One of my favorite memories from middle school is of me and my classmates playing Police Quest on the computers in the classroom. Learning about proper police procedure, setting out to protect the city and uphold the law, snickering at that one moment when we chose to have sex with a woman who wanted to get out of a parking ticket…fun learning experiences all around. But we haven’t really had a proper successor to the Police Quest series since SWAT replaced it a long time ago (future me, having finished this review, is now annoyed at past me having forgotten about L.A. Noire). Here we are now, though, with 11 Bit Studios and developer Pixel Crow providing us with Beat Cop, a classic adventure about patrolling the streets right down to the 1980s setting and pixel art. And sure, Beat Cop borrows more from classic cop dramas of the era than the real-life police tales of its ancestor, but the experience is still a highly enjoyable bit of work that does Sierra’s classic proud.
Actually, when I say Beat Cop is about patrolling the streets, I suppose I clarify that it’s more of a street, singular. You play as Jack Kelly, a detective framed for murder and theft finding themselves reassigned to being a patrolman in the wake of the scandal, and having three weeks to clear their name while also making sure to uphold the duties given to them on their new beat. So heading back and forth between every local business and apartment building, you need you to take care of any issues that appear on your checklist, lest you get chewed out by the chief, Kelly gets their pay docked, and having to solve the overall mystery becomes more of a challenge.
So each day, you’re given a list of tasks to carry out, along with any other that may pop up as time passes. Typically, a guaranteed activity is having to meet a ticket quota, either via parking violations, busted lights, or worn tires. It sounds a bit dull at first, but it actually hits that Papers, Please level of getting an almost zen-like experience out of a mundane task. You inspect the car or its surrounds, properly write the ticket, make sure everything is in order, call the tow truck if needed, and choose whether or not to accept a bribe if the driver shows up. There’s just something satisfying about successfully noticing flaws and hitting a quota. That said, the tire inspections are a bit annoying, if only because unlike expired meters or sparking lights, they don’t have any good visual cues to tip you off.
But yes, be it ripping down cultist posters, busting electronics thieves, keeping an eye out for a car suspected in a hit-and-run, or other activities, Beat Cop milks a lot of enjoyment out of tending to your lengthy stretch of shops, making sure everything is clean and tidy. Or you could also just run jobs for the mafia and the local street gang in secret for extra money, or look the other way when they pull any stunts. Yes, you have to be careful about who you work with and what actions you perform, as your allegiances have consequences down the road. So it does indeed create several branching paths that can lead to some interesting and unlikely scenarios, and regardless of which one you take, you do get meet a colorful cast of enjoyable characters along the way, ranging from kindly diner owners to ex-porn stars. There’s a nice touch of development as you strengthen relations with everyone, as passers-by start out on the first day calling you a pig, then actively start greeting you as the weeks advance, giving off the feeling that this is indeed a living, breathing city.
Gameplay-wise, Beat Cop uses a simple point-and-click interface, where one click moves you to a location and a double-click lets you sprint, at least until your stamina runs out (having to spend some of your hard-earned money on the occasional hot dog and such to strengthen it). Aside from moments where you have to catch up to a criminal running away and click the handcuffs and the right time, or the rare shootout, a lot of it is just going back and forth, checking your notes, and making sure to be in the right place at the right time in order to interact with citizens, check on stores, report something suspicious, et cetera. It’s simple and works perfectly, leaving the main challenge to be in trying to make sure you can manage your routine in order to get all duties and optional story bits in, especially those leading to clearing Kelly’s name. It’s trickier than it sounds, and may take more than a couple of tries at certain times, but it’s always rewarding to end a day having successfully done everything you can.
Aesthetics-wise, Beat Cop does a pretty damn good job of capturing Brooklyn circa 1986 in all of its retro glory. Vibrant-colored civilians and storefronts clash wish brick and mortar, while marines shout out of window while performing morning exercises and men in donut suits hawk massive boxes of sugary goodness. It’s a simple style, but one that captures the hustle and bustle of an urban neighborhood perfectly. The soundtrack also provides some catchy synth tunes, also allowing for the likes of punk, metal and hip-hop to be played by the folks you stroll by each and every day, nicely adding to the overall atmosphere.
So Beat Cop was doing a damn good job, and was on its way to earn a commendation and even a raise…when it started twitching around uncontrollably and crashed to the ground. Yes, if anything gets in the way of Beat Cop being a full-on classic, it’s that it unfortunately seems to have a few notable bugs, which disturbingly seem to increase towards the end. The way events are set up to occur as each day progresses seem to lead to a few flaws, with a notable instance being a moment where I just walked towards the jewelry store, then a sudden message popped up informing me that the dead perps were picked up. Wait, what dead perps? Then citizens began congratulating me on stopping a robbery, as three men ran out of the store behind them. What? Then the chief calls to criticize me for failing to stop the robbery! Did things play out of order? There are also sliding tile puzzles during car searches that seem unsolvable (sliding tile puzzles themselves being a notable flaw), moments where I couldn’t trigger statements from people I was supposed to question, two crimes occurring at opposite ends of the street…not all frequent enough to be a dealbreaker, mind you, but still, it led to some slight sloppiness in what should otherwise be a solid story.
A few bugs aside, Beat Cop is a highly engrossing and addictive adventure, a cross between classic ’80s action and routine cop duty that makes for some extremely interesting gameplay as you get sucked in and even get attached to everyone in your little part of Brooklyn. Proper management and investigation skills are rewarded with satisfying results and advancements in various intriguing narratives, and the gameplay is the kind that’s enjoyably simple to learn and fun to work with. Long story short, even if this is more of a tribute to the like of Harry Callahan, it’s Sonny Bonds who should feel proud that Pixel Crow made an enjoyable game about police work that does his legacy justice.