Game review: LA Cops for PS4

“Zoe,” you say, “I thought you were broke, so how did you get a new game?” Well, faithful reader who always asks the right questions, I discovered I had 4.99 still stashed in my Sony wallet, and being desperate for a new game, I went looking for something on sale cheap. LA Cops was only 3.49, so I got it, and here we are, another review for you loverly peoples.

My first impression of LA Cops is that it’s very similar in design to Hotline Miami, with some minor improvements in a few areas. It unfortunately also replicates a lot of the problems and design flaws I saw in Hotline Miami, but I’ll hold off on listing those just yet.

First, let’s talk about what it does have going for it. One, it’s got a diverse cast of cops to choose from, with no need to mess around with unlocking. It’s got a neat visual style to its cut scenes, something I can’t say I’ve seen in any game in recent or even distant memory. The voice acting in the cut scenes is pretty good, and the story is…it’s okay, for what little there is to it. The music is very good, something my husband noticed after only a few minutes into the game and commented on. A couple of the songs don’t sound like the era they’re aiming for, and they’re more like an extended Pearl Jam solo. But eh, I like Pearl Jam, so this worked for me.

I like the premise and the ideal of what the game is trying to accomplish. But I can’t really say that I liked much else because of a lot of glitches and design flaws. Like Hotline Miami, LA Cops suffers from door glitches, but this game has some doozies that are all unique. For starters, all doors are double hinged and spring loaded. It’s possible to hit a door to make it swing in and watch it bounce back and forth twice before closing again. Doors are also so fragile that an enemy or your cop can simply walk into them and shatter them. Doors are a suggestion, meaning that if an enemy decides a closed door isn’t really there, he can see through it and shoot through it with perfect accuracy. What else? Oh yes, my personal “favorite”: if an enemy gets stuck on the door, their gun will become an automatic, regardless of what they’re carrying and its supposed rate of fire.

If this was all the game did wrong, I might still be ready to give it a good review. After all, graphically, it’s much better than Hotline Miami, and I can at least tell what’s in a room at a glance in terms of the furniture and decorations.

But like Hotline Miami, LA Cops suffers from an undercooked level design. Rooms are cobbled together without much logic to them, and some design elements simulate ducting and wiring, which blocks the view and usually hides a stationary enemy no matter how I rotate the camera. Setting that aside, the level goals are often just cobbled together without much sense. You might be tasked to kill all the bad guys (so far, so good), and then blow out all the power boxes before taking the elevator to the next floor. (LOL WUT) First of all, no building has power boxes arranged like this, and second, how would one ride an elevator after blowing the power?

The problem is, the game is trying so hard to do something besides just kill the bad guys, and that’s a mistake. If they dropped the added tasks, it wouldn’t hurt the game play. If people really want an added challenge, it’s built in with the ability to arrest criminals using a melee attack. It’s even one of the achievements, arresting all the baddies on a level.

As the game progresses, it keeps finding more agonizing and frustrating ways to up the ante. Single floor level designs give way to two, three, and four floor stacks. Then when adding more floors and objects to break isn’t good enough, they add a timer. (Y’all should know by now, adding a timer to any game makes me hate it that much more.) AND, this timer does not reset if you have to restart the level. So if you get almost to the end with a few seconds to spare before you die, you just go back to the start of the level to watch those last few seconds tick off. To properly reset the timer requires exiting to the menu and restarting the whole level over again. Also? There’s a hostage situation on a timer where you have to kill everything and reach the hostage in two minutes. No, you cannot just go to the hostage to shut off the timer and then play mop up. It took me forever to get past this floor because I kept getting right to the last room and either getting shot or running out of time.

But if I thought that was frustrating, that’s nothing compared to the final level, where they bring in waves of enemies on a timer, with this level’s objective being to survive until the time runs out. Survive that and…you go to another level where the boss is hiding in a booth made of bulletproof glass. To get him out, you have to destroy 76 slot machines (which the game calls fruit machines for some strange reason) while also fighting against endless hordes of enemies. I fought for most of one day on this one level alone, and when I finally managed to get the bastard to come out, he also summoned another wave of goons. Through several additional plays, I defeated them, hunted him down, and…one shot had him pull up a force field and scurry back to his booth before summoning another horde. Sweet baby Jesus, what an awful pain in the ass. It’s like playing cops and robbers with a little kid. “NUH-UH, you din’t shoot me! I got an invisible wall!”

It doesn’t help that at this point in the game, the rules keep changing about what you can and can’t shoot or be shot through. The bad guys seem to be able to shoot through walls and doors whenever they like, but this does not work for your cops, even armed with the same guns. But in the final stage, the game can’t seem to decide if you can shoot through slot machines or not. The goons can, and if your poor schmuck cop can’t, the baddies will be able to mow you down while you slowly amble around a corner desperately trying to line up another shot.

No. Not fun at all.

I must bring up the leveling system and XP, both of which are useless in my opinion. You earn XP based on the grade you earn from each level. Problem is, you earn the same XP regardless of the difficulty level you choose to use for each map. So if you earn an A, you get 4 XP. There’s no point to playing on the harder modes, no greater reward. Playing on nightmare just means you lose the ability to auto-lock onto enemies who can now one-shot kill you with less time to react, a skill that’s not all that useful in lots of situations anyways because it refuses to aim for the bad guy currently shooting your cop in the face and will instead lock and stick with a dude in another room who poses absolutely no risk to you.

And I’m wandering. The thing is, let’s say you choose to play the first level over and over until you can level up two cops to their highest levels. Man, those must be two badass motherfuckers now, right? Nope, not at all. Fully increased weapon damage is only slightly different from an unmodified damage level. Similarly, perking up to full health won’t make traversing halls full of baddies any less instantly fatal. “Speed” is a joke, because the baddies will often run three times as fast as your character in wave modes even after you’ve filled the speed bar. In other words, nothing about the perks gives any sense of progress, and I really could have done without their inclusion given how utterly useless they were.

Let’s see, what else? Despite having a diverse cast, someone made the decision for every character to record the same flavor text. Every character says “Double kill! and “That’s what I’m talkin’ about” and “Oh no you din’t!” in much the same way, making them indistinguishable from each other in the game. They also all start out with the same weapons, so there’s no reason to play them all. You just pick the two you want and stick with them throughout the 13 levels. I appreciated not having to unlock the other cops, but I just wish there had been some reason to play them, and there’s no incentive given in their weapon load out or their dialogue.

Oh, and I can’t forget the partners system. In theory, this is a neat idea, being able to position one cop in a doorway to cover the other. In practice, the partner AI often fails to recognize threats, either to itself or to my character. I might step around a corner to survey a room and see a bad guy walk up to my partner and erase their face with a shotgun because my partner never reacted. Or, I might find myself surrounded and out of ammo, backing into a room to get some help only to have the bad guy walk around my partner and continue shooting me. The whole time I’m being made into Swiss cheese, my partner will just stand there like a pothead contemplating their palm after smoking half an ounce too much.

As I reached the final levels of the game I was struck again and again by the idea that this feels like a beta release meant to test the waters, not an actual finished game. It’s short, it’s glitchy, and it still needs a lot of work. In the end, I think that it being a finished product is what makes it so irritating, even for the low price I paid for it. Under the flaws and glitches, there’s a great game idea that needed more time and thought put into it before it was released. Instead, this got the “good enough” stamp and was shuttled out with all these issues burdening it.

That’s why I have to give LA Cops 2 stars. Somewhere under all this crap is a great idea. But no one cared to polish it before they sent it out. And that’s a damn shame because the game could be so much better with a lot of TLC from the developer.