Hey, who here remembers when THQ Nordic held an AMA on a child-porn site? Anyone?
THQ Nordic sure have had a colourful and eventful history; publishing well-received series like Painkiller and Book of Unwritten Tales, they’ve just published Biomutant which I’m hearing decent things about, they’ve acquired the distribution rights to some fantastic intellectual property like Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy and Alan Wake, and of course, their PR director Philipp Brock once held an impromptu ‘Ask Me Anything’ Q&A session on 8chan, a website blacklisted from Google because – amongst other things – it was repeatedly found to be hosting child pornography.
This is not an article about THQ Nordic – and oh God, what an article that would be – but unfortunately, since they are the publishers of This Is the Police 2, a game I played and really enjoyed this year, I feel obligated to remind everyone of their history, lest I unintentionally give them a glowing recommendation. I would simply not cover the game, but having written about games developed or published by Ubisoft and Konami before, it’s a little late to start following that rule. If I limited myself to only writing about video games made by companies that aren’t openly evil or reprehensible by sheer incompetence, that would narrow my possibilities down to basically none of them, except for a few indie titles, and even then, there would be risks. *cough* Scott Cawthon *cough*
So as a compromise, I’m going to write about this game published by THQ Nordic that I really loved, but I also wanted to thoroughly remind you that a) They didn’t even develop the damn thing, that credit belongs to Weappy Studio, who have only developed This Is The Police, its sequel, and its spin-off, Rebel Cops, and b) Just in case you’ve forgotten already, the PR director of THQ Nordic decided it would be a good idea to host an event on a website that multiple mass shooters have posted their manifestos to; a website best-known for its ties to white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and child pornography. Sheesh. At least when Bethesda kept fucking up Fallout 76, they had the courtesy to be so incompetent that it was hilarious rather than deeply troubling.
So given my established feelings towards THQ Nordic, I would love nothing more than to rip apart one of their published products, proving that their incompetence in the field of public relations isn’t a one-off, but a reflection of their skill in general. And unfortunately, I can’t do that, because This Is the Police 2 is… absolutely fantastic. It’s a brilliant game from start to finish that takes everything promising from the intriguing-but-flawed original and polishes it to perfection, adds several new features, (including one that was engaging enough to spawn an entire spin-off title) and generally succeeds at everything it attempts, except maybe finding a less-shitty publisher. If it wasn’t for the unfortunate involvement of THQ “Child porn? Not a dealbreaker for us, apparently!” Nordic then I would undeniably be recommending this in the strongest possible regard. And honestly, I still kind of do, if you can get it for cheap or bought it before the stuff about the publisher came to light.
The original title was a pretty good real-time management game where you played as police chief Jack Boyd (voiced by Jon St. John, AKA Big the Cat himself! Also Duke Nukem, I guess) in the fictional location of Freeburg, a corrupt piece-of-shit city with a fittingly corrupt piece-of-shit mayor and a police department which, based on your input, can be totally corrupt, or just a little bit corrupt, as a treat. Jack Boyd is being forcibly retired at the ripe old age of 60, but would preferably like to stay on for a little bit longer, and he also has the mysterious aim of amassing a retirement fund of at least $500,000 in the final 180 days that he has on the job.
The gameplay of the series mainly consists of sitting behind a desk and dealing with calls as they come in. You have a limited number of officers at your disposal, but are still expected to answer every alert that comes your way, whether they’re genuine crimes in progress, false alarms, or favours for anyone who wants them, which can vary from ‘Can you send two officers to act as security guards at the cinema for a few hours?’ to ‘I, uh, found some stolen cars, could you send some of your guys over to drive them to a buyer I have? I’ll split you 10% of the profit!’
The professionalism of your officers determines how likely they are to successfully apprehend a perpetrator, so sending your six best officers and the SWAT team – which you can only call upon once per day and flat-out don’t exist in the sequel – to catch a suspected shoplifter is probably not the best use of your time; nor should you send one lone inexperienced officer to handle an armed bank robbery, and the game is somewhat randomized in the sense that if you repeatedly play the same day (which you might want to, if a bad call gets multiple officers killed) then you won’t always accomplish the same result by sending the same people to handle the same situation.
The first game is split into three main parts, and each part has their own problem; the first section is definitely the hardest because This Is the Police is one of those games that is at its most-difficult at the very beginning, when you don’t have very many officers, the officers you have aren’t great, and the mayor is already asking you for favours which you can’t afford to miss because if he doesn’t like you, he’ll never approve the hiring of anyone new, but you also can’t afford to do them because sparing three officers to pretend to be his drinking buddies at a bar effectively halves your entire workforce.
The second part of the game focuses on a serial killer and gives you a choice regarding how involved you want to be in the hunt. I stepped back completely and let the FBI handle things, and was then suddenly informed several weeks later that due to a lack of involvement on my part, half of my staff were being fired and my wages were being slashed, so that was certainly quite annoying. The problem with the third and final part of the game is that you have to choose a side between two absolutely reprehensible and irredeemably bad people who will probably totally 100% keep their word just as soon as you’ve helped them deal with the other reprehensibly awful person.
There’s so much more that I could say about This Is the Police, but ultimately, I finished the game three years ago and I never felt the need to review it. It’s a decent enough game with a very satisfying gameplay loop if you can get into a good rhythm of solving crimes and making money, but it has its flaws and it certainly drags on a bit. This Is the Police 2 demanded much more of my attention immediately, by improving basically everything that it was possible to improve upon.
Let’s start with the core gameplay loop. In the original game, for the vast majority of crimes that are reported to you, once your officers arrive at the scene, you’re simply notified whether they successfully caught the criminal or not, and whether or not anyone was injured. Choosing which officers to send was the beginning and the end of your involvement in this particular crime. But in some cases, roughly a quarter, upon arriving at the scene, you’d be given a choice on how specifically you would like your officers to proceed, usually with three options; aggressive, diplomatic, or comically stupid.
In This Is the Police 2, every single crime is like this, which makes you feel much more personally responsible for the success or failure to respond to every alert you receive. On top of that, while the overall professionalism of your officers is still an important factor, there are now separate skills that come into play in almost every decision. The six fields in which your officers can be trained further are Strength, Intelligence, Speed, Stealth, Shooting and Negotiation. Strength is the best for breaking down doors or physically subduing people, Intelligence is useful for defusing explosives and other scary situations requiring an expertise in technology, Speed is useful when catching up to someone or needing to be quick on the draw, Stealth is pretty self-explanatory, as many situations can be resolved by climbing through an open window or just catching someone by surprise, Shooting is dangerous but an effective last resort, and can be used non-lethally if your officer has a taser or is shooting out the wheels on a vehicle, and Negotiation can be used to convince someone to peacefully surrender.
In the original game, answering alerts in a prompt and successful manner was the primary – and for the most part, only – way to raise your officers’ professionalism, but in the sequel, for every 50 points they earn (10 for responding to a crime, 30 if you specifically chose them to perform the action that ended a crime they were attending to, and 50 for solving a mystery and catching the culprit) then you can choose one of these areas to raise their skills. It’s hard to get excited over something as basic and – at the time of writing – overused to the point of cliché as ‘skill trees’, but this is legitimately a really fun feature that lets you develop your officers in whatever way you see fit. Sure, sooner or later all of your best cops will be equally experienced in every field, but it’s a really fun journey to get there, balancing out the skills amongst the officers you send to respond to every crime. I would recommend making sure that you always have someone who can negotiate, as that’s probably the most frequently-useful path to take.
Another element that factors into how effectively you can respond to alerts is the equipment you’ve assigned to your officers. The small snowy town of Sharpwood is not as well-equipped as Freeburg was, and while every officer has a gun, you have to manually divide up the nightsticks, pepper spray, flashbangs, tasers – and taser cartridges – which is made difficult when you won’t have nearly enough equipment to keep everyone as prepared as possible, and on top of this, every officer can only hold four items, and while the taser and taser cartridge are easily the most-useful items, they’re both counted separately. But don’t worry if this sounds tiresome; there’s a feature to automatically assign equipment based on… I’m honestly not sure, but it always does a good job. And you’re always free to let the game make most of the decisions for you and then switch around anything that you think needs changing.
But the equipped items and the skill trees both combine to heavily effect the largest change in the game, and it’s a very welcome one. For whatever reason, Weappy Studio decided that their time-management simulation game also needed to be… X-Com. Well, not specifically X-Com, but a turn-based real-time military strategy game in the veins of Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, only with… police officers. And despite my reservations regarding the drastic change in gameplay, it’s actually incredibly well-designed, rewarding, and fun.
Every police officer under your command can perform two actions per turn, so that when you finally want to make a move on your target, you can run up to them and bonk them with a nightstick in the same turn; alternatively, you can spend both of your turns moving to get into a better position for surveillance, or use one turn to move and another utilising one of your officer’s four ‘perks’, which I’ll get into later. With five or six officers under your control at the beginning of these missions, it’s not that difficult to successfully take down an operation of twenty or more men, but it’s no less satisfying when you accomplish it.
Perhaps I enjoyed this addition so much because the game heavily nudges you towards taking the stealthy route – you don’t have to, but you certainly won’t rescue any hostages, leave without one of your officers injured or dead, or get bonuses for arresting suspects rather than killing them – which is naturally the playstyle that I gravitate towards anyway. The real-time strategy maps in this game are designed perfectly to help you approach quietly and stay in cover while studying the paths and patrols of your enemies so that you can time your takedowns in tandem without alerting anyone else. And you have plenty of tools at your disposal to do so.
Firstly, the literal, actual tools that your officers are holding can come in extremely handy during an extended standoff. The easiest way to incapacitate a criminal is a nightstick blow to the head, but this requires you to be standing directly next to the offender. Pepper spray will incapacitate a criminal for a longer period of time, but you still need to be relatively close for it to be effective. Flashbangs cover a large enough area that they can stun multiple people at once, although if you’ve missed someone who’s likely to notice that a bunch of their criminal colleagues are now completely stunned for several turns, they’ll quickly raise the alarm. Just like when responding to alerts, tasers are incredibly useful, but will take up two of your officers’ item slots in order to fire just one shot, probably as a way to counterbalance the ability to stun enemies from long distances for several turns without raising the alarm.
Then there are the Perks, which are unlocked by gaining a level of professionalism in the skill of an officer. These are amazing, and can provide you with a fantastic advantage while personalizing how you want to play. Simply having a single level in Intelligence allows you to use the ‘Burglar’ perk, which allows you to silently open a window or door without being detected, or the ‘Sentry’ perk, which increases your field of vision by one. Level One Negotiation unlocks ‘Force Surrender’ which can help minimize wasted time by commanding an offender not to resist arrest, although this depends on whether they are wounded or disoriented, or whether the commanding officer is standing directly behind them with a gun to their back, or hiding several tiles away behind a hedge, in which case it’s likely that they won’t give up so easily. Level One Negotiation also unlocks Interrogation, which allows you to spend an officer’s action talking to a subdued criminal, which highlights every enemy on the map for one turn.
These are only the Level One perks though, and once you get to Level Three in a field, you can expect even more major advantages. Level Three Speed unlocks ‘Athlete’, which gives you greater movement range, and Level Three Stealth unlocks ‘Ninja’, which gives the officer in question an entire extra move per turn, provided that the alarm hasn’t been raised yet. These amazing perks do come with a drawback, though; much like the items, you can only ever equip four of them at a time, and you can’t switch out in the middle of an operation, so despite all of the interesting abilities at my disposal, I almost always made my officers prepare with ‘Burglar’, ‘Sentry’ and ‘Force Surrender’ for their sheer applicability in almost any situation.
There are certain situations in which combat is inevitable however, but this part of the gameplay is also very well-polished. One alert I received that had me scrambling to assemble a crew of my least-tired officers turned out to be a false alarm which had been called in for the specific purpose of luring my officers into an ambush, and while I very quickly learned that it just wasn’t theoretically possible to peacefully subdue everyone this time (every criminal on the map starts off aware of your position, and there’s nowhere to hide) then I was still able to finish the level with zero casualties on both sides. When shooting, you can choose to target arms, legs, torso or head. Arms will prevent someone from returning fire, but not from moving. Legs does the opposite, immobilizing an enemy but not preventing their ability to keep taking potshots at you from their position. Torso is your safest non-lethal bet as it prevents movement and return fire, but unless the map is finished within eight turns, they will bleed out and die, and aiming for the head sacrifices a little accuracy for the chance of an instant kill.
Unfortunately, every enemy in the game also has these options when firing at you, although the odds of them actually hitting you can be decreased by distance, hiding in cover, or choosing certain perks. I wanted to finish the ambush encounter with all of my officers alive and well, but had to settle for one needing several days to recover after he took an unlucky hit to the gut. Still, you are rewarded at the end of the day for every criminal that you’ve apprehended (with a smaller ‘You tried, I guess’ reward for every criminal you killed) and after every one of these missions, I was always rolling in ring pulls – the bizarre form of currency the game uses – which when converted to money allow you to hire more officers or purchase more/better equipment from reputable local sources, and a few disreputable ones as well.
I understand the, uh, bad optics around a game where a heroic group of plucky underdog police officers are cleaning up the streets, violently protecting the innocent from a bunch of unnamed two-dimensional criminals that wandered straight out of throwaway issues of The Punisher as written by Garth Ennis, but it’s important to note that this is definitely not the portrayal that This Is the Police 2 is showing, nor is it intending to. If anything, these parts of the game feel more like wish-fulfilment where you get to live out your wildest most improbable fantasies, like living in a small town in America where the top priority of the police force is to peacefully resolve incidents of lawbreaking without anyone being hurt along the way.
I don’t want to get too into the ethics and politics of a game based on running a police department in a rural town in America because I am completely unqualified and underinformed on that topic, but I do want to say that I am slightly confused by some of the basic criticism levelled against the games; that This Is the Police and its sequel are somehow condoning or glorifying the behaviour of the police when they are very, very clearly presented in these games as being corrupt and not exactly beneficial to the community at large. Both as a whole and as individuals, your officers – and especially Jack Boyd himself – are definitely not coming across as moral upstanding heroic characters who you should aspire to be like.
Speaking of your individual officers, while your primary connection to them will still be down to ludonarrative – which Microsoft Word is informing me is still not recognized as a real word – in which you will effectively create your own bond with them in the course of the gameplay, then they much more frequently will have characters tics and interesting traits that come up in the game. Spurlock is a female officer who is something of a straw feminist, as she will adamantly refuse to respond to any incidents with a male officer who is of lower professionalism than her; however, if you send her out with only other female officers, they will gain double experience from the call if handled successfully.
There are plenty of other officers with curious tics like this, like the officer who wears a custom uniform but will refuse to go on tactical missions for fear of ruining his clothes, but the biggest addition to the management of your staff in the game is their loyalty. You may have heard from early reviews of the game – most notably, Zero Punctuation – that upon choosing a group of officers for a tactical mission, the player was very annoyed to find that one officer refused to take orders and ran blindly ahead, shooting at everyone, alerting the offenders, and likely getting themselves killed. This is because not all of your officers in the game start out loyal to you.
It’s easy to discern who is loyal to you and who isn’t by simply judging whether they’ve come to work in their uniform – complete with fancy hat – or whether they’re dressed for casual Friday or working from home. Disloyal staff are more likely to refuse to respond to a call and will never accept being sent out on any favours that the townspeople have asked after, and raising their loyalty is unfortunately not that easy, as it requires a balance of empathy and strictness. Oftentimes, various staff will begin the day by asking you if they can have the day off, sometimes for sensible reasons (my mother is seriously ill!) and sometimes for stupid reasons (I’m so close to finishing this book!) and if you’re willing to bend the rules for genuine emergencies, they will respect you more. Unfortunately, the opposite is true if you grant their stupid request; I was once starting a day in a hurry and told one of my officers that they could go home to rewire their dog or something, and was promptly informed that due to my lenience, they had lost all respect for me. Ouch.
Luckily, very early on in the game you’re asked to solve a mystery which isn’t too difficult – instead of the first game in which your officers and detectives were separate entities, here you can assign any officer to stay in the station working on a case, although they will be unable to go out on calls for the day – and as a reward, a handyman installs a shiny brand-new bathroom in all of your officers’ houses, which instantly raises all of their loyalties a very significant amount. There are other opportunities to raise/lower their loyalties, especially during the week where you have to personally pick the menu for the cafeteria and are inundated with requests like “Please put orange juice on the menu!” and “I’m really in the mood for steak today!” and “If you put orange juice on the menu I will personally take it as an insult against me and my family and will lose all respect for you, both as a boss, and as a person.”
So… having covered basically everything except for the story – except for the amazing soundtrack with several licensed songs, the best being ‘Lightweight’ by Freeweights, which plays during a very… definitive day on the job – it’s probably time I mentioned the story. The reason I’ve been so reluctant to isn’t that the story is bad – quite the contrary – but after playing the first game, I looked up plot spoilers for This Is the Police 2, and I was in absolutely no rush to play it. I would understand if you felt like I was giving you mixed messages here.
The thing is, and I’m really trying not to spoil the plot of either game here – although the basic plot of the sequel kind of gives away how the first one ends – This Is the Police is a game about Jack Boyd’s quest to avoid being forcibly retired, and also to make half a million dollars in his last 180 days on the job, of which you only actually play around four months. The antagonists in the game, so to speak, are people who are undeniably worse than Jack Boyd himself, even if you choose to play the game in the most unsympathetic and pragmatically ruthless manner possible. The sequel opens with Jack now living far away in a much smaller town, on the run from a manhunt in Freeburg for him, so I’ll let you figure out whether he was successful or not.
Jack is quickly arrested, albeit mistakenly, in the town of Sharpwood, but even from the view of inside his cell, he can tell that the police department is falling apart. The previous sheriff was killed hunting down a local gang named ‘The Neckties’ who pop up again in the story from time to time. The newly-appointed sheriff, Lilly Reed, is well-intentioned but just doesn’t command enough respect from her subordinates, due partly to a lack of experience and authority on her part, but mainly due to the whole station being rudely dismissive of her. She’s in the holding cells one evening, working on a case – not out of determination but because nobody else would listen to her if she told them to do it – when Jack wakes up and insists that there’s been some kind of mistake. She’s happy to ignore him until he mentions that he used to be a police chief himself and offers to look over the case she’s working on, which he quickly solves. From there, they form an uneasy partnership in which she doesn’t hand him into the authorities, and he helps get Sharpwood Police Department up and running again following the previous sheriff’s death.
Unlike the first game, the time span of This Is the Police 2 takes place over fewer than two months, but with no gaps in between, and the days are slightly longer. As a result, despite playing This Is the Police twice over 37 hours, just one playthrough of This Is the Police 2 took 34 hours, albeit in both games, making any serious mistakes would usually result in me resetting the day entirely to try again. This feature returns in the sequel, with the added bonus that you can also reset tactical missions and try them again from the start; very useful in the event of any unforeseen alarms or casualties.
Ironically enough, the reason I was so reluctant to play this game is that without any significant explicitly more-villainous characters to interact with, Jack might come across as an outright villain, which… as corrupt as he was in Freeburg, he still had some sympathetic qualities, and you could choose to play him as someone who ultimately was invested in upholding the law and making Freeburg something that may one day resemble a better and safer place to live. In the sequel, Jack starts off in a pretty pitiful situation, removed from power and depending entirely on the charity of Lilly and weekly payments to his ‘fixer’ to avoid being arrested, but his more negative qualities quickly start to surface. It is really remarkable how quickly his position changes from “Please Lilly, just help me out and I’ll be in your debt, I’ll assist you in any way I can!” to a smugger, smarmier demeanour where he dismisses her concerns, belittles her, and constantly reminds her that he’s the real sheriff.
And what makes his character more interesting to me this time around is that just like in the initial game, he still sees himself as the good guy, someone who had to leave Freeburg because everyone else was corrupt, and not for the various bad things that he legitimately did do. He’s not completely unjustified in thinking that there’s some scapegoating going on, but the extent to which he either doesn’t hold himself responsible for some actions, or considers them justified because he believes he had no other options, makes him a very interesting villain protagonist.
The voice-acting for everyone in the game is fantastic and there are several characters I’d love to gush over, but can’t because they don’t get involved in the story until it’s already pretty well-established, but Jon St. John really does a fantastic job as Jack Boyd. The standout moment both for the plot and for the voice-acting is a rare moment of weakness in which a very inebriated Jack drives to a payphone to call a rare returning character from the first game, his old FBI pal Ethan, and drunkenly begs for help with the sincere belief that his federal law enforcement pal can help him out of this situation, and there’s something genuinely sad about his increasing desperate please of “You know me!” when asking for help.
There are a few other welcome returning characters from the first game, but the story really deserves to be experienced firsthand. I’m not sure if it works in the favour of This Is the Police 2 that I went in with low expectations given that I’d already spoiled some of the twists for myself, but they really didn’t do the journey justice, and I would happily purchase, play and recommend This Is the Police 3 if it comes out, albeit hopefully with a different publisher.
Yes, that welcome return to the topic of THQ Nordic willingly associating themselves with a child porn site means that we’ve reached the end of the discussion on This Is the Police 2. And honestly, what a shame, because a game like this deserves to be known as a triumphant indie follow-up, a successful evolution from an original IP that managed to retain all of the best qualities of the first outing while adding a variety of interesting new features that are fleshed out and implemented perfectly to enhance the experience while keeping the charm of the development team’s initial vision.
This Is the Police 2 isn’t just a fantastic game or sequel; it might be one of the greatest video game sequels I’ve ever experienced. Honestly, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single other sequel that does a better job of improving on an idea than This Is the Police 2. And that might be because the initial game was so promising but flawed, as opposed to God of War or Ratchet & Clank, which also had far-superior sequels, but those games themselves were already great enough that the improvement wasn’t quite as noticeable. But even with that in mind, I really can’t state enough just how much This Is the Police 2 exceeded my expectations. Even with all of the awful things surrounding THQ Nordic, I would still recommend that if you are personally comfortable with it, you should find a way to give this game a try.
Because This Is the Police 2 is an incredible game, a phenomenal sequel, and it truly does not deserve to be known primarily for its association with a publisher who decided to try and market themselves by appearing on a site alongside white supremacy, domestic terrorist manifestos, and of course, child pornography. But unfortunately, it is, and I can only hope Weappy Studio find themselves a better publisher in the future.
In summary, This Is the Police 2 is as good as THQ Nordic are trash. Which makes it very, very good.