At various times while playing LA Cops I would burst into a room and try to lock onto a new target. Many things would happen in this time, but one thing that almost never happened was that I would lock onto the target. LA Cops wants to be Hotline Miami pretty badly, but the only consistent thing it has is inconsistency, and it leads to a game that feels like it has no idea how to capture and transform that inspiration into something new.
The story lasts eight missions and takes about two to three hours to finish in total. After that, there are five extra levels if you want something more to do, which tack about another hour or two onto the game. LA Cops doesn’t really follow any sort of central plot. Every time you start a mission a cutscene that basically shows a day in the life of some random cops. It felt strange: you’d watch a quick cutscene about a cop getting a divorce, then suddenly you’d have a level about a holdup in a doughnut shop completely unrelated to the cutscene. Then, you’ll have two cops joking around in a car before you’re suddenly raiding a drug house. Later levels add in a very light narrative about the cops going up against a Hawaiian-themed gang, but it’s way too little way too late. The sole saving grace of the story comes from the Police Chief. Anytime he shows up he begins these hilarious rants that are far funnier than anything else in the game.
LA Cops clearly draws its inspirations from Hotline Miami. You’ll play from a top-down view and both you and enemies die in just one or two hits. The game tries to change things up a few ways, the biggest being the ability to use stealth. You have access to melee attacks and if you can arrest enemies and keep moving through a level stealthily by attacking from behind. The sneaking mechanics are basic at the best of times, only relying on line of sight and nothing else. At the worst of times, enemies are just suddenly aware of your location for no real reason. It’s frustrating when a perfectly stealthy approach suddenly gets ruined because enemies gain mysterious knowledge out of the blue.
When you get into firefights, you’ll have to rely on quick reactions and good aim. To assist you with this, you can hit a button that lets you lock onto a nearby target, giving you the advantage when bursting into a room or when you get stuck in a surprise gun battle. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do in theory. In practice it’ll pick targets erratically, either insisting I want to shoot someone through a wall or just not targeting anyone at all. I couldn’t figure out how to get the system to lock onto who I actually wanted, which caused shootouts to devolve into a mess of randomly spraying bullets vaguely in the direction of anyone who shot at me and hoping for the best.
Each level has you playing as two cops that you can switch between at any time. You can order the cop you’re not playing as around if you want, but the AI isn’t smart enough to do anything other than shoot into a specific cone, and setting up the AI to be helpful is far more difficult than it needs to be. Instead, I basically kept the second cop back and used them as a second life for when I inevitably got killed. It’s about the only use I could find for them that wouldn’t cause them to go out in a blaze of underachievement.
Levels also have a tendency to not feel fair. One level took place in a warehouse what saw doors open up and have swarms of enemies run out when you passed them. I don’t know who decided having four or more enemies armed with shotguns who can all kill with one hit suddenly spawn behind you was a good idea, but they’re not very good at making good ideas. Another level saw endless swarms of enemies spawning in a large casino, tasking me to somehow split my attention between smashing slot machines to lure out the boss and shooting waves of enemies that basically came from anywhere.
The game tries to alleviate this with an XP system. Every time you finish a level, you’re awarded with a rank and some XP points that you can spend to upgrade the stats of your favorite cops. Despite this, I never noticed the stats actually changing much. At the start of the game, one of the cops died to one shot from every gun. After I fully maxed out his health then he could take maybe one or two extra shots from a pistol and still died in one hit from everything else. Since all enemies died in one hit, I found upgrading attack damage to be next to useless. In the end, the only upgrades that actually mattered was ammo count since you can’t reload guns. On top of everything, it was ridiculously easy to just keep farming the very short first level over and over again to get enough XP to max out a cop.
I can at least sort of appreciate the art style of LA Cops. It looks good, and everything in the game is well defined. As nice as the art style looks, the use of 3D walls tends to get in the way more than anything else. I had to adjust the camera all the time, trying to use it to peek behind those corners I couldn’t quite see. This was something that could become fatal in the middle of combat. The soundtrack is almost totally forgettable, save for the rather impressive credits song, and the voice acting is hit or miss.
I was rather disappointed by LA Cops. The concept seemed fun, and everything was in place for a stylish and silly Hotline Miami knockoff. Instead, we somehow ended up with a terrible game that throws away basic design rules to make frustrating levels while wasting what little story was there. My suggestion is to delete the game from your hard drive without reading it its rights.
I'm pretty convinced LA Cops committed police brutality on me after I had to sit through its broken stealth, non-functional lock-on, useless partner AI, terrible level design, and stats that didn't do anything.