This Is The Police (Switch) Review
This Is The Police (TITP) is a game about being uncomfortable. It’s a game about making impossible choices. But most of all, it’s a game about control. Wanting control, having control, and losing control. After roughly 40 hours with the game, I’m still not sure if I like it or not. It’s a fascinating game, to say the least, and what it attempts to do is incredible, even if it doesn’t quite pull it off.
In This Is The Police, you take control of the life of Jack Boyd, the esteemed and well-respected Chief of Police for the fictional city of Freeburg. Despite the name, Freeburg is anything but free; there’s a war on the streets and everyone’s involved. Gang activity runs rampant, the media are corrupt, the citizens are angry, and the police? Well, the police are just trying to keep the city from burning to the ground. But Jack Boyd has more on the line; he’s 6 months from forced retirement, and he doesn’t have a penny saved to support himself. This Is The Police has you make the choice to help the city, or help Jack fill his pockets before his time is up.
The game plays like a classic strategy game with a few very interesting twists. Classic time-based tasks are replaced by police call outs, where you have to designate a certain number of officers (the “resources” of the game) to investigate a crime. Depending on the severity of the crime, and the number of officers you send, the time taken to sufficiently investigate the crime can vary in length. It’s largely up to the player to determine how many officers need to go to each call out, and in most cases you can send as many or as few as you’d like. There’s a lot of quick thinking and strategy to this, as some calls will require more or less officers than it might seem, and some calls are even better left ignored, either because they’re total hoaxes, or because some old lady is just super racist and thinks a person of colour is stalking them, when in fact they’re just delivering the mail.
As you progress, you’ll come into contact with various gang leaders who want favours from you, and it’s here where things get a little bit dicey. While it is technically possible to finish TITP without ever doing anything illegal, it’s far from plausible to play the game this way. The easiest way to make money is to send officers to do jobs for the gang leaders, or to ignore a particular call out. Of course, this means that people often get killed, and that means bad press. Bad press means that City Hall steps in, and the punishments from City Hall can be devastating. Sometimes you’ll get your pay docked, which doesn’t mean much when you’ve got near-constant income from gang activity, but sometimes you’ll lose officer slots, meaning your force is effectively crippled until you appease City Hall again.
The problem is that with a smaller force, it’s harder to respond to every call, and calls will quite often go badly. It’s far too easy to spiral downwards, with City Hall punishments leading to a less effective force, leading to more City Hall punishments. TITP requires a balancing act worthy of Cirque du Soleil, and it takes a lot of careful planning and thinking ahead to even get through a single day sometimes. That gets tiring after a while, and though the strategy elements are certainly compelling and interesting, tedium sets in quickly when faced with 180 days of the Same. Damn. Thing. That said, the voice acting that comes every few days in a story cutscene makes the repetition almost worth it, with Jon St. John (better known as the voice of Duke Nukem) doing some incredibly heavy lifting in his portrayal of Jack Boyd, and the rest of the voice cast filling the gaps in a more than satisfactory way.
One thing that’s irked me consistently since starting my playthrough is the seemingly flippant way that TITP handles social issues. A lot of the issues you hear about in the city of Freeburg come from the (admittedly biased) media, with headlines about sexual misconduct, sexism, racism and corruption thrown at you at the beginning of each day. Sometimes these issues come up in the game, but they’re handled in a really absurd way. On my first week as chief of police, I was told by City Hall to increase the percentage of black police officers on my force to meet a diversity quota. But a few days later, after some extremely conservative newspapers made up a story about gang violence, I was told to reduce the number of black officers to zero, or else face severe punishment. I couldn’t indiscriminately fire officers, else I’d face unlawful dismissal lawsuits, so my only option was to send them to their deaths in dangerous call outs with no backup. Another instance had me send police out to a peaceful feminist march, and under orders from the mayor, I was to arrest them all, despite peaceful protest being very much a protected right.
TITP doesn’t do much beyond presenting these horrible decisions and letting you decide what happens, but it seems like the way to win is always to be an extremely shitty person. I could never quite figure out if the game was trying to address these issues in a meaningful way, or just be super edgy by constantly bringing them up. I lean towards the former, if only because I struggle to believe that anybody could really be as awful as the game wants me to be, but the shrouding of a clear message hurts the game more than it helps it.
This Is The Police tries to do something interesting, both in its storytelling and its gameplay, and while it delivers a unique experience, its lack of commitment is ultimately its downfall. That’s not to say it does any one thing poorly, but rather it does many things decently and few things well. The gameplay is interesting enough to keep you entertained, but the lack of variety in day-to-day missions becomes tedious quickly. The only aspect of the game that truly stands out is its ability to make you feel something. Sometimes that’s enough to overlook the shortcomings of a game, but this is not one of those cases.
Interesting take on the strategy genre
Stellar voice acting
Lack of a clear message