This is the Police 2
It feels like the game is asking you to spin too many plates at once
In This is the Police, Jack Boyd spent his last days as Freeburg police chief in a frenzy of corruption, trying his best to keep the city clean while also working with the local mafia and collecting as many kickbacks as he could. In an all-too-realistic move, the sequel sees him evade justice and slip into a brand-new job advising the sheriff of a small town’s police force. Which, it turns out, is not an easy retirement at all.
In theory, this is a strong setup for a story. The snowy town of Sharpwood has a Fargo-esque vibe that serves as a nice change of pace from the big city of Freeburg. In practice, however, the game has a penchant for rambling Tarantino-like dialogue that goes on far, far too long. Every conversation feels full of fat that can be cut, like an early scene in which Boyd and a door-to-door salesman have an extremely longwinded chat about toilets that may or may not be a veiled threat. It’s a crying shame, because the voice actors are doing a terrific job, but I found myself tuning out long before they got to the point.
At first the story feels like it’s going to be about Sheriff Reed’s struggles with institutional sexism, as she’s constantly receiving misogynistic comments. But when Boyd arrives he takes over both as leader and as protagonist, and the focus shifts towards him and his web of corruption. Eventually the sexist comments feel less like commentary and more like window dressing.
If it seems like I’m frontloading on the story here, that’s because the game does, too. Almost every day starts with one long cutscene, before letting you get to the game map. This is where you’ll spend most of your time, dispatching officers to calls as they come in. There’s a pleasing rhythm to it, trying to send just enough officers to deal with each incident while keeping some in reserve for an emergency. When a cop gets to their destination there’s a little choose your-own-adventure moment, where you can use their skills and equipment to arrest a suspect or calm down a situation.
The big showpiece addition for this sequel is tactical missions; full-scale SWAT assaults where multiple officers participate in an XCOM- style combat. There’s novelty in just how many nonlethal options the game presents you with, giving you ample chance to capture enemies rather than killing them. Except I saw little feedback on that choice—a bloodbath was treated the same as a perfect run. The main case for avoiding a gunfight is they often result in dead officers. The new system sits awkwardly alongside the main game, with small town crimes punctuated by a bomb threat or hostage situation every few days, like if every third episode of The Wire was suddenly 24.
Later on, as corruption becomes a stronger theme, the necessity to earn cash by sending officers to moonlight becomes more important. There’s even a system for buying and selling goods to try and turn a profit. If this seems overstuffed, it is. At times it feels like the game is asking you to spin too many plates at once.
You see, This is the Police 2 is hard. The various systems make it easy to enter a fail spiral. If you don’t have enough cops you can’t respond to crimes, and if you can’t respond to crimes you can’t earn ringpulls (inexplicably the department’s main currency) for new cops, which means you can’t respond to crimes, and if you don’t earn ringpulls for three days running, it’s game over. It’s also game over if you can’t pay off the guy who is blackmailing you, which means you need to be racking up the corruption money even as you’re desperately trying to keep Sharpwood free of crime. In fact, I have to confess that this review comes with the caveat that I haven’t seen the end of the game, because I’m not good enough to get there. And this is coming from a guy who thought XCOM 2 wasn’t that hard.
I haven’t played the first This is the Police, but I can’t help but feel like the sequel simply adds too much. The game feels like it needs to refocus on the day-to-day policing and the small storylets that accompany it, which are great. Unless the message is that running a police department is an impossible task, in which case: Mission accomplished.
The core concept of This is the Police 2 is solid enough, but there’s simply too much bloat to enjoy it.