Jack Boyd is 180 days away from retirement when his deputy, in hot water for colluding with the mafia, gets him involved against his wishes. They’re not giving him a choice; he has to cooperate with them for the next six months, and if he refuses, he’s dead. Like I said, Jack doesn’t really get much say in the matter.
This Is the Police puts you in control of Jack, constantly having to make decisions that toe the moral line between bad and worse, thanks to your mandatory mafia involvement. Sometimes you have to choose between helping Gang A or Gang B during turf wars, but you must be prepared for the consequences of going against the ones you turned your back on. Occasionally these choices must be made during cutscenes, but the bulk of it happens during the main gameplay segments; time-management police missions.
If you’re unfamiliar with the time management genre, the idea in that you’ve got a set timeframe in which to complete various random tasks throughout the day. Sometimes you may not have the capacity or ability to take on every task, so you must pick and choose which tasks are more important, or which will yield the greatest reward for completing or lowest punishment for failing.
In This Is the Police that you’ve got X number of officers at your disposal, and during each day there will be several crimes being committed throughout your fair city of Freeburg. Time is constantly ticking along and crimes frequently pop up, and you must send as many capable officers to the scene as you can; the more that go and the higher their level, the better chance they have of catching the perpetrator and returning safely. Incidents occurring further from the station will take longer to get to and return from, so while you want to make sure you’re sending enough to get the job done, you also don’t want to spread yourself too thin in case something unexpected pops up, like a massive attack or a favor from the mayor.
The time management segments make up the bulk of the game, and aside from some twists and turns as the plot moves forward, the day-to-day doesn’t change a whole lot. In the beginning there’s a new cutscene in between nearly every day, which keeps things moving along and interesting for the first week or so (with each day also serving as a tutorial for new mechanics, to smoothly ease you into it), but after two or three in-game weeks have passed one day at a time, things tend to get a bit monotonous and boring. Scenes that push the plot become fewer and farther between, with scant changes to the gameplay in that time. The prospect of 180 days of this is not appealing at all after you finally reach the end of your first month on the job.
Thankfully there are multiple time jumps throughout the game that help move things along, during which Jack is away from work for various spoilery reasons. These moments are incredibly welcome whenever they happen, both because it feels great to suddenly have moved 6 weeks forward in minutes when usually it would take hours, and they also bring new and exciting changes to the game’s plot and gameplay.
While the core of what you’re doing doesn’t change after these jumps (you’re still fighting crime while trying to keep yourself alive, by whatever means necessary), the intensity ramps up significantly, making normal heists and the like more deadly and challenging.
Even before any of those time jumps, however, death is a very real danger, both for Jack and his subordinates. Often times when you send a crew out on a job, unexpected events may happen. Say you get a call of attempted rape. Upon arrival, your officers tell you there’s an unconscious man face-down on the floor, and a woman, clothes torn and crying, sitting to the side and hiding something behind her back. You can tell you team to either, A) Point their guns at the woman and tell her to drop what she’s hiding, B) Assure her that they’re here to help, and she’s not in trouble, or C) Hit her with a taser, just to be safe. There are many ways to approach the people at crime scenes, be they the offenders or the victims, and how you handle it could mean life or death for your officers, not to mention that the perp might get away from a failed attempt.
When you make the right call and successfully bring the bad guys in, there is a real sense of accomplishment and relief, even though these moments happen fairly frequently. Every mission is risky to some degree, and you brought them back safely. Thank goodness. Likewise, the deaths of your team members who you failed to save loom overhead, and several days later when you are notified of their funeral proceedings, that hits hard. This is especially true when it’s an officer you’ve trained up from a rookie, who’s been there since the beginning and is now one of your best and brightest. It really sucks when one of them gets taken out.
Touching back on the unexpected events, occasionally City Hall will contact you demanding you take specific actions regarding your police force, depending on the political dramas occurring in Freeburg at that point in time. Quite often they involve hiring or firing specific demographics to please the public, and these moments are extremely uncomfortable. When there are racists rioting in the city threatening to harm or kill black people employed by the government, you’re supposed to fire all your black officers and detectives within 3 days “for their safety.” When feminists are protesting for women’s right, you have 4 days to make 50% of your staff women. There’s an important Japanese businessman coming to check out the force? Better make sure you’ve got at least 4 Asian staff working on the day of his visit.
Perhaps this is supposed to bring attention to real-life issues and politics that aren’t uncommon in the police world, but it doesn’t come off as a clever way for the game of its developers to make a statement. Rather you just feel kind of gross being told to fire all your black employees to appease the racists.
Racial and gender equality in the workplace is great, so hiring more women during the feminist protest was no problem, but even then, if you’ve got the maximum amount of staff you’re currently allowed, you must either fire some to make room (and if you fire them without just cause, like being too old or bad at their job, you’re likely suffer negative consequences) for the new recruits (who will probably be a lower level than most of your force), or pay the mafia to kill a few.
Oh, and of course you can ignore the Mayor’s demands and play the game as you like with the team you’ve built and assembled over time, but if you ignore his requests he’ll dock, cut your budget (meaning less staff overall), or one of several other harsh punishments. Whatever you do in these situations, either you feel real bad about it afterwards or you’re screwed over for doing the right thing, and that’s no way to have fun with a game. These events are meant to add a specific dynamic and challenge to the game, but there are better ways this mechanic could have been done, instead of resorting to shallow attempts at political commentary.
As a side note, an excellent – albeit completely cosmetic and inconsequential to the overall game – touch is the use of the speaker in the DualShock 4 controller as the police radio. I had no idea of this feature going in, so when my very first call came in and the voice came from my controller, I was legitimately taken aback. The speaker on the DualShock 4 has become similar to the Touch Pad; a gimmicky feature that could be really cool, but is severely underutilized in 99% of games. Because of this, I really enjoyed that this little indie game actually took advantage of that tech.