Beat Cop (2017) puts you in the shoes of Jack Kelly, a detective who has been demoted to uniformed officer after allegedly stealing a senator’s diamonds. It’s a time management sim and a point and click action game, set in a downtrodden, 1980’s Brooklyn street. It has similar bureaucratic, Kafka-esque overtures to Papers, Please (2013) but Beat Cop looks for its story to take centre stage.
You start your first beat under the tutorage of experienced cop, Fat Mike. All goes well, he shows you the beat, introduces you to the various characters and businesses you’ll look after on your patrol, but gets gunned-down in a drive-by shooting at the end of the day. Things start to unravel quickly from that point.
Each day begins at 8am and you’re given a quota of parking tickets to issue. You’ll spend the rest of your time being called to robberies, murder-scenes and balancing a tightrope between keeping the police, local mafia, a street gang called the Crew, and residents in line. All actions have a reaction and what you may do to please the mafia, may displease the Crew, and in a similar fashion, taking a bribe in exchange for letting a down-on-their luck driver go from getting a parking ticket, may reduce your standing with the police.
The first few in-game days have a real novelty to them as you uncover each type of activity for the first time, though it becomes apparent that they lack depth and start to become repetitive. Thematically, this speaks to the bureaucratic nature of Beat Cop and its quotas to hit, but it starts to bore as the days pass by. Despite this, it has a story that has intrigue to maintain interest and you interact with various characters that provide further insight into the background to Kelly’s story, and offer opportunities to get you out of the mess you are in.
The game is mechanically simple and makes completing the variety of different tasks put towards you relatively simple. Issuing a parking ticket takes a few mouse clicks and dialogue isn’t presented in options, as conversations play out with no player input whatsoever, other than the choice to refuse or accept a shady offer from the mafia or the Crew. There are few exceptions when the game did anything to break away from its very structured gameplay, such as a mini-game where you have to search a vehicle. During this task, the vehicle is full of items hiding a ‘package,’ and you’ve given few moves to shift these items around to reveal what is being hidden. Again, it is a shame that Beat Cop doesn’t offer more variety as this keeps the game from being truly captivating.
Visually, Beat Cop offers the same pixelated art-style as Papers, Please, but is more colourful and vibrant. Details look clear and crisp and the atmosphere of the street is heightened by rubbish-cluttered alleyways, grime and graffiti-covered walls, and smoke seeping from car-bonnets. It also offers a well-produced soundtrack, reminiscent of classic cop-dramas, but only has a few tracks, making it feel a bit samey after having played for a while.
The real shame about Beat Cop is that it doesn’t capatalise on the era it is set within, where racial tensions were high and police corruption was rife. It touches upon these themes lightly but never explores them fully, either within its story or your interactions with the various characters to really make the game interesting. Had the time been taken to flesh out these ideas into something of more substance, it would have been a more immersive experience, other than a decently produced time management simulator. It is clear the developers intended for Beat Cop to be a light-hearted escapade, given the overall tone of its writing, which is fine, but the writing, in terms of its narrative and dialogue, isn’t strong enough to carry game on its own.
What Beat Cop comes down is a serviceable addition to its genre, which has value as an experience, in addition to novelty and charm. What remains unclear is that, despite its interesting and promising story, is if Beat Cop will hold the attention of everyone who plays it until its climatic moments.