juggling staff morale and tiredness, while picking the best officers for the jobs which come in over the radio. You’ll promote and fire individuals, and develop a strange attachment to your troops, who can be killed on the job or simply retire. As with the real thing there’s not enough time, money, or people to go around, meaning you’ll often send weaker officers to less important calls, if you even send them at all.
Divorced from the action itself (for the most part) you’re rolling a dice and seeing what comes up, and there’s a sort of compulsive mundanity to it all, sitting there, watching the world burn or not burn as a result of your actions. This mundanity is key to the game’s ambitions, because it deadens your attachment to any of it, making rampant corruption easier to stomach. You can earn the $500k by hitting all your targets and arresting the big bad guys, but it’s probably easier to just tell the mafia you won’t turn up to their various crimes and pocket 5 to 8 grand a day in the process.
Soon you’ll settle into a zoned-out administrative rhythm, sending officers out to perform civic duties as well as investigate crime scenes (local power players will give you money or services in return for protection or promotion) and arguing with city hall about budgets or equipment. It’s never exciting, per se – although certain hostage negotiations have a choose your own adventure feel about them and can get a little tense – but you will find that days have gone by without you noticing.
The drama, if you can call it that, at the heart of This is the Police is found at the beginning and end of the working day, where a cutscene will play showing just how much shit Jack is in. He’s little more than an archetype: the addiction-addled top cop whose wife has left him; who is skirting the law; who is in with some very bad people. The story is so melodramatic it’s almost funny, and the drawn-out analogies and descriptions, most drawled by Duke Nukem actor Jon St John, are reminiscent of Max Payne, that other testament to bad writing and earnest performance.
The cycle repeats from day to day: story, job, story, job, with only intermittent detective cases – where you have to present evidence in a series of ‘frames’ in sequence to solve the thing – to provide much distraction. That said, I’m only on day 10 or so: maybe it picks up. And maybe the rather dull nature of This is the Police is its real strength, showing that corruption isn’t just found in big deals, but in small pockets of power and influence, and most of the people involved don’t even see it as corruption, but as the rather mundane everyday.
Maybe we’re the monste(No -Ed)