by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Do your job
The release of Papers, Please in 2013 spawned a new genre of video game. Instead of fast paced action and epic stories, here you were tasked with performing mundane tasks and simply asked to make a basic living. Other games have come along and tried to emulate this style of game in a different setting, while never really capturing the magic of the “Dystopian Document Thriller.” Beat Cop is attempting to do the same, this time set in 1980s New York. You’ve got to get on with your job of keeping the streets free of crime, pay your alimony on time, and try and keep your nose clean.
Beat Cop is a point and click game with a nice pixel art style. After he’s framed for murder, Jack Kelly is demoted down the food chain to a simple beat cop, looking after a single street in New York City. As always with this style of game, you’ve got an overarching goal you need to achieve while balancing your work life. You’ve got to find out who framed you, and keep your head above water at the same time, and of course, it’s never simple. You see the same kind of moral decisions we’ve come across many times before. Do you perform your job perfectly for meagre pay? Or do you take a few bribes, do some extra work on the side, and bend the rules a little for some extra cash? It’s not exactly original nowadays, but it does at least fit in with the theme of the game.
Overall, the 80s theme doesn’t come through quite as well as I’d hoped. Beyond a few obvious trappings here and there, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I was told it was set in modern day New York. The game is clearly supposed to be humorous, but it often falls flat, and in fact the writing is generally quite lazy. Store names and slogans are taken from the Grand Theft Auto school of business writing, and you’re working, of course, out of “Precinct 69.” It’s unclear whether the writing is supposed to be highlighting issues of racism and sexism, or whether it’s simply using them to get a response or a cheap laugh. There’s a single woman officer at the precinct, and she is constantly the target of tasteless misogyny. There’s also a tepid attempt at a story revolving around racism with two rival factions. The language used is often offensive, and yet it feels like the writers were pulling a few punches with regards to certain words, perhaps in fear of getting called out.
A city riddled with crime
As for the actual gameplay, you’re clicking to move, and double clicking to run to locations. Your main job will be writing up tickets for cars parked on the street, whether because they’ve parked somewhere illegal, they haven’t paid for their parking meter, their tires are too worn down, or their lights are broken. You have a quota to meet, but that’s rarely a problem, as this appears to be the most crime riddled street in the world. At one point, three cars in a row had to be towed, shortly before I was called to a nearby robbery. Drug dealers and prostitutes are commonplace, and never a day goes by without several other incidents happening.
Making sure you perform all your tasks will keep your bosses happy, and you’ll also get paid for it. However, taking bribes might be a more efficient way of earning money, if you’re willing to take a few risks. When you’re writing up a ticket, the car’s owner might come up to you and offer you some money, and you have the choice whether to accept it or reject it and continue writing the ticket. It’s a shame that dialogue for these bribe instances is repeated so often. It’s also an annoyance, that the “Accept” and “Reject” options, however they may be worded actually switch place. I got accustomed to rejecting bribes using the bottom dialogue option, only for it to switch to the top in a different conversation. Perhaps I need to be more careful, but a more uniform dialogue layout would’ve been appreciated.
There are also some other bugs and annoyances. At one point I was called to an urgent robbery taking place at a shop. The only problem was, I was outside the establishment at the time, and there was clearly nothing going on. To keep your stamina up, you need to eat. There are multiple places you can get some grub on the street, but it doesn’t tell you how much it costs to eat there until after you’ve eaten. At one point Kelly even decided to tip an extra $5, something I didn’t have any control over. You’re short on cash and it seems someone is out to get you, now is not the time to take up philanthropy.
Get back to work
The major problem is that the tasks you have to perform are simply too boring. Yes, in Papers, Please you were checking entry permits and passports and other mundane items. But there was a real puzzle there. You had a limited amount of space to work with, so much to keep track of, and you felt under real time pressure all throughout the day. In Beat Cop, all you have to do is click on a car a few times to make sure it’s not breaking the law. There’s always enough time to perform all your tasks, and there’s never enough variety to keep things interesting.
Overall then, Beat Cop is sadly lacking in many areas. The writing is rarely funny, and the actual predicament Jack Kelly is in takes quite some time to get going. There are also some glaring spelling and translation errors to be found. The 1980s had a very distinct style, and it’s not captured very well here. As for the gameplay, the point is that you’re balancing a boring work life and a stressful private life, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring to play. There are some interesting choices to be made here, and some of them have real consequences, but actually getting to them feels too much like hard work.
Some interesting moral choices to be made
Poor writing, boring gameplay