by Amber Hall
reviewed on PC
A GRIM SETTING
Having never played the first game in the series, I was drawn to This is the Police 2 when I saw a trailer for it months ago. Despite the clean, minimalist art style, the premise seemed dark and gritty. I finally got my hands on the game and tried it out for myself. So did it continue to grip me with its dark themes and view on a corrupt police force?
This is the Police 2 carries that gritty feeling all the way through. It paints a bleak story and manages to do so for nearly every character. Even minor characters give the player a strong sense of who they are and where they're coming from. Despite having not played the first game, I could easily understand the perspectives of returning characters, as well as newly introduced ones. The town of Sharpwood feels deeply lawless and grim, and coming from a small town myself, I can relate. Indeed, the setting feels like a character itself. Characters talk about Sharpwood like it's a pit that they couldn't get out of if they tried, and it's these sorts of little details that really bring the characters and setting to life.
MAYBE TOO MUCH DETAIL?
However, this level of detail comes at a price. This is the Police 2 has a lot of dialogue, and I mean a lot. Most of the game boils down to watching extremely long cutscenes with playable bits in between. I'm not one to dislike games that focus more on telling a story over gameplay. I love a good story and I've enjoyed many games that take the story over gameplay approach. However, it feels a little over done in This is the Police 2. They're extremely well done cutscenes, and the voice acting is fantastic. Sometimes voice actors stumble and pause in sentences, which makes it feel like real, non-scripted dialogue. But this goes on for far too long. A lot of the dialogue could be trimmed down and I would still get the same sense of character that This is the Police 2 so painstakingly tries to convey.
Within the long bouts of dialogue, however, there is some really great political commentary. For example, Lilly Reed is appointed Sharpwood's new sheriff after the old one is killed in an ambush. She tries desperately to take her job seriously, but her male coworkers disrespect her authority at every turn. Lilly can barely talk to any of them in any serious manner and there are a few times where they give orders in her stead while she's standing right there. I really enjoyed the more serious messages in the game, but, much like the dialogue, they can become overbearing. Again, some moments could use trimming down and I think that the messages within the story would stand while creating a more comfortable pace.
BUT IT'S ALSO A GAME!
The actual gameplay of This is the Police 2 varies. There are parts where the player is simply choosing dialogue options. Most of these feel as if they have no real bearing on the outcome of the story, but sometimes, these moments are used to expose more about a character. In one instance, Boyd is writing a letter to his family. The options for each paragraph in the letter expose a lot about Boyd's character. I realized quickly that every option is truthful in Boyd's eyes, except one is dressed up to sound better while the other option is the rawest form of the truth. I could feel that he wanted his family to understand what was happening to him, but he couldn't stand to have them think about him the way that the raw truth would make him out to be. Parts like this are more than enough to paint a full picture of a character, and I appreciated when the game let me discover things for myself in this way, rather than going on and on in a cutscene.
Other parts where the player has control of the game vary, but the real meat comes from the turn-based, XCom-like battle system. Each cop has their own set of skills and the player must use them in a bunch of different situations that I found really fun to play through. Most weapons are non-lethal, and it was an interesting take on a style of gameplay that normally involves taking down the enemy in whatever violent way you can. That's not to say that there aren't lethal weapons, but the inclusion of non-lethal weapons gave me a choice whenever tackling a situation. I appreciate that, in a game about a corrupt police force, I was still given the option to disarm and arrest rather than shoot wildly.
However, with the variety of intractable sections, the XCom-like combat, and the seemingly unending cutscenes, it can feel a little overwhelming. There are almost too many systems in place for the player to really grasp any of them fully, and when they're separated by extremely long cutscenes, it can be hard to remember what the quick tutorial in each section taught you in the first place.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO PACE
The issues with This is the Police 2 mostly boil down to pacing. The cutscenes are so long that you can forget that you're playing a game at all, and they serve to space out the moments of gameplay a bit too far, creating a disjointed feeling between the other aspects of the game. Trimming down the dialogue and letting players have more interaction in each cutscene could have gone a long way toward tightening up the pacing while keeping the world and character building just as strong.
Nice minimalist art, interesting political views, deeply explored characters
Cutscenes that you might as well start popping popcorn for, slow pace, moments of gameplay too spaced out