Sirens are wailing on the streets of Sharpwood
This is the Police 2 is, predictably, the sequel to This is the Police which released last year. The original was a game that divided public opinion; some people saw it as overly politicized or insensitive to women and minorities, whilst others saw it as a frank portrayal of human nature or an innovative story-telling medium. Now that the sequel has been released, is it just as divisive?
Don’t worry if you missed out on the first game, you are quickly caught up with some expositional cut-scenes. You play as Jack Boyd, a corrupt cop who started doing favours to earn some extra cash but became a city-ruling kingpin/criminal pawn depending on your perspective. Jack is on the run from the city authorities and has ended up in Sharpwood, a smaller, poorer town. He ends up joining the local police force and sets about rebuilding Sharpwood in his image.
One of the biggest selling points of This is the Police 2 was gameplay variety; different mechanics for different aspects of running a police station. So the game is part visual novel, part management sim, part L.A Noire-style investigations and part top-down turn-based combat. Let’s cover each of these very briefly:
The characters are memorable and the voice acting is great but the story travels at a snail’s pace. The management sim is engaging and challenging at first, but it becomes monotonous without breaks and after your officers are well-trained it becomes mind-numbingly dull. The investigations had strong premises and were logical but having to stop and think about the different pieces of evidence killed the pacing even more. Finally, the top-down sections required strategy but you were unable to see the location beforehand and plan accordingly. Also some of the abilities you could select were pretty useless, especially the ones linked to the Strength stat.
All of the reported crimes are well-written and minor characters are very good at conveying their personality succinctly (when asking for a favour / getting time off work). Crime stories are unique and creative, especially when involving prostitution and/or old people. Some of the options were really smart and funny, they were diverse enough to make you feel like your decisions mattered. For example, a prostitute and their client are climbing up a water tower, what do you do? You just wait at the bottom of the ladder, it’s not like they’re going anywhere, they’ll just come down when they are finished, genius!
Welcome to Misery, USA
The town of Sharpwood felt like a real place, a cold, impoverisher rural locale. Full of alcoholics and no-hopers living off of 12 cent cans of soup, Sharpwood is miserable, yet places like it exist in every developed country. The world that the developers created is incredibly consistent in tone. People are constantly fighting to survive, struggling against those trying to repress them, and many of them come to you for help (off the books of course).
With police conduct being such a contentious issue nowadays, the game has plenty of aspects to explore. The user interface creates distance between you and your officers’ actions, so you go through the same steps whether you calm down a teenager or shoot a psychiatric patient. This allows you to do some pretty immoral things without even thinking about it. Especially because these actions rarely have noticeable consequences. Similarly to the first game, the poor treatment of women shows how dispassionate the officers could be to the general public. Even when the Sheriff is a woman, she is unable to command the respect of her subordinates. The police are depicted as the defenders of a patriarchal society where the big men with the big guns rule supreme. This is Jack’s main route into power, as a viable solution to a Sheriff who is seen as bossy and bitchy.
Similarly to Breaking Bad, This is the Police 2 discusses the effect of power. Having already experienced complete domination in the first game, the sequel follows Jack as he tries to regain what he has lost. There are many powerful men in this game, including smugglers, gangsters and police chiefs. However, all of their personalities are very different. Dismissive and condescending, quiet and intimidating, talkative and eccentric, generous and collaborative, this shows that anyone can be power-hungry. Even if you elect “the good guy” they can still become greedy and corrupt. Yet when murders are carried out and plans are brought to fruition, the leaders do not take direct responsibility, Jack in particular. You could say this appeals to the idea of a universal sense of entitlement for men in positions of power, comparable again to Walter White from Breaking Bad.
This is the Police 2 is an entertaining and thought-provoking game let down by its slow pacing. The mixed bag of mechanics maintained my interest but each one had its flaws and could arbitrarily extend the runtime. When more mechanics are introduced, you cannot explore them as deeply. The top-down turn-based combat was the best part of the game for me, but you don’t spend much time with it and there are not really many viable strategies. It’s a game worth trying and there is plenty to talk about (especially with the ambiguous ending) but it is certainly not for everyone.