Beat Cop, from Pixel Crow, is a game where you play at a cop walking a street beat in 1980s Brooklyn, New York. Similar to Papers, Please, you engage in mundane tasks such as giving out tickets to meet your quota, scare off graffiti artists, and talking to store owners about their day. However, the street is also home to local gangs and other nefarious forces at work that will force you to choose who to help, who to hurt, and who ends up in the crossfire while trying to meet your quota. Ultimately, the game is about moment to moment choices and how your decisions affect the world around you.
Beat Cop will be available on March 30th, 2017 on Steam.
The game begins similarly to the 1980's action movies it is clearly influenced by. Detective Jack Kelly enters a Senator's home to stop a robbery in progress, only to kill the perp and see that some valuable diamonds are missing. With the perp dead and Jack Kelly the only other person at the scene, suspicions are raised and he is demoted down to beat cop. He only has 21 days to find the evidence and clear his name in a conspiracy that goes deeper than he imagined.
Beat Cop is a non-linear story which means the game has multiple endings that can vary based on what you accomplish during your time on the street. Will you clear your name or will the case be left unsolved?
The game takes place over 21 days and each day has its own unique story that ranges from humorous to harrowing. One involves helping a pornography store owner make a new video to boost sales for his failing store. Another has you investigating a suspicious cult that has the locals, and especially the priest, into a frenzy. This was one of the biggest draws for me when it came to playing the game as you never knew what crazy new story the next day will bring.
The cast itself is pretty atypical of the 1980's cop movies and tv shows it draws its inspiration from. There is the gruff sergeant, the lewd coworker, the "2 days from retirement," and others.
The basic gameplay of Beat Cop is pretty simple, as you spend your time handing out tickets, talking to people on the street, and solving small crimes that come your way such as a robbery or graffiti. A full shift in game lasts from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with each shift lasting about 15-18 minutes in the real world. When you are not conversing with the many people on the street, the clock is always ticking forward and you will have to decide what is more important to do as the day ends.
The real meat of Beat Cop lies in how you manage your time when faced with multiple scenarios. Sometimes you may not have anything to do besides write tickets, other times you could be forced to choose between stopping a robbery, meeting your ticket quota, and helping the mafia with a problem to gain favor, and the game rarely gives you enough time to do all of these as many events occur within a timer. It can often be nerve-wracking stuff as helping people may gain you positive points with the store owners, but neglect the mafia and you're a little bit closer to being their enemy. Help the mafia and the police and the other gang may not like it. There is a meter rating with each of these groups that shifts depending on how to deal with the world and people around you. Anger the mafia too much and they may threaten to whack you. Help the mafia and the police may become suspicious of your activities. The game points out that beginning that you will not be able to do everything at once no matter how hard you try and have to plan accordingly.
The other crux of the game is deciding what kind of cop you want to be. Write someone a parking ticket and they may offer a bribe which would be helpful in paying your ex-wife's alimony, but if caught you will lose points with the police and may get your pay cut. There is no way to determine if you will be caught or not until you take the bribe which makes these choices even weightier. Do you take it in hopes you don't get caught? If you do, is the payoff worth it? I personally refused to take bribes as the loss of pay from the police was crucial to my plan to earn enough money. However, I didn't mind doing some favors for one of the gangs on the street in order to make some much needed extra cash.
It's just a shame that the game is brought down by some technical issues in how the story and some quests pan out. There were times where the game told me to be somewhere by 4:00 PM, only for me to get there at 3:00 PM and be chewed out for not arriving in time. At other times, I will have completed my ticket quota and solved all the crimes asked of me by the police, only to have my pay docked for not completing all my duties. Exactly what duties I failed is never explained and made all the more infuriating when the sergeant tells me about the great job I did. In the main story, I had to find a person only to discover their corpse, but my quest log still kept telling me to look for that person for days afterward. During a side quest, the game kept telling me to talk to a local priest for more information, only I kept getting the same dialogue I get when there is nothing new to be said, causing me to fail the quest in the end. These are just a few examples of the technical hiccups I encountered during my time. Considering how important time management is, it's often upsetting when I try to make time to do something only to encounter a bug that causes me to fail anyway.
I also wish the quests within the game gave your more choices in how to proceed. There are often times where the game will give you a choice between two actions or dialogue options, only for the story to not proceed until you choose a certain one. In one example, I had to choose between slapping someone out of near death or administering drugs to save them. No matter how much I chose to slap, the game wouldn't proceed until I chose the administer option. There are times where your choices can affect the outcome, but those seem few and far in between.
The pace of Beat Cop can be agonizingly slow at times. I finished my first playthrough in 7 hours but sometimes these individual days can feel like a slog. The main story moves at a snail's pace sometimes as Officer Kelly is more of a passive participant than an active one, often waiting for another cop or informant to come through with a lead rather than chasing one down. Some in-game days will also give you very little to do. I had a few where I hit my ticket quota well before the deadline as well as finished the tasks for that day and still had 2 hours to spare, which amounts to a good few minutes where I was just waiting around for the day to end.
Graphics and Audio
The game has a pixel look similar to other indie games, but it is clear that Papers, Please was a big influence in more than just the gameplay department. The real quality lies in the details of the street where Kelly walks his beat. Pigeons fly overhead, often leaving droppings. Some citizens break dance while listening to a boom box. People open their windows to look outside and close them. One of my favorites is a headbanger who blasts heavy metal from his apartment while waving his hair like a madman. Citizens will run to move their car if they see you giving someone else a ticket. The gangs themselves also dress distinctively different. One of my favorite details is the police station itself that every day opens up in. The police captain will smoke when there is no one in his office. One time there was a Santa being taken into custody. Every day there is something different going on in the offices.
The one time the pixel graphics worked against the game was for one side quest where I had to tail a mafia lawyer. A gang member would tell me when he left their headquarters and to tail him but so many of the NPCs look so similar that I couldn't tell which one he was referring to.
The audio serves its purpose. I wish there was some music or something while walking the street as the normal ambiance sounds rather empty. Going to shops is a different story as some usually have audio that fits the environment. The diner will have the sounds of a sports game going on, for example, while the pornography store will have more suggestive audio.
Ultimately, I feel quite mixed about my time with Beat Cop. I immensely enjoyed it upon starting as the moment to moment decision making and time management was quite exciting. As I played, however, I got bogged down in technical issues, dull pacing, and a main story that loses steam well before the end. Had the number of days in a playthrough been reduced from 21 to 17 or so, I could see myself coming back for more. This is a game I would love to see redone with a bigger budget as there is something alluring about the idea of a cop who has to make moral and financial decisions on a moment's notice. As it is, Beat Cop can make for an entertaining weekend excursion to 1980's Brooklyn, but probably not much more.
|+ Engaging moment to moment gameplay||– Technical Issues|
|+ Lots of humor||– Story loses steam|
|+ Some fun side quests||– Some linear choices|
|+ Good pixelated graphics and detail|