You remember those cop shows from the 80’s? Shows like Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, and Miami Vice? Well, Poland-based developer Pixel Crow certainly does, because their first game, Beat Cop, practically reeks of 80’s cop show parody. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you – Beat Cop is a stylish, sleek, and occasionally funny point-and-click game. There’s a lot to admire in the game’s simplicity: the controls, goal, and graphics are all simple, but layer on top of one another to create something that can be, at times, pretty remarkable. I say at times because while Beat Cop does succeed at providing a tense and enriching atmosphere, it doesn’t take long for the game to become exhausting to play.
You play as Jack Kelly, a detective who gets demoted when he is framed for murder and stealing diamonds from a senator. Now forced to work as a beat cop, he has to patrol a street in downtown Brooklyn, writing parking tickets and arresting any criminals that happen to spring up. Along the way, however, Kelly starts to unravel the truth about what happened that fateful night, and he finds himself dealing with the mafia, a street gang, and the struggles of keeping the citizens he’s supposed to protect safe and sound. The story is essentially a spoof of the classic 80’s police procedurals, something that the game outright tells you at the beginning. It asks you not to take the story too seriously, which makes sense considering the abundance of racism and sexism present in the game (it’s a parody after all, and you can’t really parody racism without showing racism).
My problem with the story is one I have with a lot of stories that don’t take themselves too seriously; it feels like they simultaneously want to tell their own police drama while also pointing out all the tropes present in the genre. The result is something that feels clumsy and unfocused. Here’s an example: on your first day on the job, your partner gets murdered in a drive-by shooting. The scene is set up to be very dramatic, and I legitimately felt upset that the guy we had spent most of the day with had been gunned down. But set up against the 80’s cop parodies the rest of the game likes to flaunt, it seems out of place. In all honestly, I wouldn’t have minded a darker, more serious story, as it would have complimented the gameplay perfectly. The story isn’t bad per se, but it’s the inconsistent tone that ultimately forbids it from being completely enjoyable.
As for the gameplay itself, the game is something of a cross between a point-and-click adventure and a simulation game. You patrol a street from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. handing out parking tickets and responding to any calls that come in on your radio. At the beginning of each day, you’re assigned a ticket quota that you must meet by the end of the day, and occasionally a few other tasks that must be done as well. Cars will be parked along your street throughout the day, and you must check them to make sure they’re parking legally; if not, you write them up a ticket. Thankfully, being New York, people who don’t follow the parking rules are as common as pigeons who crap on the sidewalk, so you’re usually destined to meet your quota in no time.
But occasionally, you get a call from Central giving you a random assignment that’s somewhere on your block. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to deal with these assignments, but ignoring them will lose you a lot of favor with the police force. Honestly, on many of the days, I was able to respond to these calls and fulfill the ticket quota relatively smoothly. This was especially noticeable when all I had to do was mark vehicles that were parked in an illegal spot, because that is super simple to do. See a car with the parking meter expired? Dash over there and slap a ticket on the windshield. But when you have to check their tires or lights, that’s when it gets hectic, since checking the car takes up time. On days like that, you really feel the pressure of keeping the city street crime-free. It doesn’t help that running down the street takes a very long time, even when you sprint, so you often just barely get to an event before its time runs out.
The people you meet on your beat can occasionally provide some relief from the stress of writing up tickets all day. There are plenty of businesses on the street that Kelly can interact with, such as a diner, a pizzeria, a drugstore, and a pawn shop. You can purchase goods from some of the stores, but often they simply serve to advance quests along. Depending on your choices, the shop owners will start to like you or hate you as the game goes on. There are also the two crime groups that you have to deal with: the Italian mafia and a street gang. They don’t like each other and they don’t like the police, but you can earn their trust by performing jobs for them on the side or letting their members go when they commit felonies. It’s all up to you to decide what kind of cop you are.
Controlling Jack Kelly is extremely simple; you just click on somewhere or something to walk there, and double-click a spot to sprint there. You have a stamina meter that lasts longer if your stamina stat is higher, which you can refill by eating food (apparently, downing a dozen donuts is great for your physical health!). This is the only real gameplay mechanic outside of putting tickets on cars, leaving out lots of room for the story and random events to take front stage. It reminded me a lot of Papers, Please, which was another game that had incredibly simple gameplay and character-driven stories. So does Beat Cop stack up alongside Papers as a game?
Well, some of it does. It’s true that you often feel the intensity of being a police officer just as you felt the intensity of being a border officer in Papers. Additionally, you also feel the same tedium. The problem is that in Beat Cop, the tedium begins to set in much quicker. When you’re not off handling a random event, the game becomes very routine – check a car, put a ticket on it if you can, rinse and repeat. Though to be fair, maybe this was the point. It’s true that being a beat cop does involve a lot of tedious work, just like being a border agent. And to the game’s credit, the events do a good job of bringing you back into the game’s immersion. Unfortunately, that makes the game a lot more uneven than Papers; at least Papers’ passport-checking gameplay required you to have a keen eye for detail that forced you to pay attention. Beat Cop doesn’t require nearly as much attention from the player, so the tedious moments feel all the more apparent.
That being said, the game’s aesthetics do a pretty decent job getting you immersed in the world of a beat cop in New York. The pixel graphics are pretty good; everything is identifiable, and it’s just cartoonish enough to avoid being unrealistic, yet still look bright and colorful. Just like in Papers, there’s no music when you’re on the beat, just the drone of the city noises to keep you company. It’s the sort of simple-but-effective aesthetic style that you’ve come to expect from indie games, and it suits the game quite well. It’s cartoonish enough to emphasize the humor, and gritty enough to replicate the cop dramas of the past.
All in all, I would only recommend Beat Cop to those who really enjoy the Papers, Please style of gameplay, or to those who absolutely adore 80’s cop drama. Even then, I want to stress that Beat Cop will eventually get tedious, even if you get suckered into the story and characters. The game is by no means bad, and when it’s good, it’s really good. But the final product is a little too uneven to completely recommend. I would say you should wait until this game goes on sale, because I do believe Beat Cop can be an enjoyable time; you just have to overcome the obstacle of it being a game that, for better or worse, portrays the mostly dull (but sometimes exciting) life of a New York cop.