Let me take you back to New York, 1986. You are a detective under investigation after an incident at a Senator’s house ends up with one dead perp and a bunch of missing diamonds. Demoted to a simple beat cop, you are left to prove your innocence while also juggling a job of writing tickets, fending off two different crime families and dealing with an entire neighborhood’s problems.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: you have a simplified, pixel graphics game that features a government employee doing menial tasks every day while broader stories transpire around him. You have to make choices every day that directly affect the outcome of these stories as well as your standing with your bosses. You might think I’m describing indie-darling Papers, Please but I’m actually talking about Beat Cop.
Beat Cop structurally is a game just like Papers, Please. You check in and get to work writing tickets and maintaining the peace on your “beat.” At the end of the day you get a recap of everything you did that day, tracking your money as well as standing with the police, the civilians on your beat and the two competing criminal factions: the Mafia and the Crew. Each day is scripted to offer various events and how you respond to those events will shape how the story progresses.
Where a game like Papers, Please was about the monotony of paperwork and an oppressive government, Beat Cop offers a much more exciting, albeit cynical and embellished look at police work in the 80s. At times the life of a beat cop is certainly boring; writing parking tickets isn’t exactly a glamorous job, but you can still expect to respond to robberies, dead bodies, extortion and plenty more in your day to day life. This is where Beat Cop feels like a point and click adventure without the pixel hunting or inventory stuff. Instead you point and click to make decisions, chase down bad guys and maybe eat a donut or dozen.
In a given day you have full reign to do or not do whatever you want. In fact the game beats into your head pretty early that you won’t be able to do everything available to you every day so you’ll have to make tough choices. Are you going to be a dirty cop, taking bribes left and right and getting in the pocket of the Mafia or Crew? Are you going to be straight and narrow, potentially making yourself a target? Are you going to ignore orders from Central when it seems like they might be the wrong thing to do? Are you going to focus on doing your own police work or tracking down the missing diamonds and the conspiracy surrounding the Senator?
Playing through a single day in Beat Cop will take you about twenty minutes or so and the game up front tells you that you have three weeks to prove your innocence or be relegated to the life of a beat cop forever (or worse). Depending on the day and the choices you make this twenty minutes can feel like a boring slog or a race against the clock to get everything done. Every day there is something new going on or some plotline pushing you forward. Sometimes it will be something simple like clearing out every parked car on the road for the visit of a foreign dignitary, while other days will have you running around town investigating a potential Nazi war criminal or putting together a porno shoot.
While most of the time Beat Cop is dealing with fairly adult themes, everything is presented very over the top and sarcastically. It rarely – if ever – takes itself seriously, instead choosing to riff on ’80s cop shows and present a goofy version of 1980s New York. Your boss likes to go on about how all of his beat cops are terrible at their jobs, which makes sense considering your fellow officers seem inept and lazy. The Italian mob and the Crew – a black gang run out of a pawn shop – are both as stereotypical as can be. There’s a Catholic priest who seems to have the worst drug problem of anyone in the neighborhood, a diner with serious health code violations… you get the picture. For the most part the humor sticks the landing but there are definitely some odd writing and weird interactions.
My time with Beat Cop was quite enjoyable, that is until the very end. As the game builds up to the 21st and final day, it does not stick the landing at all, instead landing with a thud. After three weeks of investigation and searching, the options of how to conclude your story are all interesting: get your old job back, go to the press, have the senator killed, etc. However, when you ultimately make your choice the game ends with a couple of lines on a daily newspaper and a kick back to the main screen. No dialog, no cutscene, nothing but a headline or two. Contrast this with the intro, which features a beautifully animated cutscene showing the incident at the senator’s house, and I felt cheated. There is more gravitas given to almost every in game storyline than was given to the overall plot of the game and how it wraps up. This is especially disappointing because Beat Cop is a game that begs to be replayed to achieve different results. Even after doing so, and getting a completely different ending, I still was left with just a newspaper clipping, just different words.
Beat Cop is a special game that stumbles right at the finish line, unable to deliver a truly satisfying conclusion. The day to day gameplay of writing tickets is certainly not as compelling as handling passports in Papers, Please but it makes up for it with interesting scenarios and the choices that you have to make along the way. This is especially apparent when you replay the game as it allows you to see storylines and aspects of the world in a different way and how it can change. I would still recommend it but the lack of payoff at the end stops Beat Cop from being truly great.
SCORE: 7.5 out of 10
A code for Beat Cop was provided to Pixel Related for review.