Los Angeles is a tough town with tough criminals, and it needs tougher cops to clean up its streets. It’s the 1970s and every cop cliche is running rampant, especially the one where a misfit team of unlikely heroes can gun down dozens of criminals and call it justice. Two cops enter a building swarming with heavily-armed goons and the only way to survive is teamwork and gunfire. LA Cops are on the case, busting down doors and leaving a trail of bloody scenery in their wake as their two-member teams enforce the law wherever thugs, goons, and gangsters run amok.
In LA Cops you control two officers at roughly the same time, jumping from one to the other with a push of a button and placing them to provide cover as you aggro the next group of baddies to run into your line of fire. Both the criminals and AI-controlled police have hair-trigger reflexes, firing with almost no delay the second an enemy crosses their line of sight. Criminals are generally walking around at low alert while the police have guns drawn at the ready, so the good guys tend to get the drop on gangsters, but it’s not a sure thing so you’ll need to make sure you’re covering your partner rather than letting them fend for themselves. It only takes a bullet or two to take a person down, cops or robbers, so if you’re not quick and careful it’s very easy to lose both your officers in a poorly-planned encounter. Most levels have a single med kit kicking around somewhere, though, so if you survive with a single cop alive you can frequently revive your ally.
While it all sounds very tactical, LA Cops is more action than strategy. A little light planning will see you through most encounters as you use the generous view of the overhead camera to scout the next room or area, seeing the patrol patterns of the criminals and planning the best way to thin the herd. A little patience will frequently allow you to sneak in and arrest a thug with a single quick melee swipe, leaving him handcuffed on the floor while his friends walk by obliviously. The goons may be quick on the trigger but they aren’t particularly observant, ignoring any bodies or other indications that their situation is rapidly deteriorating. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to clear out once they spring to action, but rather that unless they see a cop they’ll just amble about their patrol route, occasionally walking into each other until something throws the “rabid wombat” switch in their heads.
While the basic design of LA Cops is a lot of fun, it’s in Early Access for a reason. The Steam page for the game indicates a belief that it would be in Early Access for two months, but that was at the tail end of July and, thankfully, it hasn’t budged from there since. There have been a few updates along the way, the most recent being early this month, but there’s still a ways to go to tame some nagging glitches and usability issues. Take dying, for example. When the cop you’re controlling goes down you’re instantly shunted into your partner, which is great if they’re bringing up the rear but terrible in a firefight. With no short pause in the action to get yourself situated death is usually instant, because being able to adapt on the fly to a new situation is a bit harder when the reaction time given can be measured in hundredths of a second. Other design issues involve a video trailer that tells you how cool it is to destroy furniture but a scoring system that (lightly) penalizes you for doing it, front-end menus that could stand a usability pass, and a better way to tell enemy line-of-sight than sheer guesswork. I think I’m well hidden, enemy thinks I’m waving my arms asking for a bullet facial. I think there’s no way those low shelves can be cover, enemy thinks they’re 10 feet high and solid plate steel. (Also, the female cop’s voice clip for “Oh no you di’in’t!” needs to be removed and set on fire and everyone involved should promise never to do anything like that again, unless they actively hate the player and take joy from our suffering. In which case, well done.) LA Cops has the foundation to be a really fun semi-tactical action buddy-cop game, but there’s still a lot of work to go.
Within its current limitations, however, LA Cops does manage to be a good time. There’s nine levels of careful action in the current build, with most levels having a few stages to clear. You can choose a gung-ho approach, mowing down everything in your path by moving to a prime location with one cop, hopping to the other, and starting the encounter. Alternately a more measured approach is also fun, where you try to arrest as many people as possible by carefully scouting the room and waiting for just the right time to dart in and clear out a thug or two while nobody’s looking. Mix up your tactics, clear a level, spend the experience to beef up your favorite cop, repeat in a new area or on a harder difficulty level. With a bit of care and a lot of development time there’s a solid game of ’70s police-show action in LA Cops, filled out with endless tv cliches and a body count in the hundreds.