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This Is The Police is a 7/10 game with some 1/10 moments. It's divided into a prologue and three acts, and each of the acts has one big problem which I will mostly be talking about because I am a Nitpicking Nelly. You mainly sit at a desk and make dull clerical decisions, but the slowly unfolding storyline and the ludonarrative that builds between you and your favourite officers makes the game genuinely fun to play, and there's plenty of variety in the crimes, mysteries, false alarms, favours and threats that you have to respond to.
Act 1 begins the tale of Jack Boyd, a police chief with 180 days left on the job who wants to make half a million dollars before he retires, and tries to stay clean when he can, which in Freeburg, you can't. The only problem with Act 1 is that the game doesn't do a great job of explaining how to get the most fun out of it. Mistakes can lead to officers dying or quitting, but playing too cautiously is boring. There's a mob war to pick a side in, unexpected consequences to favours, and solving mysteries with your detectives involves some very fun puzzles, albeit you begin with so few detectives that they progress very slowly.
Act 2 sees the rise of a Serial Killer named 'The Dentist' who you have the option to catch. I say 'option', but when the game asked me 'Do you want to catch the murderer, or let the FBI handle it?' then I left it to the FBI. To which the game said 'Okay!' then waited two and a half weeks, then said 'Psyche! For not investigating yourself, I've docked half of your pay, fired half of your staff, cut their jobs so that you can't replace them, and confiscated 10% of your money.' This is not a choice having consequences. This is a game taking a shit on itself to punish the player for choosing an option they made available.
Act 3 is only 23 days long, but it probably contains the most - I've never really used this word to describe anything before - problematic moment in the game. You have to pick between two sides again; this time, between the mayor, a corrupt racist sex offender, or the charming sociopath who wants to replace him, and who has the women who the mayor sexually assaulted murdered to draw attention to them. So it's a boring retread of Act 1's 'Pick a dick, any dick, they're both much the same and hold no loyalty to you' mob war, but much worse, because any game where you have to choose between a rapist or a guy who murders rape victims is a game where they clearly tried to implement some kind of moral choice system, but accidentally made something deeply unpleasant.
Yet, despite these flaws, the game still works. The overarching storyline is bleak and unrewarding, but the gameplay itself can switch from treating crimes with tragically serious consequences to making lighthearted jokes. Papers, Please was no fun without the story, but This Is The Police is a surprisingly solid strategy game. It just needs a little less police and a little more polish.
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