I played Beat Cop this week. On Monday, I was excited! It looked like Police Quest! By Wednesday I’d given up, because it’s not a good video game, and that’s disappointed me more than I thought it would have.
Beat Cop is a side-scrolling game that, with its 80s aesthetic and focus on police procedure, had a lot of people—myself included, as you just saw—thinking it would be a modern reincarnation of Police Quest, a classic adventure series that despite its punishing flaws is fondly-remembered for its simulation of the gritty details of police work.
It’s not. Instead it’s a dull affair, full of ideas that I’m sure seemed fine in isolation, but when thrown together completely undermine each other.
Beat Cop is a game about being a regular ol’ officer walking the streets, settling petty disputes, chasing down shoplifters and issuing parking tickets. This sounds fun, in the same way that people find truck and farming simulators fun, but also in the way people enjoy hardcore military sims, because they love doing complex and sometimes dangerous jobs from the safety of their office chair.
There’s no simulation here though. Everything about Beat Cop’s setting and systems is undone by its limited controls and bizarre real-time clock, which strip Beat Cop of any sense of depth or nuance that you might hope for given the grey areas the rest of the experience is gunning for.
A lot of missions you’re given are time-based, but moving around is a pain. You’re supposed to get to know the inhabitants of your block, but everyone is such a foul-mouthed cardboard cutout of a character that you end up despising them all.
The game is also kinda gross to slog through. Similar to 2016's This is the Police, Beat Cop was developed in Europe (in this case Poland), and something just feels off about the depiction of the game’s Brooklyn neighbourhood and its inhabitants. The use of racial slurs, the hyper-sexual chatter, it’s trying to come off as “real”, but there’s no art, context or humour to it, so instead just comes off as jarring.
Most annoying to me, though, was that for a game about player agency and making decisions (you’re constantly presented with options on what to do in situations), there are too many times when your cop will take a certain approach or tone in a conversation that’s completely at odds with how you wanted it to go down.
So yeah, almost everything about the game was a frustration. Massive bummer. But what got me about playing this disappointment, not that long after being equally let down by This is The Police, is the frustration that there aren’t good police games out there!
And I don’t mean Battlefield games using cops as window dressing, I mean actual police games about actual police work, without the ham-fisted attempts at introducing vice and extracurricular distractions. There’s so much to it, and so many genres—strategy especially—that could make the best of it.
I’d love to manage a small-town police station. Play an actual beat cop, sans this game’s tonal and control shortcomings. Control a tactical team, ala the sadly-defunct SWAT series. If Police Quest could make the job interesting three decades ago, why do modern developers struggle with it so much?
(I know there are a few police games on Steam, but most of the ones I’ve played have been cheap, frustrating affairs).
Maybe American developers are scared off by the political considerations, maybe doing the job properly requires assets/funding that aren’t available for a niche title, maybe it’s just not cool. But policing is a vital, complex and dangerous job, and if video games can do so many other professions justice, it’d be nice if they could show the boys and girls in blue the same courtesy.