Have you ever wondered what it was like to step in the shoes of Riggs or Murtaugh as they shoot their way out of a sticky situation in the Lethal Weapon franchise? What about looking down your gun at some punk as you ask them, “go ahead, make my day,” Dirty Harry style. Or maybe you wanted a deeper insight into the bro-mance between Sonny and Rico in Miami Vice or just wanted to grow an epic moustache Magnum P.I style. LA Cops lets you do these things and more, sort of.
LA Cops, the new game from Team17 and Modern Dream developed for PC and Xbox One, is an isometric, top-down shooter that puts you in the roll of cops from LA. The game is bright with a thick, solid colour palette that catches the eye easily and a funky soundtrack. It has a very late 70s; early 80s feel to its look and has a lot of fun with it. The player can choose two from six different cops, and they run the mill of the pastiche stereotypical cop. It borrows heavily from 2012s breakout hit Hotline Miami in terms of game play, but falls short of the mark when stacked up against its predecessor. While it can be fun, it has a steep difficulty spike early in the game and general bugs and AI problems cause a lot of frustration that can hinder the experience.
LA Cops wears its influences on its sleeve. From the way it looks to the way it plays it is clear to see that its influences are dug deep into the Buddy Cop action genre, but instead of taking itself seriously it has a bit of fun instead. The player can choose two characters from the six available, and these characters definitely look the part. My two preferred cops were Kowalski and Borland. Kowalski has a thick, heavy moustache and looks like your prototypical cop from a 70s film or television show and Borland is the mini-afroed, African-american who looks like he is the lovechild of Jim Kelly and Black Dynamite, but all characters look like they’ve been distilled through bad tasting coffee and stale donuts. Aesthetically the game brings to mind House of the Dead: Overkill, with its tongue very much in cheek and subject matter not taken too seriously. It’s thread bare story is inconsequential and when it does pop up serves more to remind us that we’re playing a bright, loud, satirical game as oppose to actually moving much of a plot along at all.
Game play on the other hand is a different matter. Movement is initially weird and clunky and not overly precise. I found myself more often than not running into a wall or trying to kick in a door only to get caught on it and shoot the door itself and then get shot by the closest enemy. Using your partner seemed to be a quick remedy to this, where I could order him to bust into the room and take out the bad guys and if he got gunned down in the process I’d just clean up after him. Trying to be a bit more strategically minded usually got my Buddy Cops wiped and I’d have to start from the beginning of the level. Often I’d order my partner to breach a room at the same time as me, only for him to get shot, quickly followed by my own death. The most frustrating part was if I would have my partner running back up for me, only for me to get shot and control to switch automatically to my partner who is facing the other way and not watching the five heavily armed goons screaming down on him. I’d scramble to get the cross hair in their direction only to get brutally taken out.
The AI on the enemies seems to be all over the place. I could take out a whole room of enemies and only leave one and he’d still be staring at the wall with no idea what had happened. Other times I push the door open and the whole room would rush at me, shooting me down instantly. At one point in the second level I came across a group of enemies in the next room who were just walking around in small circle like synchronised swimmers. The enemies seem to have little context or placement in the levels, they’re just there to kill you, end of story. The same can be said of your partner. If you don’t take direct control of them they can be hit and miss. I’d often order them into a room only for them to just stand there like a statue, or have him stand behind me only for him to face the wrong way. Switching control between the two cops on the fly seemed to be more of a necessity, not because that’s the way the game is suppose to be played but because I couldn’t trust my partner to help me out when needed.
That being said, when it works it works well. Once I’d levelled my two cops up and purchased higher grade starting weapons it seemed to be almost too easy to smash through a level. I’d still run into a room full of enemies with shotguns but once you get that M16 starting weapon it makes pretty short work of them. There are randomly spawned medipacks throughout the level which you can use to revive your downed partner, or donuts which give you back a small part of health which comes in handy even after you’ve levelled up as there is a pretty high difficulty spike early on in the game.
All up there are eight missions to play, not including bonus missions. The objectives run the range from rescuing hostages to taking down drug lords. Despite being cops there doesn’t seem to be much time read your enemies their rights, as you can take out all of them out in the level without any repercussions. There are a few objectives which actually state “Take out the boss,” and while if you melee an enemy it arrests them, which gets you extra points, it’s usually easier to go in guns blazing.
LA Cops is a fun game hampered by technical and gameplay issues. Its sense of style will pull you in but it won’t keep you there. If you can get past those initial hours of running up against the walls and cheap deaths, it’s a good time filler.