Corruption, greed, and all the other vices we shame so regularly in the media play a big role in This is the Police. A strongly narrative experience, This is the Police puts you in the shoes of a near-retirement police chief who is being forced out by the mayor. It can best be described as a management strategy game with light puzzles and a significant focus on narrative decisions that directly impact gameplay.
Jack Boyd has 180 days left as chief of police of Freeburg PD, and in that time he has to make $500,000. He hates the mayor and the mayor hates him, the mafia gets involved, big businesses see a chief they can treat as an opportunity, and more. There are plenty of favors to dole out, people to make happy, and big fish to go for. The choices and interactions with all of these groups are the meat of the game. Scratching backs and getting money and other favors in return are the name of the game.
Freeburg is an incredibly corrupt town full of a ton of issues, making even The Wire's Baltimore blush. Throughout the course of those 180 days, Freeburg deals with race riots, mafia warfare, serial killers, daily homicides and terrible assaults, constant drug smuggling with groups well-equipped with weaponry, and more. So, Freeburg as a city is pretty much the worst place to live.
Knowing all that, you still have to both hire, train, and police the city. Many crimes happen every day from simple thefts to hostage negotiations to firefights between rival gangs, and you have to prioritize calls, make sure enough officers get sent to a call to complete it successfully and recognize the calls that may be a false report, so you don't waste time or resources.
Policing the city is where you'll spend most of your time in This is the Police. You have regular officers and detectives. All of them have a certain level of "Professionalism" that goes up and down over time based on their success in cases, training, and more. They also have certain levels of exhaustion that you have to keep an eye on, political views to keep track of to know what calls to maybe not send them to or to inform decisions you make (as they may quit based on them), as well as watching for alcoholism and general laziness.
The day-to-day grind is spent sending officers to calls, making sure they have enough Professionalism between them all to be successful, because if they aren't, they will instead lose some. This is where most of the issues with This is the Police come in. All officers are at the police department waiting for calls, and once they finish said call, they all must return to the department before they are allowed to go to another. You are only given a set amount of time to respond to each call as well. It is incredibly inflexible and causes a lot of frustration.
Throughout the course of a day, you have to judge whether a call is worth committing all those resources to, gauging how much time it will take, and more. Sent a bunch of officers to an attempted murder? Now the bank is getting robbed, and you only have two left over to send. You can't divert resources after they have already been sent to a call, causing plenty of cases where you won't be able to send anyone because you can't move people around on the fly.
The frustration is added on when you think of how policing really works. Those officers are out on patrol in various parts of the city. Shouldn't their response time to a call vary depending on how close they are? Wouldn't it make sense to see and know where officers are to know who to send by who is closest? Not only that, once they are done, shouldn't they be available to respond to another call from the scene of the previous? Instead, you are left with moments where a call goes unanswered because officers were one to two seconds away from available as they made their way back to the police department.
That inflexibility forces the frustrating strategy on you, rather than making it more dynamic, thoughtful, and engaging. If it was more true to life, that piece of This is the Police's gameplay would be far more interesting. As it is now, it's more of a distraction while you wait for certain dialogue options or offers to appear for Jack Boyd.
The other half of the day-to-day is the detective work, which is pretty basic. Detectives have their own levels of professionalism, and when crimes like homicides, counterfeiting, and the like come up, you assign a lead detective and others to assist. Over time, they will discover "frames" that you must put in the correct order to solve the case. That's the light puzzle element of This is the Police, as you piece the frames together based on information provided by witnesses. Investigations can get a little more interesting when you can go up the chain of command of a gang to try to catch the leader, interrogating people along the way. Even that, though, is just a series of investigations to solve one after the other.
That day-to-day gets switched up some with various events in the game. For example, racial tensions at the beginning of the game can make certain calls more dangerous for some officers. In another, the description of a serial killer is released to the public, and you get flooded with calls from people thinking they see him. It spices it up some, but the standard way it is all handled remains the same.
As mentioned previously, the meat of the game is using the day-to-day activities to leverage favors from the mayor's office, mafia, and more. You can send officers out to do things the mayor requests and even have them go and help out the mafia. There are a few reasons you want to keep these various factions happy. The mayor's office is probably the most important as they are in direct control of how many officers and detectives you can hire at any one time. Fewer officers obviously make it much more difficult to police the city. The mafia ... well, they'll just kill you if you make them unhappy.
Regarding return favors, the mayor's office will open more positions, give you a raise to your weekly check, and more. Other factions, like the mafia, offer different services. Some officers can cause you some problems, like suing you if they think they are treated unfairly (like denying their request for the day off repeatedly), or testify against you because you decided to use some force to quell a protest. You can pay them off, sure, but you can also pay the mafia, which is cheaper, to just kill them for you. That goes for officers and detectives, but you may be out a good officer with high Professionalism in that case.
So each faction has certain services they provide, which you can take advantage of throughout your time in This is the Police. Keeping your officers and the mayor's office happy, however, is the key goal. Of course, reaching towards that $500,000 goal is of utmost importance as well.
The story is presented in a very episodic way, though there are no real clear or obvious breaks between it all. There're a few overarching storylines that are present throughout; however, they are mentioned so offhandedly and infrequently that it was hard to remember or care. The opposite is true of the episodic feeling. Previously I mentioned a serial killer. That storyline lasts no time at all before it's wrapped up, and you move on to the next focused story for a few weeks or month's worth of days. Nothing is delved into all that deeply, and it feels like This is the Police did a disservice to itself by trying to jam so much in rather than explore individual stories more in-depth. However, you can't help but feel intrigued when certain things, like the serial killer, get into the mix. Though, I imagine that's just the main draw of crime dramas.
This relatively shallow look at things appears elsewhere as well. Many times there are certain issues raised that may stick around for maybe an hour's worth of playtime—likely less than that—then never heard from again. Things like the racial issues, LGBT issues, and more are raised quickly, loudly, then put away just as quickly. There seems to have been a greater effort to quantity over quality. The constant shifting of focus never really let you absorb what is going on and don't give you any kind of cohesive picture behind what Freeburg is like as a city.
The writing itself is serviceable. The character of Jack Boyd is really hard to grapple with as he too changes quite rapidly and with reasons that seem incredibly weak. Some of his character traits carry throughout, but pinning down who Jack Boyd is, is a difficult task. The general writing around the calls you send officers to and the certain scenarios can be pretty good at times, and may cause a few chuckles as the writers had some fun with the scenarios presented.
This is the Police's greatest strength is in its aesthetic and presentation. Everything is clean, clear, and consistent. The art direction is superb and helps to emphasize the unreadable nature of Freeburg in its citizenry, architecture, and more. It never deviates, and the great work that went into all the frames you collect for various investigations is great.
This is the Police is conceptually intriguing but could use some fat trimming. There's too much going on, and a more focused, less diverse narrative and set of mechanics would have served them well. The lack of attention to those day-to-day mechanics makes the game overstay its welcome, as getting through those 180 days takes quite a bit of time.
This is the Police was reviewed on PC via Steam using a code provided by the developer.