Follow TV Tropes


I Fought the Law and the Law Won

Go To

"Robbing people with a six-gun
I fought the law and the law won."
Sonny Curtis and the Cricketsnote , "I Fought The Law"

So, you think you're bad, huh? Piss off The Law and find out how wrong you are.

These aren't your average, overweight donutmunchers. These law enforcers, whether they're plate-armored city guards or patrol ships in outer space, are suicidally brave, tough as nuts, and/or attack in endless waves. If you're really unlucky, every one of them is an Invincible Minor Minion. It doesn't matter how tough you are—the only way to survive is to run. If you try to take a stand, you'll be trounced sooner or later, and they never stop. So just pick up your Upgrade Artifacts and your Level Cap and get outta town before I run ya in for loitering, punk!

The usual end result of maxing out a Wanted Meter. Often overlaps with Shoplift and Die, if this response is provoked by the slightest infraction. This can be one of the Acceptable Breaks from Reality or Gameplay and Story Segregation if the police or military is said to be understaffed or incapable of handling the criminal or enemy army problem, yet somehow can cough up all these redshirts just for you.

The Trope Namer is the chorus to "I Fought the Law" by Sonny Curtis and the Crickets, which has been famously covered by Bobby Fuller, The Clash, Green Day, Dead Kennedys, Hank Williams Jr., Stray Cats, and various others. Compare Super Cop, in which a single officer is extremely strong rather than the entire force. Contrast Police Are Useless.

Has nothing to do with being defeated by Marshall Law.


    open/close all folders 

  • Played with in The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction: the game uses a scaling threat system similar to Grand Theft Auto, rapidly going from local authorities to the Army to special Hulkbuster divisions equipped specifically to take you down. However, they aren't instakill enemies, just mildly tough; a decently skilled player should have no problem with them whatsoever. And of course, breaking out specialized mecha might seem excessive... if this wasn't the Hulk we were talking about.
  • In Ultimate Spider-Man (2005), destroying a car as Venom will cause a point score to appear and endless waves of police to attack. Rack up enough points, and SWAT, helicopters, and SHIELD join in. The police spawn in around every corner, and while you can eat them to regain health (Venom's health gradually decreases) they don't nearly give as much as civilians, making the mini game a show of how many points Venom can rack up before being shot down himself.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Averted. The guards who are called to arrest Link in Kakariko Village are some of the weakest enemies in the game, although the rarely-summoned trident-wielding variety is noticeably stronger than the normal variety with swords.

    Action Adventure 
  • In most of the Grand Theft Auto series, there's a semirealistic Sorting Algorithm Of Law Response, with only the earliest being normal police, progressing to SWAT teams, then the FBI and then the army. It's somewhat more realistic that the Army would be able to keep throwing bodies into the breach, which is where it usually ends. However, GTA IV and GTA V replace the military responses with NOOSE (based off SWAT units and, to an extent in IV, the Department of Homeland Security), falling into this trope.
  • Played with in the Lighter and Softer spinoff Bully: it is possible to knock out any authority figure with enough dedication, but from the first punch your trouble meter is maxed out, which prevents you from escaping if they grab you. However, unlike the relentless cops of GTA, you can go from a filled trouble meter to empty in less than a minute by simply staying out of their sight, and there are only four prefects and four cops in the game (along with a few randomly present faculty members who serve the same purpose).
  • Sleeping Dogs (2012) follows the GTA model with progressively larger and better armed police response teams coming after Wei Shen. If you're on foot, cops can tackle Wei and attempt to handcuff him at a low heat level; you can run for a while, but eventually they'll catch up, and you simply can't fistfight them. If you reach high heat, they'll bring out guns, which can make short work of you. They never get to the point of deploying helicopters and tanks, but the Special Duties Units never stop coming. You can get an achievement if you can kill 50 of them before you're brought down. Promptly subverted if you manage to grab a car, at which point Wei can either escape with a bit of persistence or almost effortlessly ram the cop cars off the road.
    • It should be noted that The Clash's version of the song is featured in the game's karaoke mini-game, and is needed to complete a storyline mission.
  • The Godfather, the first installment at least, is a REALLY nasty example. Sure, all the cops are corrupt and literally line up to get bribed, but if you get a high enough wanted level, all the money in the world won't protect you. They will pursue you in squad cars that can mysteriously drive faster than even the swiftest car available to you, while hanging out the window to blast you with shotguns that heartily avert Short-Range Shotgun. The good news is that with enough bribes, they'll fight FOR you, and utterly mess up the Tommy Gun-toting gangsters of the opposing families.
  • The old boardgame-style crime simulator Chaos Overlord had a (relatively) realistic rendition of this — basically, if you caused too much Chaos in any given city square, it would cause The Law to descend on that area, reverting the area control to 'Neutral', and utterly destroying any units there. Not because of endless hordes, but because they ride around in squad cars armed and armored like tanks. Even the toughest units available to you are still infantry and don't stand a chance against The Law's armored vehicles.
  • Subverted in Destroy All Humans!, where the threat scale will actually reset back to zero if you manage to defeat The Men in Black (the highest level antagonist), but only if you're on foot. If you're in your saucer, the tanks and missile batteries just keep coming.
  • Scarface: The World Is Yours: As you commit crimes, a border around your minimap will fill up. If you fail to escape police attention before it does, the game will emphatically tell you that "You're Fucked!" and endless waves of SWAT teams with helicopter support will pour in to engage you. You can hold out for a while by using Blind Rage, but there's no escape other than biting it.
  • Averted in Assassin's Creed games, where you can lose pursuit by killing all the guards in a specific encounter and they will only respawn much later, more than long enough to get out of the area. Guards in other areas won't pay any extra attention to you for that. The only times this is played straight are when the plot calls for it.
    • From Assassin's Creed II onwards, if you kill too many people and your notoriety goes to 100%, the trope is turned up to eleven: every guard that sees you attacks on sight without warning. You can still kill everyone in a certain area and end the fight, but after moving to a new place, you have to do it all over again. You can reduce your notoriety by bribing heralds, taking down your wanted posters, and assassinating corrupt officials.
  • Your wanted level in The Saboteur goes up to five levels. The Nazis will not stop pursuing you until you find a hideout and lose them, but lower-level hideouts don't fool higher-level pursuits. At the highest level, the Luftwaffe joins the chase, and the only level five hiding places are at the top of the Eiffel Tower and a farmhouse at the top of the map.
  • Saints Row normally plays this straight, but Saints Row IV subverts it; going all the way to the highest notoriety level of six bars spawns a Warden, a beastie somewhere between Super Powered Mook and full Miniboss... and defeating it cleans your slate, instead of forcing you to continue facing endless waves of mooks. IV also justifies it in that you are explicitly in a computer simulation, so there are no actual logistical issues to spawning more mooks to deal with you.
  • Spider-Man (2000): During the Police chase, the helicopter is invulnerable and the cops will keep respawning when defeated, so your only option is to run.

  • In the 1997 Blade Runner video game, it is completely impossible to avoid being arrested at some point, due to the simply overwhelming and unrelenting force of the police.

  • Hitting a cop in Burrito Bison costs you a great deal of speed, ending your run entirely if you hit one while going too slow. In the first game, the cop beats Bison down and has him hauled back to his cell. Inverted in the second game, where the run ends with Bison beating the cop into a pulp before returning to the ring.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • Halo: Combat Evolved: In the very first level, when you first get a weapon, you can backtrack and kill Keyes. Cortana will call in a squad of marines, who are completely invincible. Those marines sure would have been helpful against the Covenant, but they're never seen unless you turn traitor.
  • Memoirs of Magic: If you decide to go on a killing spree against civilians, you'll attract law enforcement. They're much tougher than most enemies, will never drop gold, endlessly respawn, and deal massive amounts of damage. Killing them will rapidly raise your Wanted Meter and only draw more to your location, to the point where you could never handle them all.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist is all about stealing money or other valuables while the law sends wave after wave of cops and SWAT to stop you. All you can do is survive each wave as you do your objectives and the hightail it out of there when it's time. The cops never stop coming!
    • In the second game, the police respond to the number of hostages you have: if you have more, they delay longer in assaulting (after the first assault, which will start as soon as SWAT arrives on the scene). Conversely, if you kill a hostage, on purpose or accidentally, they will assault much faster to stop you from doing it again. If you have no hostages, they'll basically stop assaulting you in name only: Mission Control will tell you they've backed off once they are out of spawns for that wave but the assault timer is immediately reset at that point. If it's very short then you're unlikely to eliminate the remaining cops in play (or get anything else done) before the next wave begins spawning. Fighting the law is always a losing proposition: no matter how many you kill the waves will never end, and there are no cash or XP rewards for kills. Your only hope is to do what you need to do and get out.
  • Cops in Turok 3 are unkillable by the player, and will ventilate you if you attack them or try to cross a police checkpoint.

  • EVE Online: but only for some peculiar and seriously confusing values of criminal.
  • World of Warcraft: challenging the City Guards is inadvisable, as they tend to be max level Elites, easily capable of slaying even other max level players one on one. The game also has guards in neutral zones where players from different sides aren't supposed to kill each other. If one player attacks another, the guards kill the instigator. For the former, you're supposed to bring in a full-size raid to take them on in a bid to kill the faction leaders for achievements - which usually ends up pretty easy, with the raid spawn-camping the throne room unless other side's players manage to get a good raid together themselves. For the latter, players regularly find some exploitable positions that allow them to sneak in a kill without getting killed back, and Blizzard just as regularly tries to patch them out.

  • There are neutral zones in the NES and Game Boy versions of Bionic Commando. If you fire your gun in one, suddenly you're under attack by an army of white-suited soldiers (who don't give you any rewards for killing them) until you leave and reenter the zone.
  • In Jak II: Renegade, you can steal vehicles from civilians and run them over to your little heart's content. However, if you hit a Krimzon Guard or steal one of their vehicles, it causes a citywide alert that will send tons of them after you. Luckily, you can run or hide from them.

  • The Need for Speed series, with the endless waves of cop cars (which can be improbably cool) pursuing you until you manage to hide long enough from them. In Most Wanted, all bosses require you to endure pursuit in a determined length of time before you can challenge them. The final stage is you desperately fighting to defy this trope.
    • Annoyingly, when you're The Law, it's up to you and you alone to stop the racers.
    • In other NFS games that have police missions, the player can request a roadblock or a helicopter, but not an additional pursuit unit. The most backup one can get is a single patrol car, and that was all the way back in NFS Hot Pursuit 2 which came out in 2002.

  • The shopkeepers in ADOM are not to be scoffed at; getting away with shoplifting is very hard for a low-level PC to do. But there is almost no hope for you if you try to get past the Eternal Guardian without the Ring of the High Kings. He is beastly strong, resistant to teleportation, and respawns infinitely, stronger each time.
  • In Dungeons of Dredmor, stealing from the shop causes the high-level shopkeeper, Brax, to attack you, and summons mass armies of powerful "Dread Collector" demons to dogpile you.
  • This can happen in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, overlapping with Shoplift and Die. If you're in a dungeon and attempt to steal from the Kecleon shop merchant, you'll find out just how ridiculous it gets — in the first game, they're level 90. In the second, level 49 with max stats in everything but HP. Either way, when they're after you they're permanently at double speed and they spawn infinitely until you reach the staircase to get to the next level. Their moveset consists of attacks like Fury Swipes (instant death for most if it connects), Faint Attack (instant death that never misses), Screech (for the rest, this will make the aforementioned attacks instant death), Psybeam (long-range instant death), Ancientpower (an attack with a chance of self-boosting that shall be quickly followed by instant death), and Substitute (your only hope at a reprieve... given that you're traveling alone). Not to mention that you can't use Escape Orbs and the like while they're chasing you. You'd only steal from Kecleon for two reasons: to gain a hefty profit — assuming you're actually strong enough to handle it — and trying a very unlucky attempt to recruit the bastards...
    • They have a base recruitment rate of -39.8% (note the negative sign). The maximum recruitment rate bonus one can get is 40% by being level 100 with a friend bow. In the best case scenario, you get .2 percent chance of recruiting them. By that level the only real threat is screech, which drops your defense into OHKO territory from fury swipes. Don't forget that you cannot stay on a floor forever with the purpose of farming them, as you'll eventually be killed for staying too long (granted, you're given plenty of warning). The second game would also require similar conditions. Given that not everyone can learn the IQ ability that increases recruitment rate, that means that there is a small set of Pokemon even capable of recruiting them, none of them except for Mew are terribly good.
  • In NetHack, robbing a store will cause the Keystone Kops to spawn and attack you, and they do so in intimidatingly high numbers. They are amongst the only creatures in the game that cannot be rendered 'Extinct' by killing 120 of them. Hence, though it's possible for a high-level character to kill all of the 'Kops' that appear after a particular heist, there'll always be another wave waiting next time... (The shopkeeper himself is a much bigger threat, but nothing a high-level character can't handle.)
  • In Yandere Simulator, it is possible (theoretically) for Yandere-chan to outfight a teacher, but it isn't likely. More often than not, trying to do so will only result in her being caught, which will lead to her being arrested, a Non-Standard Game Over.

  • In Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, it doesn't matter if you have wiped out the entire village (or occaisional City) the patrol will just keep coming at you in their endless, invincible waves. Also, after a time, even the NPCs in an area that you have killed will come back to life
  • Starflight, a memorable 1986 space exploration sandbox game, uses this trope as copy protection. Upon leaving the space station, the player is asked to look up a number on a code wheel. If he fails, the game lets the player fly around — for a while. Eventually, you encounter a group of very well-armed ships and receive an incoming transmission: "PULL OVER! THIS IS THE INTERSTEL CORPORATE POLICE. YOU ARE UNDER ARREST. DROP ALL SHIELDS AND DISARM ALL WEAPONS. YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF INTERGALACTIC SOFTWARE THEFT LAW. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RESIST." The player has one more chance to answer the copy protection correctly. If the player fights, he dies. If the player gives the correct code, the police disappear. If the player cannot answer, the game ends without a chance to save.
    • However, it's not unknown for the player to be able to simply outrun the cops if he doesn't talk to them.
  • Want to actually go the whole evil hog and permanently depopulate a town in Fable? You can't. Even if you've killed every last civilian, the guards just keep pouring in in groups of three (or more in the Guild.) Apparently, Albion's military population is over ten times its civilian one. Must be all the monsters...
    • The guards themselves are pretty weak, even a low level player can effortlessly crush them with only a few points in the right spells (looking at you here, Enflame).
  • Baldur's Gate:
    • In Baldur's Gate, The Flaming Fist guards the city of the same name — and regardless of your level and divine blood, you have no chance against them. They are literally invincible.
    • The sequel, on the other hand, is a subversion — provoking the local mages in Athkatla will result in larger and larger squads sent to exterminate the player, but eventually the mages have had enough: they cut their losses and stop interfering with the player character's actions.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Throughout the series, until you've reached a relatively high level with correspondingly strong equipment, the various City Guards will be one of the biggest threats to you should you commit a crime in their presence. They tend to be quite numerous, quite strong, and, depending on the game, either spawn infinitely until you are brought to justice or respawn after a few days in the event you are able to kill them all.
    • Oblivion:
      • It is possible to Avert this trope if you acquire the Gray Cowl of Nocturnal. As long as you don the Cowl before doing anything illegal, you can fight the law as long as you wish. When you want to stop, simply remove the Cowl and yield. Due to the Cowl's magic, the guards will think you are innocent and will accept your yield without giving you a single fine.
      • In the Shivering Isles expansion, which takes place in the titular Daedric realm of Sheogorath, the Cowl's magic won't work. However, once you complete the expansion's main questline, you gain a set of clothes which give you the same ability as the Cowl. Further, because at the end of the questline you ARE Sheogorath, you can get away with pretty much anything because you are the boss.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption features an unusual example. Starting a brawl or trying to drink blood in public will call down infinite numbers of city guards/policemen down on you, but the real danger is not from their weapons. Instead, the danger is that every time you kill one, your Humanity score goes down by 5 points, and when it reaches 0, you get an automatic game over.
    • Similarly, in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, police get involved if you get violent outside a combat zone. Killing cops is a humanity violation, and once your humanity drops you frenzy, and when you frenzy you get a masquerade violation, and when that hits 0 it's game over.
      • On that note, Bloodlines' Masquerade meter is this. If you have five unredeemed Masquerade Violations on your record at any one time, a blood hunt is called against you, resulting in an automatic Nonstandard Game Over.
  • Final Fantasy VII has an example of this early in the game after jumping off the train bound for Sector 5. Going to one end of the train tunnel, you'll find a checkpoint guarded by some Shinra troops. Try to fight them, and you'll just face wave after wave of soldiers until you wise up and run the other way down the tunnel, or die trying to kill them all.
  • The guards in Ultima III Exodus are highly overleveled, fast, and like to respawn a lot. Stealing treasure or worse, attacking royalty tends to bring them out in force.
    • In Ultima IV Quest Of The Avatar doing this not only gets you the guards, it makes the game Unwinnable because you're supposed to be virtuous to win, and doing things like stealing or attacking townspeople takes your Karma Meter to the floor, unable to ever raise it again. Though if the point is playing the very opposite of a Pacifist Run...
    • In Ultima V Warriors of Destiny guards are massively powerful, able to take out a low to mid-level party with ease. This even applies to the villain's guards — if, of course, they don't simply "strike thee unconscious" and capture you without a fight. Fortunately, there is a shop where you can buy unlimited numbers of invisibility rings ...
    • In Ultima VIII Pagan there's only one guard — Beren — but he's completely invincible. You can, however, exploit a glitch to kill him.
  • Guards in Avernum are finite, and even beatable at higher levels, but they have a special trait that makes them more effective against player characters than against monsters.
  • A number of characters in Deus Ex are unkillable for plot reasons, and going on a rampage at the office will cause all of them to go aggro against you, forcing you to run or eventually die.

  • City-Building Series: City guards one-shot criminals and thieves, arrest grave robbers in Pharaoh, and sniff out spies in Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom. However, while they can be used to defend against wild animals, it often takes several attacks (and the guard doesn't always come out the victor), and against invading armies/gods/monsters they serve as speed bumps at best (though the fact that they keep respawning without needing weapons makes them better than armies in this regard).
  • In Elite, if your legal status drops to Fugitive or you shoot anything in the vicinity of a space station, you will be attacked by Viper police ships, which are very powerful.
    • Elite Dangerous ups the ante, as System Security could be flying anything, and are in no way bound by the Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness. Yes, this means that you can have police Anacondas breathing down your neck for your first major offense. You can fight them, but there will always be more System Security pilots, and they have way more friends than you do.
  • In the space sim Darkstar One, doing anything to raise your wanted level above one star will cause police ships to rapidly descend on you. Depending on where you are (the ships will be equipped with the favorite weapons of the race), they may not be a major threat, but they'll keep spawning from the nearest Trade Station for a long time... and shooting them down rapidly raises your wanted level until it hits Five Stars. At that point, a patrol cruiser will be diverted into the system to teach you a lesson, and since you're basically flying a glorified Fighter, a Cruiser is a pretty serious opponent. It IS possible for a system to run out of police ships, but even if you manage to take out the first Cruiser to arrive, another will just warp into the system shortly after. Better flick on that Afterburner and put some AU's between you and them...
  • In The Sims Medieval if your Sim breaks the law they will be arrested, even if nobody actually witnessed the crime. Oddly, while stealing and breaking other Sims out of Stock Punishment are definitely against the law, dueling to the death doesn't seem to be.
    • Truth in Television: Dueling only became a crime in the 18th and 19th centuries, and even then they were largely tolerated and/or supported by authorities.
  • In the X-Universe, fighting the Police and Border Patrol is generally not difficult because they mount terrible weapons, but god help you if you piss off the racial naval fleets enough that they start chasing you down, especially in Albion Prelude or with the Rapid Response Fleet mod, where they will react much more aggressively to player hostility - typically by siccing a couple corvettes on the player. Blow those up, and they'll start throwing frigates and destroyers at you. The one law enforcement/navy faction you do not want to piss off is the Earth State's AGI Task Force - partly because if you make them angry, you cannot get back on good terms, and partly because their ships are apocalyptically powerful, especially their Skirnir missile frigate which can destroy an entire fleet from 60 kilometers away.
  • No Man's Sky: The Sentinels are not pushovers, and they are literally everywhere in the universe. Getting them really angry is a quick way to get yourself shot down, and will even chase you into space if you try fleeing a world in your starship.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe: Go ahead, start something with Star Patrol. They fly the nimble, tough, and wicked-fast Enforcer interceptor. Every single one of them comes with pulsar lasers and swarm missile launchers, meaning they will shred your shields with rapid-fire laser blasts and then drown you in repeated explosions if you piss them off. You might destroy one if you really work at it, but Enforcers fly in packs of three, and they will whistle up some friends if you manage to shoot one of them down, resulting in a hydra's-head situation where killing one wave of Enforcers will summon an exponentially increasing number of replacements. After all, there is a certain threshold of constant laser and missile fire that no amount of shields, hull, or dodging skill can deal with.

    Third Person Shooter 
  • Averted in Mafia. If a police officer spots you committing a crime, it's possible to stop being wanted by getting away quickly enough or by killing the officer. Unless another police officer spots you doing that, you can get off scot-free. Additionally, even if you earn a citywide wanted level, you can wait it out by hiding somewhere. You may have to deal with a carload of cops enroute to your favorite hideouts, though.
  • Happens in Crackdown. If you kill too many cops peacekeepers or civilians too quickly, the peacekeepers will go nuts and start mass-spawning all around you. Mind you, they are Red Shirts and you're a Super-Soldier, but if you keep killing them, the hate meter stays topped and they'll never stop coming.
  • Averted in Total Overdose, which also lacks wanted levels because you're nominally associated with the Federales through a DEA task force. Killing the rare and random police may make others attack, but after the ones within sight are dead, others you come across will pay you no attention. One minigame brings police in droves of squad cars for a limited amount of time, but the same minigame begins from a mounted ''minigun'' to blast them with, and any police remaining after the time expires can be easily mopped up.
  • Played straight in the first Max Payne in the scenes where the cops chasing Max actually catch up to him. In most levels the police never actually show up regardless of how long Max hangs out at the scene of a shootout, despite ambient siren noises and comic book cutscenes frequently trying to sell the idea that they're right behind him. However, in the scenes where they are scripted to show up, they do so in the form of heavily-armored, riot-masked Faceless Goons that immediately open up with automatic rifles. While the player can shoot at them, shots landed have no effect and the only option is to run. Nowhere in gameplay is it possible to actually kill the pursuing police.

    Other Media 
  • In the 2013 Bonnie and Clyde TV movie, the titular Outlaw Couple seal their doom when they start killing police officers. They can no longer use Jurisdiction Friction to their advantage as the task force sent after them pursues them across county and state lines. When they go on vacation to Florida, the task force finds them there. When their hideout is discovered, an army of police officers surrounds them and engages them in a massive shootout. This culminates in the couple's deaths in an ambush when their car is riddled with bullets as police officers fire machine guns at them in a classic example of There Is No Kill Like Overkill.
  • Rank10YGO: In The Stinger for one episode of Archetype Archive, Ojama Lime explains how he ended up in prison with "I broke the law, and the law broke both of my legs."
  • Shadowrun: It's repeatedly emphasized that no runners, no matter how strong or skilled or well-equipped they are, can ever take on Lone Star, Knight Errant, or Corpsec and win. They'll write off a little damage as the cost of doing business, but if they decide It's Personal then they will come after a 'runner team with tanks, attack drone helicopters, crack mage teams, bioengineered kill-critters, and so on until things get to the point where they decide that you're annoying enough to use a Thor shot on. You can't fight them, all you can do is evade them until they've decided they've had enough.

Alternative Title(s): Fought The Law And Lost