Beat Cop Review
Cop shows in the 80s were pretty nasty, weren’t they? Not necessarily because of the content, mind you – although some of the subject matter could be a bit gnarly. No, they were nasty because of their sardonic, cynical take on humanity. To the writers of shows like Miami Vice, the world was a bad, bad place, filled with stereotypes who were committing some sort of crime with every breath they took. Yes, there was always a sort of bitter comedy punctuating everything – sarcastic one-liners and putdowns. But the overall tone that permeated this entertainment was a downtrodden one that had no faith in humanity.
That tone has been recreated in Beat Cop, an interesting pixel art game that’s an intentional throwback to those types of shows. You’ve got women generally being loose or evil; racial minorities being treated like general garbage; a world dominated by tough-talking white guys who probably need a few dozen sessions of therapy. That cruel world is reflected in the plot, as players take the role of a disgraced officer whose ex-wife hates him, whose boss treats him like trash, and whose first day on the job is capped off by watching a fellow officer get gunned down by a gang. “Life sucks, then you die” seems to be the credo of this game.
Yet I doubt it’s the credo of the developers. Beat Cop tackles its content with a wink and nod – the macho dialog, crude stereotypes, and mean streak feels like deliberate dark comedy. So dark, in fact, that I could easily see some people missing it being comedy at all. For those who can get into the joke, there’s actually some interesting commentary beneath the surface. Your character is a blatant racist, and even when characters of color are just loitering around, you see his prejudices come out at full throttle. He refers to black women he sleeps with as “dark stallions.” He’s quick to tell a small black child that their cat’s died as a joke. Beat Cop doesn’t endorse this behavior – instead, it lets players play as a terrible human to drive home the point that racism is often willful ignorance to reality. Does it come across as well as it might have from a black creator? I’m not sure. But the attempt is admirable, and beneath the barrage of sardonic humor is some worthwhile commentary.
On the gameplay front, players are taken through what basically amounts to a point-and-click adventure. There’s a block the protagonist patrols each day, forced to meet a ticket quota from his higher-ups. Meeting this quota requires checking out parking meters, taillights, tires, etc. In the meantime, it’s up to players to create their own narrative. Sure, there’s an overarching narrative about the protagonist being framed for his arrest gone wrong, but I found myself more interested in the side-stories. Getting to know certain characters, understanding the power struggle between the mafia and the crew, testing out the extent to which I could push the game’s morality… these are the highlights of the whole experience. From deciding whether or not to accept bribes to almost killing an old lady’s dog with donuts, Beat Cop has loads of different choices to make and scenarios to engage with.
“It’s an interesting game that explores both the monotony and intrigue of being a police officer.”
I won’t fault anybody for being turned off Beat Cop’s reliance on racist and sexist dialogue, whether it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek or not. Again, it’s clearly meant to evoke the most gritty of 80’s cop shows, and those faded out of existence for a good reason – they were pretty fucking problematic. Yet I ultimately feel like it’s an interesting game that explores both the monotony and intrigue of being a police officer. It isn’t glamorous, it’s pretty ugly, and it’s filled with people trying but failing to do their best. A game about cops hasn’t intrigued me this much since L.A. Noire, and for that, it comes with a strong recommendation from me.