Beat Cop PC Developed by Pixel Crow Released in 2016
While games about committing crime have always been plentiful, with the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row standing prominently at the forefront, there are much fewer games inclined to put you on the other side of the law. While gaming used to have APB and some sandbox games will have a police mini-game, we don’t often see games that really let you feel like a cop, perhaps because the mechanics for doing so are less immediately obvious. While in a previous indie month we tried our hand at This Is The Police, I found another title in my inventory going by Beat Cop.
Framed and forgotten
Beat Cop puts you in the shoes of Kelly, a hard-working investigator for the police force who ends up being framed. When responding to a burglary in progress at the estate of a local big shot, Kelly ends up shooting a young man only to find the bedroom safe looted and the actual criminal vanished. Denounced for his excessive use of force and blamed for the disappearance of the safe’s contents, Kelly is demoted to a rank-and-file street officer. His colleagues hate his guts, the streets are a mess, and it soon becomes clear that Kelly’s life is not certain. Your only ally is an old friend from the force, but with his retirement imminent Kelly has a mere 21 days to discover the truth behind the burglary.
While off to a great start, I have to say I find the storytelling in Beat Cop really obnoxious. Basing itself on 80’s cop movies and set in the grim streets of a corrupt major city, barely a line of dialogue goes by that doesn’t contains swears, some raunchy comment, or just general negativity. I assume the developers wanted to create a rough, downtown setting, but I really found the constant flow of vitriol frustrating, unfunny, and desensitizing. Furthermore, dialogue pops up a line at a time via speech bubbles and every conversation is long and drawn out. Sometimes characters just won’t shut up, one after the other jumping in to force you into a chat, and by the third day I already found myself button mashing through it as fast as possible.
This then led to problems later down the line, as I would miss important tips and instructions. Sure, I am partly to blame for this due to rushing through dialogue, but the whole game urges you to keep moving and be in a hurry. You are constantly in a rush and dashing around, making it really annoying to come to a complete stop to work through the game’s incessant dialogue.
Some people may take offense to the game’s choice of language too, as it speaks quite frankly about “blacks” and racism features as a prominent motif in the story. While I personally feel games should have the room to touch on such subjects, Beat Cop’s sin is that its world just isn’t that interesting. The characters are obnoxious and lacking in personality, its comedy limited to characters swearing a lot and acting inappropriate, and its use of stereotypes is played entirely straight, from the fat, drunken Russian guy to the swindling priest and Italian mobsters. It actually made me long for the days when I was the police captain of Freeburg, where the social commentary was significantly more on point.
Story score: 2/10
Huh? I do what?
Each day you start with a briefing at the precinct before being dumped on your street. You have a 2D stretch of road with a variety of houses and businesses to keep an eye on and your chief will task you out with certain objectives to complete for that day. Usually this concerns a ticket quota you are asked to meet, though other demands can be made, such as doing a patrol or handing out tickets for specific reasons. Even as you begin to work calls come in, thefts occur, and civilians may come up to you asking help with problems. The game loves to overwhelm you with a variety of tasks, demanding you to think quickly to find a way to fit everything in your limited schedule.
I do enjoy the idea of trying to get all your work done and you can pick up additional missions from either the black crew or the Italian mafia, which steers you towards alliances with those two factions and can have an impact on your standing with the police. You also have a separate standing with “the people”, but it’s not visually kept track off and the results are less obvious. What I dislike is that Beat Cop is incredibly poor at tutorials and will make demands of you that it doesn’t or poorly explains. At one point during the first day a thief runs from a store and you must give chase, but the game neglects to mention how to run (continuously double click in front of you) and, if you manage to catch up, how to actually grab the thief (clicking the handcuffs icon at the bottom of the screen). If you fail this test on the first day, the game won’t even repeat it so you can try again.
This was a constant problem throughout every moment of the game. When it tells you to start ticketing people for bad tires it won’t tell you what separates good tires from bad ones. When it tells you to “unlock” a fire hydrant it only briefly mentions moving a car, which is the same type of car you see everywhere all the time and if you miss that one mention it’s not recorded anywhere. Also obnoxious was the game’s tendency to mention random characters and telling you to meet them, forcing you memorize the entire map as soon as possible, as an in-game reminder of where everybody is doesn’t exist. This is further worsened by the game’s timer, which may pause during conversations, but will happily keep ticking away while you try to make sense of your objectives screen or have to stand around waiting for another cop to pick up a criminal.
The same applies to the game overall, as you watch those 21 days pass you by at an alarming rate. You end up working from day-to-day and that overarching goal of finding the true culprit behind the crime you are framed for disappears fast. I had no clue how to make progress on this and all of these issues combined results in Beat Cop being an absurdly stressful game to play. Some might laud the game for not handholding the player and I can see value in that. I’ll even say that when you are going around ticketing people and helping out shopkeepers and citizens, the game does give you that feeling of being a cop, especially the actual side-quests are entertaining and have some fun twists.
This is offset by the fact that repetition sets in fast. Ticketing cars is really tedious and slow, especially when you need to start checking random cars for bad lights and tires, as the graphics style doesn’t allow you to see this at a glance. Violations are also so frequent you often can’t move for five seconds without having to write another ticket. The game’s most obnoxious sin, however, are its bugs. I often had Kelly stop in the middle of the road, unable to move any further until the day ended, meaning I failed everything I was unable to complete that day. I also had the game refuse to let me access areas (especially alleyways) despite there being marked objectives I had to get to. The game just wouldn’t let me move. I also frequently saw the game not mark a criminal or refuse to let me enter a building.
Repetitive, buggy, and oftentimes unreasonable, Beat Cop has moments where it shines and where you really do feel like a cop juggling hectic situations, but most of the time it is obnoxious and frustrating to play.
Gameplay score: 1.5/10
Rustle and bustle
For all my complaining, one point about Beat Cop I did really enjoy is its lively presentation. The game often zooms out rather far, giving you a wide view of the street or precinct. Besides whatever your character is doing, you can see all kinds of events unfold. Non-stop traffic passes by, the citizens are going about their daily lives, and sometimes you’ll see a dude rocking out from his apartment or some street kids bursting out into a breakdance routine. It feels busy and it’s varied enough that it never feels like the game is throwing the same few encounters at you over and over again.
The pixelart aesthetic they went with fits this busy nature well and I enjoy how detailed each sprite is. I would have appreciated a few details that would have practical in-game use, such as bad tires or broken lights being obvious from the sprite work, though I will say this would be really hard to do with this art-style. The game is also vibrant and colorful, while still presenting a believable-looking city.
Presentation score: 7.5/10
You can safely skip Beat Cop. While I commend it for the great visuals and a few players may really enjoy the lack of handholding, I personally found the game unreasonable. It makes demands of you without tutorializing the mechanics, hides away important information in a confusing notepad menu that doesn’t stop time, and I was pretty much 100% done with it when bugs began to frequently ruin my sessions. Thanks to the tediously drawn-out writing and obnoxious characters, I couldn’t care enough for Kelly’s predicament to deal with these issues for long enough to clear his name.