Managing border patrol can sound like a boring job, and that’s your role in Contraband Police. You manage the border for your country after the last person was fired. Your job is ensuring people with proper documentation pass the border. Everyone else leaves or gets arrested because they are criminals.
While it initially seems boring, Contraband Police does an excellent job of introducing variety into your activities. Border patrol isn’t just checking documents, but hunting for contraband. Criminals must be sent to labor camps, but you must defend yourself if gangs mount a rescue. You must choose between the welfare of your team and doing what is right. You are always alert when playing, because you don’t know what will happen, and that makes the game fun to play.
Contraband Police is available on PC for USD 19.99.
Story – Replacing the Last Person
You begin Contraband Police by replacing the last border patrol officer on the job. Things didn’t work out well for him, but hopefully they will when you’re in charge! That’s the hope as you learn your job responsibilities and how your team works together.
What looks like a droll job turns into a challenge quickly. Traitors exist who do not agree with the communist government you work for. Criminal gangs are working to subvert you, and sometimes openly clash with violence. The government also pushes new policies that force you to reject people who would be fine otherwise.
Similar to Loretta, the setting of the game takes place in the past. Specifically, it’s a rendition of the 1980s, with a communist government in power. The push for democracy is a key point in the story, though whether you go along with it is another matter. Dealing with other aspects of your job creates a surprisingly deep story where no two days are the same.
Rather than introducing a person doing their job and looking out for themselves, Contraband Police includes multiple narratives into the story. The result is a story that has a surprising amount of depth for a simulation game. While it’s important to look out for yourself and the team you manage, you must also consider where your loyalties lie. The decisions you make have an impact in the future, and you want to continue playing to see the consequences.
It’s not a narrative work of art or a powerful story that moves you emotionally, but it has more weight than simply “doing what you are told”. Instead, the story complements the gameplay, making you somewhat interested in what’s happening next. It’s how you react to situations and carry out your job that actually matters in the game.
Gameplay – Protecting People & Making Money
Contraband Police is about making sure people who visit your country, for whatever reason, are doing it properly. All their information checks out, they don’t lie about their goods, and they aren’t criminals. Most of your time is spent refining your document check skills, along with your ability to spot contraband as per the game title.
Similar to games like The Mortuary Assistant, you play in first person view, and will have multiple jobs to do. Document checking is the easy part, but as time goes on, you have more responsibilities. A government order forces you to pay attention to the country of origin on a passport. Notices of criminal activity require searching cars and tearing open goods in search of contraband. You also drive convicted criminals to labor camps, while dropping off contraband at the main police base.
Every time you do your job properly, you earn money. Incorrect calls cost you money, whether it is letting the wrong person through or not catching a criminal. This becomes important when you encounter people who are desperate, or when someone slips you a bribe. Do you listen to your heart or stick to your job? Your decisions don’t make a big impact in the short term, but there are crucial points that lead to tough choices.
Decision Making – Survival Or Doing What’s Right?
Money is an important part of Contraband Police, because you need it to survive. Running a border patrol outpost isn’t free, and you must pay salaries and maintenance fees. Violence and gunfights occasionally appear, and dealing with them is mandatory or you lose the game. But earning money can seem like a cold and calculated decision compared to doing the right thing.
When someone clearly comes to you with forged papers but has a good reason, do you turn them away? After catching a criminal in the act, do you take the bribe which covers the cost of failure? They aren’t easy decisions, especially because the consequences can be dire in other ways.
If you are unable to fund the border patrol outpost, you lose the game. Expenses aren’t much at the beginning, but you must upgrade your base and staff to cope with future events. That costs money, and you might find yourself running out. Those are the times where bribes start to look appealing, though it hurts your job performance.
This is also true if you are a willing ally of democracy. Helping the cause means looking the other way and slashing your paycheck. Is it a worthy cause? It’s a hard question to answer when you can’t seem to pay for anything.
Decision making is a key part of the game, and it adds variety that you won’t often see in simulation games. What you choose to do (or don’t do) has an impact. Dealing with the consequences of your actions makes you curious about the future.
Variety – Nothing Goes Stale Quickly
Games can often become boring after doing the same activity repeatedly. You can only do so many document checks before you get tired. To counter this, Contraband Police adds two additional activities that are just as important as document checking: driving and combat.
It’s not safe being a border patrol officer. Gangs are trying to carry out activities and you are in their way. Firefights are not uncommon, and can’t be avoided at times. You must arm yourself and fight against these threats, whether out on the roads or at an allied location.
Your work also extends further than the border patrol outpost. You can’t keep criminals there forever, and must drop them off at a labor camp. Your tools wear out overtime, and you must buy new ones. Both activities require driving to a location and performing the necessary actions.
There’s a good mix of border patrol work, driving, and combat. While border patrol work must take up a good chunk of your time, the other two aspects aren’t neglected. You must drop off criminals you captured, or they cause problems down the line. Fighting happens frequently enough that you must have the right weapons or you die. These activities work together to prevent the others from feeling stale. This keeps gameplay enjoyable while slowing down the inevitable advance of boredom.
Unfortunately, the mix of activities is more ambitious than it seems, and it shows in the mechanics.
Mechanics – Missing or Weird
Combat is a big part of Contraband Police, but something that is missing is your health bar. You can tell if you are badly hurt or about to die, but you seemingly “recover” after a short time. This isn’t always accurate, and sometimes you “recover” and go down after another hit. It’s odd to see simple UI features missing, because it’s not unimportant.
Other aspects, like driving or checking for cars in poor condition, can work but don’t feel great. What might look like a car in poor condition is really just a missing piece that doesn’t look necessary. Driving on the roads can be difficult because you don’t have much control over your vehicle at times. While everything works fine for the most part, you do see the odd mechanic rear its head and it does dampen the experience.
Audio & Visuals – Clear, Obvious Visuals
Contraband Police involves checking, and the game spares no expense in making certain things clear to you. It’s obvious when someone’s photo doesn’t match, and it’s not hard to see. You know what’s on the road and the obstacles you must avoid. When fighting in the heat of combat, you know what cover is available and where your opponents are.
Similarly, great attention to detail is seen with the contraband. Drugs and weaponry actually look like what you would find in a smuggling operation. Vehicles are often exploited to carry dangerous items, and are built in a similar fashion. The game looks great, even if some details aren’t always as obvious.
The voice acting is another place where the game shines, because the upbeat tones are easy to catch. It’s not hard to tell what moods people are feeling, and how they react towards you.
Contraband Police was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by Community Villa.