Beat Cop – developed by Pixel Crow and published by 11 bit studios and reviewed here for Nintendo Switch – is a game that’s good at a small handful of things. Fortunately, it knows this, and it gives you plenty of opportunities to engage with a pleasant retro aesthetic and solid mechanics. Significantly less fortunately, it wears you down with those same mechanics, and its self-satisfied, sardonic, downward-punching humor fares poorly on a macro and micro scale.
First, the good: Beat Cop succeeds in those small, highly manageable moments and routine focused beats (heh) that games like Papers, Please do so well. As disgraced cop Jack Kelly, bumped back down to beat cop status after being tied up in some vague badness, you’ll do a lot of ticket writing, tow truck calling, store front investigating, and petty squabble stifling in the name of making your rent and paying off your debts while a genuinely intruding if kind of vague story about your redemption teases out over your days of grunt work.
It’s a largely fun, if somewhat simple core set of tasks that fares well on the Switch. Everything controls well, and rings true of the day-to-day things I imagine cops actually do (for better or worse). Your quota for tickets goes quick, especially if you write up only folks actually breaking the law — easily checked against parking zones and meters — and there’s enough little humorous bits and side jobs (for either the mafia or the local gang, The Crew) to increase your day’s income that I was entertained in the micro. The appeal of games like Beat Cop is in providing a solid, reliable, and satisfying core loop that feels good if a little undemanding to play after work or during a lunch break for a few rotations and that’s here, executed admirably.
Similarly, the retro aesthetic feels familiar and solid. Beat Cop‘s limited world – a police briefing room and the city block your beat houses – looks and runs great on the system both docked and undocked. I didn’t run into any issues or bugs during the eleven-ish hours it took me to complete the campaign, and I was pretty taken with the look and feel the whole time. The game starts with a message from the developers proclaiming that this game is by no means a realistic simulation, but rather an love letter to the 80s cop dramas of their youth, and the visuals are where that shines most. A punchy, synthwave soundtrack playing throughout your days might’ve helped, but that’s really neither here nor there.
Unfortunately, Beat Cop wears its best assets thin quickly. While a simple loop of ticket writing, interacting with local denizens, calling in the tows etc. is entertaining in short bursts, the game never expands on those systems. Your first few successful days will be largely the same as your last and though they may occasionally be interspersed by dead bodies in alleys and the like, you never really get the feeling that the game’s mechanics are progressing with your personally focused narrative. There’s a fundamental lack of depth, of richness and expansion that never really goes away, and instead turns you against what the game initially presents as doing very well at.
Worse still is the writing’s one-note attempts at period correct, tongue-in-cheek quips that instead come across as sour and entirely too serious. Presented bold-faced in the name of 80s realness (that I would argue was never as severe as it is here) the sexism and racism here is unrepentant and played for laughs that fall flat. One example? A character calls people of color “darkies”. Oof. You might argue that a strong rebuke of any sort of political correctness is in keeping with the developer’s vision for a truly gritty, action cop oriented ’80s game. Fine, but even then, it’s still too same-y and suffocating to be believable or enjoyable at all. Day after day you’re given the opportunity to engage with your fellow officers and commander in briefing before you hit your beat but they all sound the same – sexist, gross, egregiously overbearing. It’s a total tonal misfire that detracts ten times more often than it endears.
All in all, Beat Cop is a fun, engaging, but equally unsatisfying and frustrating experience. The first time I nailed the core loop I was immensely satisfied with myself and the game’s mechanics. Then, I was asked to do it again. And again. And again.
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