Review: Beat Cop – Donuts and Drug Dealers
Developer: Pixel Crow
Publisher: 11bit Studios
Platforms: PC, Linux, Mac
It’s a hard life out there on the mean streets. The citizens resent you, the gangs want to kill you. You bust your ass every day for your boss and you’re lucky if you get a ‘good job’ for running down a burglar for five blocks. But that’s you, that’s your job. The thin blue line between order and chaos. Whether they like it or not, you are the beat cop. This is your beat.
Beat Cop stars New York City detective Jack Kelly. Responding to a call at the Senator’s mansion, he finds himself framed for murder and the theft of the Senator’s diamonds. Rather than locked away, though, he is demoted down to a lowly beat cop. He has three weeks to return or find the diamonds and uncover the truth behind this frame-up. In the meantime, though, he still has a job to do. Hit the streets and write those tickets, officer!
Don’t let the diamonds and intrigue fool you. Beat Cop is actually about being a beat cop. Each day begins with the precinct morning meeting where you and your fellow officers get their tasks for the day. It changes up every day, but generally you have to write tickets and respond to one or two other issues that have arisen. Naturally, nothing ever goes that smoothly. Problems and tasks will arise during the day, requiring you to react and change your plans accordingly. A store might be robbed, a citizen might need a favour…oh, and of course, you need to investigate your own framing that’s put you there in the first place.
The actual control of all this is purely mouse-driven. Kelly walks to where you click, runs with a double-click. At the bottom of the screen are your tools: handcuffs to arrest burglars, a gun to defend yourself, and a notepad which contains all the relevant information you’ll need to do your rounds. Engaging with cars, civilians and businesses is also a simple affair. Within the first day or two, it’s easy to master everything and start to hone your particular approach to crime.
Making it to the end of your three-week run takes roughly six hours. It’s the surviving that’ll get you, though, because the criminals you bust aren’t just faceless hoodlums. Your beat is occupied by two rival factions: the Mafia to the western end and the Crew, a black gang residing in the east. Doing a favour for one is the best way to piss off the other. On top of that, slacking off on your police duties or getting caught on the take will lower you in the eyes of your superiors, risking your already tenuous position. Finally, there’s the actual people on the beat. They have their opinion of you too, and it’s awful clear that being a good cop isn’t always the same thing as being a good person.
For such a short time, Beat Cop very quickly becomes a balancing act. With a shift that runs from 8am to 6pm, the game drills you into right from the start that there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. While this is only kind of true (your ticket quota, for example, can often be knocked out before 11am), Kelly still must prioritise what is and isn’t important to him as he goes through the days. Mercifully, bringing up your notepad pauses time, giving you breathing room, but you won’t get much more than that. Letting that thief escape will free up time you can use elsewhere. Big and small, these decisions have consequences, and you’ll need to make hard choices with no clear ‘right’ answer more often than not.
Therein lies the charm of Beat Cop: the choices you make are often small, but all very familiar and human. Considering most characters are four colours and a handful of pixels, developers Pixel Crow have managed to fill the city blocks of your beat with charm and humanity. Kids with boomboxes on the corner, the honking of horns, the grimy back-alleys: it all contributes to the pastiche of life on display. The characters themselves might be very one-note, but this too is part of the charm: the game expressly is an homage to 80s cop shows, not real life, and the simple character of the shop owners and gangs gives way to some very human moments.
And, you know. Sometimes you’ve gotta recruit an aging porn star and guard the set while they bang it out in a garage. Beat Cop leans very much towards the slightly-racist 80s vulgarity, but it still has humour in spades.
It’s almost appropriate that, sometimes, the game is a little boring. Despite being such a short game, it’s clear that Beat Cop is intended to be played in short bursts. More than five or six ‘days’ in a row had me sick to the back teeth of writing tickets, just like Officer Kelly would be himself. What keeps you going is the things in between. Seeing how far you can push a gang before they start gunning for you, building up cash on the side for a quick exit, or even just trying to be the most by-the-book cop you can be. Beat Cop offers multiple endings, clearly intended for multiple playthroughs. The world might only be a few city blocks, but somehow, there’s still a lot to explore.
If you can’t get down with the repetition of the game cycle, it’s easy to see how someone would be turned off after the first few days. Ticket quotas are a grinding chore. Having to stop and deal with some other issue while you’re just trying to get your shit done is frustrating. And sometimes, you just get plain old bad luck. A burglar might rob a store on the far western end and disappear before you even see him. That’s your pay docked, the police annoyed with you and the civilians mistrustful, all for something that was not your fault at all. Like life, sometimes Beat Cop deals you a shit hand and expects you to deal.
Right from the start, Beat Cop sets out its intentions. “Relax, enjoy the game and don’t take life too seriously.” The over-the-top dialogue and gritty situations are wholly intentional, evoking another time and place in our media’s history. In our softer, kinder times, hearing Officer Kelly spit out ‘dago’ and ‘chink’ like nothing can easily offend. But that in itself is kind of the point. Kelly is no hero, morally superior to the city around him. He’s just a guy in a shitty situation who has to knuckle up and do his job the way he sees fit. That is Beat Cop‘s greatest strength. You get to be that person, too.
|A charming homage to the gritty cop shows of the 80s. Beat Cop may not deliver grand, exciting thrills, but it excels at delivering the kind of choices we face as people every day.||3.8 3.8 ( on 5 rating)|