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Review: Beat Cop
Developer: Pixel Crow
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $16.99 (Steam)
Rating: none currently, lots of mature content

Beat Cop is a balancing act. Ultimately, the scales of justice tip the wrong way.

You play as (now stay with me) a beat cop. You’re a recently-demoted detective, framed for a theft you didn’t commit. You’re forced to once again don a uniform and walk the same block every day, issuing tickets and dealing with relatively petty problems.

At the start of each day, you and your fellow officers have a briefing. You’re told how many tickets you need to issue and are informed about anything out of the ordinary on your beat that day, like an event that requires you to make sure not a single car is parked on the street by the end of the day.

After the briefing, you can either hit the street or engage in some inane banter with other officers. They rarely have anything interesting to say so eventually I just skipped the banter.

A day is spent walking up and down the block, putting tickets on windshields, getting to know the store owners while solving their problems, catching thieves and receiving orders from dispatch. Usually your first order of business is to start filling your ticket quota. You can issue tickets for broken lights, unroadworthy tires or parking violations.

Inevitably, dispatch asks you to see a store owner or resident who needs help. Or you may be approached to do a job for one of the criminal organizations on your beat, the Italians or “the crew.”

As the day goes on, your workload piles up. Time moves at a steady clip (maybe one second of real time for every five minutes of play). You have to worry about filling your ticket quota, responding to dispatches, doing jobs for criminals and a few other things, all within the limit of an 8-to-5 shift.

At the end of the day, you’re rated on your performance. For every dispatch you resolve and criminal you catch, you gain points with the police. But you also lose points for failures. And you’re graded for actions you take for (or against) the Italians or the crew.

And the next day, it all starts again.

While all this is happening, you’re trying to solve the mystery of who framed you, and trying to gain favour with other cops, the Italians or the crew, hoping they’ll help you. This overarching mystery, however, takes a back seat – to the point that I often forgot about it.

The development team at Pixel Crow love 1980s cop dramas and Beat Cop is intended as an homage. It falls short. The pixel art style definitely lends the game a great retro feel and the developers express a great deal with this relatively limited style. Your beat is full of colour and character. The music also helps gives it an ’80s cop show vibe.

But that’s where it ends.

I disliked the racist and homophobic slurs sprinkled throughout. It’s not like something off-colour is said every day but it’s enough to make me uncomfortable. I understand that the developers wanted to honour a genre they love and they don’t shy away from mature content, which is fine if handled correctly. But is this the part of ’80s cop shows you want to glorify (and I’m not even sure it’s a fair representation of those shows)?

But Beat Cop is not without its fun. It comes from scrambling around your street and managing to complete all, or close to all, of your duties and tasks. The very few times I saw an end-of-day report that was nearly all positive, it felt very good.

You have to stay focused if you want the best results. New situations can be fast and furious. You often juggle two or three dispatches (or criminal jobs) at once, while doing the usual ticketing and thief-hunting.

The promise of multiple possible endings as a result of the relationships you’ve built with the three factions is intriguing. I was always conscious of my actions and with whom I would gain favour.

But it wasn’t enough to make me love Beat Cop. The focused chaos was fun and satisfying, but the tasks became tedious. Issuing the same three tickets again and again gets old pretty quick. Chasing down thieves isn’t much fun either, especially since you have to catch them quickly. A robber can appear at the other end of your beat, making it impossible to reach them on time (and making you lose points).

Unless there’s a specific dispatch to help a store owner, there’s little incentive to stop to see them. In a game about getting to know your beat and the people on it, I would have liked more characterization here, especially since they’re all more interesting than your cop buddies.

The dispatches can lead to several day-long narratives, some of which I enjoyed. They introduce new characters or develop old ones, and they serve to keep you on your toes and break up the humdrum. But they’re hit-or-miss. One led me to the local priest and revealed his dark little secret. And one had me standing guard outside a mechanic’s shop while a porn scene was filmed inside. It sounds like fun – except all I did much of that day was stand in place, clicking through dialogue.

Beat Cop is not a bad game. A successful day is gratifying and I liked balancing the different factions. The pixel art gives it a pleasing aesthetic.

But it didn’t take long before I’d had enough. The game sets out to honour a specific genre but the depiction is often questionable. The gameplay gets fairly bland. Some characters deserved to be fleshed out more – and others just kept talking when I wanted them to stop.

If I want to experience old cop shows, I think I’ll just go straight to the source.

Sam Stewart, an actor, has a diploma in theatre studies and a degree film studies. He also works in the tech industry and loves to indulge his lifelong passion for video games, from the classics to new releases. He tries to look at video games from a broad perspective: as a gamer, but also as someone who wants to know what a game is telling its audience, how it’s advancing the genre and industry, and how it challenges the player.

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beat cop

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