I’ve always liked the idea of ‘cop’ games. Going around arresting perps, solving crimes and dishing out justice sounds awesome. With that in mind, Pixels Crow’s cop sim Beat Cop is now on consoles so you can try your hand at being the best/worst cop in town. Imagine my excitement!
You play as disgraced detective Jack Kelly, whos been wrongfully accused of a crime he didn’t commit – murder or theft or something… it’s all a little vague, to be honest. For punishment (and we’ll assume, while he awaits a verdict), Jack Kelly is bumped down to the bottom of the ladder and has to work as a ‘Beat Cop’ while trying to prove his innocence. It reeks of 80’s style TV horse manure storytelling and that’s what it’s supposed to be. Something light hearted that you can switch your brain off to.
When you first start up Beat Cop, you get a preface from the developers saying “When we were kids we spent countless hours on watching 80’s TV cop shows. We loved watching good guys kicking bad guys asses, saving beautiful women and driving muscle cars into the night. We knew they weren’t true and that’s what counted. Beat Cop is not a document about New York in the 80s. It’s our tribute to all those evenings spent in front of the TV. So… relax, enjoy the game and don’t take life too seriously ”.
I can’t help but feel this is an apology in advance. I’m old enough to mostly remember the 80’s and I’m pretty sure cop shows of that era weren’t so visceral, especially ones you would show to kids. Everything is hammed up to fifteen as Officer Kelly patrols his beat, dealing with a menagerie of colourful characters, all who take their stereotypes and shove them right in your face.
The first thing that struck me hard was the constant racial slurs. I mean, most people you speak to will happily refer to a person of colour in a derogatory fashion. I’m sat there thinking ‘hang on, I don’t remember ’80s cop shows being that racist’. It’s also doesn’t help that they said “Beat Cop is not a document about New York in the 80s”, because it sure feels like that’s what Pixel Crow are aiming for. Racism is represented in plenty of games without it feeling like the creators are reveling in it, but here, it’s treated like a bad joke. Some lines made my jaw hit the floor in disbelief.
Second to that was the misogyny. Every morning in the briefing, your co-workers go hard on the sexism towards a female colleague. You normally see these scenes in various media and (hopefully) feel super uncomfortable as a result. But in a game where you are supposed to “relax, enjoy the game and don’t take life too seriously”, it feels like you’re getting mixed messages and that’s pretty jarring. I’m always happy for these issues to be tackled as they should be brought to light on how bad it is and how we can do better to stop it from happening. Beat Cop just treats it as one big joke – one that’s not very funny.
This is all a real shame because Beat Cop has potential. You get dropped off in the morning on your beat and go from one end to the other, issuing tickets, stopping thieves and helping people in need when you can. Day one sees you familiarising yourself with the shops in the neighborhood and introducing yourself to their owners. Day two is where you actually have to get some work in as you’re tasked with dishing out parking tickets like you’re on commission. Well, actually you kind of are on commission.
You have a quota of five tickets to hand out for parking violations which will see you approaching cars, checking the meters and writing tickets if the parking has expired. Once a ticket has been issued, you can call a tow truck to take it away if you’re feeling horrible enough. If you meet your quota for the day, you get paid. If you double your quota, you get a bonus so the onus is on you to manage your time efficiently and make sure you maximise your output. Things will happen in the day too to keep you distracted, like for instance, getting calls to go to shops that have been robbed and chase down the perp. Once caught, you stay with them until a patrol car comes by and picks them up.
It’s not only about keeping the police happy. You also have two factions to maintain relations with: The Crew and the Mafia. Doing favours for these factions will increase your rep with them and get you a small cash bonus for your troubles. One mission given to me by the Mafia was to clear the area outside the pizzeria in time for the Dons visit. I had to tell the hooker in the alleyway to clear off and falsify a ticket on a car so I could call a tow in.
Other random occurrences happen on your beat ranging from finding lost bikes to playing poker to increase your bank balance. Money levels need to be maintained so you can pay your alimony, eat food and partake in said games of poker. I never found it too hard keeping up with everything. I was quite happy doing side jobs for the Mafia and refused every bribe from citizens trying to stop me ticketing their cars. It simulates being a beat cop quite well I guess (I’ve never been one so I wouldn’t know) right down to needing lunch every day because your stamina has run out… this is where things start to get a little… samey.
After a few days of repeating this, I started to find I could only play it in short bursts as the monotony set in quickly each time. The bad humour doesn’t do anything to alleviate the boredom that sets in either, making it a tough slog in most cases. Getting around is also a pain. You walk at a painful speed which speeds up when you press the run button. That’s fine in practice, but when the run meter is finite and runs out VERY quickly, you start to question your sanity. I thought things were not to be taken too seriously?
This games best feature is its art style. It’s indicative of the ’80s and is clearly a good fit for what Beat Cop is trying to achieve. Everything fits nicely on to the Switch screen and doesn’t take any graphical hits because of it. On the dock, everything scales nicely and still looks great even on a 50-inch screen where some pixel games tend to suffer.
Beat Cop kind of makes me feel uncomfortable though. Like, really uncomfortable. It has a lot of potential that’s hampered by unnecessary racism, misogyny and gameplay that’s monotonous by design. Monotonous gameplay sometimes gets a free pass if the game itself makes up for it in other areas. Here, graphics alone do not atone for the rest of Beat Cops mistakes. It’s buggy, handles sensitive issues poorly and doesn’t take long to become boring which is more than enough to warrant a pass unless it’s super cheap.