Thematic yet Problematic
Nordic Games‘ This is the Police, combines character-driven narrative with resource management. Gameplay comes in the form of two main aspects: graphic novel stylized cut-scenes, complete with underlying subtitles and game-changing decisions, and the day-to-day city-view that involves the resource management of the police department. In both, you take on the role of aging police chief, Mr. Jack Boyd, as you dispatch your officers across the city. As a result of this pairing, This is the Police pulls in two directions, never really hitting home.
This is the Police wastes little time jumping into the story and setting the mood. The narrative comes in the form of cut-scenes that, in the truest sense, makes it all feel more like a graphic novel than a video game. Each cut-scene helps to add depth to the game, yet lacks audio diversity. Due to the lack of music, you can hear the sounds of footsteps down the hall, the creaking of doors, and lighting of a cigarette. It generally feels quiet, granting the silent moments a lasting appeal like a pivotal moment in a film; slowing down the pace and letting it all sink in for those watching. There may be a lack of audio cues and musical score in the cut-scenes, yet this bolsters the realistic tone of This is the Police, reminiscent of films like Law Abiding Citizen or Training Day.
The cut-scenes have excellent scripting, evoking reactionary responses from you. There are some thought-provoking moments in This is the Police that adds much-needed depth. These game-changing responses alter gameplay with a binary response, often placing you in a morally gray dilemma, allowing the narrative to shine. See photo below.
Unfortunately, the cut-scene portions have little connection to the day-to-day events. The narrative that focuses on Mr. Boyd’s life feels disconnected from the general gameplay. Several in-game days will go without actually progressing the story, only for a cut-scene to get spliced between days regarding the overburdened police chief. The fact that the cut-scenes follow Mr. Boyd’s life makes sense for the narrative, but by disrupting the city screen, they feel out of place. It feels like Nordic Games’ attention is split between the two halves of This is the Police, resulting in a general lack of polish.
The core of the game centers itself around managing the police force. On an individual level, characters’ growth is governed by an all-encompassing Professionalism point system which denotes their overall efficiency in everything. Although this does help to simplify game-time decisions and can speed up the gameplay, it does make the experience feels rather lacking with little individual progression and comes off like a missed opportunity.
About half the assignments you send your officers on will lead into a branching response menu, allowing you to handle situations as you see fit. Most of the given solutions feel like workable responses as some can be more aggressive, passive, and creative than others. Answering the events and directing policemen accordingly quickly became an enjoyable part of the city screen. Check out the photo below for an example.
This is aided even further by the immersive descriptions, which are well-written, engaging, and helpful for the gameplay. This is the Police crests in these moments, allowing the developers to flex their desired mixture of resource management and interactive narrative to create an original, crime-filled atmosphere that feels alive, similar to a washed-out Gotham City.
For better or worse the game is not very time sensitive. Triggered events typically require a response within 30 seconds, yet this is never a problem. The lack of urgency makes This is the Police more of a sit-back-and-play experience which will resonate with some players, and bore others.
Navigating menus can prove to be a trying experience. The controls for pulling triggers to view events and investigatory reports feel natural, but several obvious faults can cause unnecessary headaches. The music selection menu, the investigation menu, and the calling for reinforcements menu (shown below), each have a similarly glaring problem. For example, opening the music menu prompts a pop-up stating “Press A to Continue”. Instead of closing the pop-up, pressing A results in clicking the top item in the list behind the pop-up, resulting in accidentally buying a track you don’t want. Annoyingly, following the on-screen instructions is incorrect. Pressing B closes the menu, yet this is never stated. Simple fix, yet needlessly frustrating.
Broken Record Player
Music in This is the Police, is handled with a mix of ingenuity and clumsiness. Before entering your “office”, and looking down upon the city map, you may choose a record to play (on repeat) from your album collection. The music is a nice touch thematically, yet ill-conceived for those who dislike jazz or classical. Strangely enough, the song doesn’t preview a sample while you select it. Instead, the track begins playing as the screen switches over to the city-view. This is annoying for those unfamiliar with the songs, not that it really matters, as all the music is more or less the same genre to my unfamiliar ears. Strangely the music doesn’t always play in the map-view of the game – highlighting the lack of audio cues in This is the Police, making for a lackluster experience. Without the music, the game feels quiet and dull since there are no real action sequences in the game, and although the audio effects present are passable, they’re not memorable.
Voice acting is a bit stretched, especially with Mr. Boyd’s mother-in-law. Her dialogue is written decently, but the voice acting is terrible, and not believable in the least. The protagonist, on the other hand, isn’t bad. At times he thinks aloud, explaining his story, and these moments can be strong. His conversations with other characters are a mix-bag of awful and intriguing. I found his portrayal, voice-acting, and reminiscing thoughts on past decision to be quite strong. In a similar vein, the mob boss, Christopher Sand, is fantastically written, portrayed, and performed. He’s dripping with character, realistically written, with spot-on voice acting. He really brings the game to life.
This is the Police is a slow-burn type of game that I wanted to like. The storyline starts off strong, and the city-view gameplay has me involved in the patrolmen’s welfare, but the merging of these two aspects dilute the overall experience of the game. By splitting their focus, This is the Police feels unfinished, never really hitting its stride and under-delivering as a whole. It feels like there is a missing component to the game. A more focused design and some fine-tuning would really help flesh out the experience. Although the storyline has me hooked, it feels distinct from the general city-view gameplay. Having recently played The Walking Dead – Season 2 (included in last month’s GWG), I could not help but compare the two games and recognize the shortcomings of This is the Police. The latter feels like it was made with a noticeably smaller budget and suffers accordingly. If you can find This is the Police on sale, and enjoy Telltale Games’ narrative and resource-management games, then give it a shot, otherwise, I’d pass on it.
- Thematic Atmosphere
- Engaging Story
- Graphic Novel Aesthetic
- Misguiding Menus
- Minor Individual Progression
- Little Audio Diversity
- Weak Connection between Narrative and Gameplay