I miss Vic Mackey. Michael Chiklis’ gruff anti-hero is at the center of The Shield , FXs early aughts cop drama about good cops who go bad. Real bad. And no one walked the thin blue line like Vic. Bribes, beatings and broads. Vic owned his neighborhood, and spent seven seasons navigating the things he earned and the things he deserved. And Beat Cop, from Pixel Crow and 11-bit studios, gives you that same thrillride. A Papers, Please -inspired pixel art police drama, you will often access your inner Mackey as you patrol the streets of a Brooklyn precinct in the mid 80s. And you'll love it.
The real meat of Beat Cop is in the ticket quota mechanic. Like Papers, Please, you're given some strict orders each day. Most often it involves writing a certain number of tickets for a variety of offenses. But there’s only so much time in a day, and making quotas gets harder as you manage your other interests. To start, you’re implicated in a blackmail scheme against a high-ranking politician. People seem to think you have something that you don’t have, and finding it could save your career. It’s only one story among many, though, and your day-to-day will be about remembering what’s important to you in the moment.
The gameplay itself centers around writing tickets for various infractions, while also managing the demands up and down the street. You click to move, double click to sprint, and have limited stamina for your patrol. Writing a ticket for lights or tires requires you to walk up to a car, click on inspect and walk around the vehicle. It’s time consuming as hell, especially compared to how fast you can identify expired meters or no parking zone violations. But some days you have to check for lights or tires (or screw the quota and the bosses). Car searches include a sliding tile mini-game where you have a limited number of moves to shuffle through the contents of a trunk to see if drugs are hidden under the spare tire. It’s a lot of simple, mouse-friendly mechanics that keep the game from feeling too grindy.
Then there’s the crime factions. On the west side you have the Mafia, on the east side you have the Crew, and in the middle is your duty as a sworn officer of the law. Each day tallies your favor with the criminals and the police department. Favoring one usually means pissing off the others. The best moments in the game come from managing this tension, often in split-second decisions. When you’ve got 10 more tickets to write and two hours left in the day and a call comes in to search a Mafia taxi for drugs, can you do it? And if you find the drugs do you turn them in to the cops or the Mafia? Or sell them to the Crew for extra cash? You’ve got $500 in alimony due soon, after all, and being a beat cop only pays about $50 a day.
These pressures of time, money and favor fuel the engine of the game and drive players into long binges of “just one more turn.” It helps tremendously that the days are full of surprises, ranging from 80s movie easter eggs to terrorist plots. Beat Cop seldom repeats itself, and is chock full of different endings. In my 12-hour playthrough I encountered four different endings, not all at the end of the calendar either. Screw up enough on any given day and you’re done (or dead). Fortunately, Beat Cop encourages multiple playthroughs and allows you to replay any day you’ve completed, so if you find yourself regretting the long term consequences for a decision you can walk it back and have a do-over.
A game like Beat Cop relies heavily on charm, and your enjoyment will largely depend on whether or not its particular brand of charm wins you over. The pixel art style is full of subtle artistic touches (pay attention to parked vehicles for small sparks from busted headlights) and the soundtrack is sublime. It pairs beautifully with the look of the game, and the cop drama tropes are all solidly represented. If the game doesn’t immediately hook you then it likely won’t, although it does get very, very good towards the end. And your first playthrough will leave you feeling unsatisfied and questioning big decisions you made along the way so a second or third time around won't feel out of the question. Especially with a manageable game length of around 10-12 hours.
Beat Cop is not without flaws, though. Like any small studio release you will encounter some strange bugs, but there have already been some updates addressing widespread issues. Still, having the game freeze up on you after a long day, or worse, rushing to a scene and not being able to interact with a key character, detract from the experience. That magical “one more turn” feeling snaps and is replaced with a prompt rage quit. Some optimization still remains to be done, too, particularly with the length of some in-game animations that can suck up valuable time on the clock. This isn’t some bug-ridden catastrophe of a game, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the handful of hiccups I encountered while playing. But the takeaway is, I still kept playing.
Beat Cop made me feel like Vic Mackey and that’s a high compliment. I loved, loved, loved deciding what my “rules” were for my block. I tolerated vice crimes like drugs and prostitutes, but didn’t let the mob shake down small business owners. I was a model cop and always met my quota, even doubling it some days to make a little extra money. Like Vic I made sure I got results for the bosses so no one wanted to ask questions about my side hustles. I’m eager to do a second full playthrough and go even deeper with the corruption to see what storylines open up as a result. Beat Cop is charming, has high replay value and is priced just right at $15. Good cop and bad cop left for the day. Beat Cop is here to stay.