Beat Cop (Switch) Review
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Publisher/Developer: Pixel Crow/11 bit studios
Platform: Android, Linux, Mac OSX, PlayStation 4, Switch (Reviewed), Windows, Xbox One, iOS
Beat Cop's premise is unique, with it's highly 80's run-down aesthetic. It evokes the feeling the developers are trying to recreate of the classic 80's procedural crime show. However, new feelings and attitudes have crept in. While some quality of life issues make it a better game than if it had been made in the 80's, there's a few of the more modern bits I wish they would have left out.
Within Beat Cop, you play as a detective who, after taking down a thief at the Senator's mansion, is framed for the stealing of some diamonds from his safe. You're thrown down to Beat Cop status, and are tasked with patrolling a particularly seedy neighborhood. Your main job revolves around fining people for illegal parking or worn tires, but the story goes deeper than that with a street gang and the Italian mob both vying for power and control. Murders, robberies, and more go on as you do your basic patrol, and how you react to the mob, gang, and basic citizens affect their impression of you and how easily they escalate when confronted. You can get the mob in your pocket, but siding with the Mafia will put you on the gang's hit list.
The game throws a lot at you at once: you want to clear your name and there is a particular member of the force who offers to help. He needs more evidence, and is retiring in three weeks, so you have a 21 day window to do so. Meanwhile, you have your ex-wife breathing down your back to make alimony payments, the rival gangs fighting over you, and your supervisor harassing you to hit quotas. During your beat you'll get calls, apprehend criminals, be offered bribes, and grab snacks for the old lady in Apartment 5. As a beat cop, you get stuck with some of the most mundane activities possible and are timed in getting them done. Going into the game I felt like it ought to play out like a retro-themed GTA from the side of the law, but it is more in line with a time-management simulator with crass humor thrown on top.
I got razzed once before for bringing personal opinion of theme into a game review, but I feel it's appropriate here: it shows what I mean by how this isn't the game that would have been made in the 80's. If I were a cop on this beat, I'd quit. In a heartbeat. Every single member of your police force is incessantly crass. Management doesn't care one lick about you. People are constantly talking about sex, sexual favors, and insulting each other with gender comments. On the beat everyone is throwing around racial slurs as if they are the default names. This is done well in some games when infused with humor. Grand Theft Auto makes it's name with this kind of crassness, but the truly racist or stereotypical people are massive caricatures not to be emulated. In Beat Cop, it's the default language. Classic cop dramas weren't this hardcore. In the 80's a lot more racism and stereotypes were in play without consequences, but it's simply not entertaining to live through it in modern society. Maybe if they were proving a point, but it seems to be crassness for crassness' sake. It's like little Jimmy learned a new swear word and now he puts it into everything to sound "cool."
As a former detective trying to clear his name, you'd think that our character would avoid or decry this kind of attitude, but he just rolls with it. It's insanely easy to fall into a bribe Day One on the job, or solicit a prostitute and ignore your job. Failing your job docks your pay, and losing enough money prevents you from advancing. I guess my beef with this is there's no straight way to play the game. No matter what you do I feel you end up having to do something illegal to keep enough money to advance the story. Sure, that may be some gamer's way, but with absolutely zero way to play it nice, it feels as if your option of choice is taken away.
In terms of mechanics I'd like to have seen some more quality of life options. I feel like the game was made for PC and easily ported. There are giant icons on the bottom of the screen representing your cuffs, firearm, notepad, radio, and the like but they are all accessed via buttons on the gamepad, and they're ordered Y L X - R across the bottom (no logical pattern there), with running linked to ZL. It's just all sorts of mixed up, and I could see how maybe you would use WASD on a keypad to run and then click the icons on the bottom of the screen (which are even labeled with tiny icons and hard to keep track of). On a side note, the large icons do nothing for you in handheld/touchscreen mode either. You have an old watch showing how much longer you have on your beat for the day and you clock out at the end of day whether you're done with your job or not. I also ran across some graphical issues, like how the officer likes to rattle off whatever model you are looking at in a speech bubble that covers important parts of your choice wheel, or how sometimes I'd inspect a car on the street and the traffic would drive right through me, the car I'm inspecting, and every other parked car on the screen.
You make choices that effect your day-to-day gameplay, but most of the story-based events seem to play out one way or another. I do like how you can sway particular gangs to like or dislike you, despite the fact that you have to be a rotten cop to do so. With the game only being 21 "days" long, it allows some replay if you really get into it to see how each faction reacts depending on your demeanor. Even though I don't like how everything you do is confined to the area of a couple blocks, those blocks are richly detailed and full of life. While I was confused at first with people telling me to go to a particular store, I eventually had it memorized and was able to really "learn my beat" and know each and every person I interacted with, despite them being blobs of pixels.
Beat Cop provides a gritty look at oldschool 80's cop shows through the even gritter lens of modern society. It goes overboard with crass, with nearly every conversation you get into having some "shock value" words to where they all blend together and become meaningless. Gameplay is well imagined, helping you see the chaos: when there's simply too much to do and not enough time to satisfy everyone, what is a defender of the peace supposed to do?
-Realistic "job simulator" complete with tasks you don't know if they'll make a difference or not
-Feels like a gritty cop drama during story bits
-Rival gangs can be swayed and supported or opposed thanks to your choices
-A few graphical and control issues that hinder some of the basic functions of the game
-Crassness goes beyond deep storytelling and straight to annoying
Special thanks to 11 bit Studios for providing a code for review!