LA Cops is all about busting through doors, shooting bad guys, eating doughnuts and doing is all while rocking some badass facial hair – unless you’re the sole woman on the team, Jo Murphy, that is. It might be a fast paced isometric shooter, but it’s one with a quite unique sense of style and most importantly, its own identity.
A lot of this stems from the art style and setting, with particularly crisp cel shading in effect, bright and vibrant colours to the characters and environments. Alongside the music, it all captures that particular 70s vibe perfectly, which is even more pronounced as the brief cutscenes before levels poke fun at and trot out every cliche in the book.
The comparisons to Hotline Miami will be inevitable – and especially so when its sequel is also out this week, albeit on a rival console – and it’s certainly in a similar segment of the twin stick shooter genre, with fast and frenetic shootouts, a quite minimal ability to take damage and plenty of restarts when you die. But LA Cops has plenty of tricks up its sleeves that help it to stand apart.
Chief amongst these is that you always start off with a gun (which is useful, since all the bad guys have guns too), and you’ve got a buddy who has your back. Ahead of each mission, you pick two cops from a roster of six, allowing you to pair up whoever you so choose. It’s largely a cosmetic decision to start off with, but as you complete levels though, you earn experience points from each level that can upgrade health or damage, for example, as well as unlock new starting weaponry. It makes reusing the same pair of cops all the more attractive.
But what this means during play is that you can hop between the two partners at will, while also ordering the character that’s not under your direct control around the map – and you can spin the camera angle around to get a better view, too. Making sure that you’ve got two guns pointed at a doorway can be pretty useful, or you could potentially time is so that you burst through the door at the same time. If you die, you switch to the other cop, meaning they act as a lifeline should you make a mistake, and doubly so if you can find the randomly placed health kit within each area.
And mistakes will happen in the few seconds that a gun battle lasts. You’re almost always the aggressor in a given situation, crashing through doors all guns blazing and bringing nearby criminals running to your position. As you fire wildly, the scenery takes a few knocks – glass shatters, lockers break open, slot machines get smashed up – and you just have to hope that you take out the criminals before they can take you down.
Though your crosshair changes colour when an enemy is in your cop’s sights, you thankfully also have a lock on ability, that will let you automatically target enemies. However, there was a noticeable divide between how I played on keyboard and mouse compared to controller. With a mouse, the cursor can roam the screen and you can mouse over the enemy you want to shoot at, as well as have much more freedom with moving your partner around. Yet, with a controller, I found myself locking on far more effective and more intuitive in a gunfight.
So effective is the lock on, that I was able to take out almost any onrushing threat by alternately tapping to lock on and fire – this was especially true with the assault rifle which you can pick up or unlock as a starting gun later into the game. Perhaps somewhat cynically, it also meant that I started to use my partner as little more than a nearby lifeline rather than setting up covering fire, or switching between them if I’d taken a hit or two. Once or twice, I’d even use myself as bait to take the bullets, so I could then mop the enemies up from a distance with my partner.
Though the 13 levels in the game are intentionally difficult and will see you restarting numerous times, I still felt some points were unnecessarily so, such as when enemies rush out of doors from both sides, or during the rather protracted final showdown with Hawaiian Mo and his gang. Normal and Hardcore feel relatively similar in terms of difficulty, but Nightmare difficulty ups the ante significantly on controller, I feel, because it removes the ability to lock on, making precise targeting a must during the longer battles, and meaning that you go through more precious ammo.
There’s a pleasing degree of randomisation to the enemies though, so that sometimes they will be carrying different guns or they might be walking different paths. There’s still a few too many instances where they’re literally walking in a circle for my liking, and they’re not particularly bright in a gunfight, very much in the vein of running straight for you and trying to put a bullet in you with unerring accuracy. Nothing you can’t deal with from a distance or stand around a corner and shoot or melee/handcuff them, but it always has a propensity to catch you out.
Unfortunately, there more rough edges throughout. Doors are fickle beasts that might let you knock someone over os you crash through, but tend to get in the way more often than not, your partner’s trigger finger isn’t quite as itchy and quick to fire as I’d like, and perhaps worst of all, the grenade launcher might turn someone into a wet splat of blood on the floor, but has no splash damage to deal with groups of enemies. You can imagine my disappointment when I first tried it out.
From the vibrant visuals and the pitch perfect 70s cop theme to the fast and snappy buddy cop action, LA Cops has a lot of great ideas, but hasn’t really done enough with them. The partner system in particular could have been something unique and special, evocative of classic buddy cop films and TV series, but in the end, I was just gunning down enemies with my backup around the corner.
Version tested: PC