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'This is the Police' Is Like 'SimCity' for Dirty Cops

With six months to retirement, it’s time to start sullying your good name.
Image: Weappy Studio.

This Is the Police is part comic book, part SimCity, and part crime noir detective story. The city in the game is full of robberies, purse snatchings, false alarms, domestic murders, and the slow, steaming simmer of a pending race war. A mentally-ill kid breaks into a museum, draws dicks on all the paintings, and threatens to kill himself in a toilet stall—and all that's before lunchtime.

As police chief, players manage rosters of cops and detectives, dispatching senior officers to attempted murders and junior beat cops to chase teenage vandals. The game plays mostly in an overhead map of the city itself, letting players click on incoming emergency calls, hire new blood, and take reports from homicide detectives.

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This city is an unpredictable, violent beast. On one occasion, I had my most senior officers working with a SWAT team to resolve a hostage situation. A call came in from an elderly woman who insisted that a man at the park was taking pictures of all the children on the playground. I sent two of my least experienced officers to go and sort out what was at best a false alarm, at worst a middle aged pervert waiting for a ride downtown.

When they arrive, the man pulls a gun, shoots my officers, and kills himself. Completely random. No way I could have known to send SWAT instead of meter maids. No way I could have made sure they came home again.

The game isn't just about fighting crime, either. Boyd is fighting with city hall and budget cuts. He's wildly popular with the city, and he's kept his soul clean in a jurisdiction packed with organized crime and deep pockets. But what has all that work gotten him? Not a damn thing. His wife left, he's out of a job in six months, and the entirety of his life savings couldn't buy a used Nissan.

Still, with good management, dispatching officer teams and authorizing overtime should be a good basis for a long career as SimCop. But this isn't the beginning of a long career, and this isn't SimCop. Starting from day 1, This Is the Police is the story of Boyd's last 180 days on the job and the money that could come with it. The goal: build half a million dollars for retirement, one way or another.

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As a mob corruption scandal forces his deputy to leave the country, Boyd is approached with an offer: take the deputy's place for his last six months, earn some money, and retire after four decades of (almost) completely selfless public service.

The decisions start to come in. In between robberies and shootings and private security contracts, I get a warning that around 10 p.m. the mob is going to steal something. They'd like it if my officers didn't respond. I can ignore the 911 call and keep my officers safe. I could pocket a bunch of mob money. The call comes in and I watch as the time to respond ticks past. I hesitate, my finger hovering over my mouse. I sweat. I have a teeny, tiny slice of the fear.

Image: Weappy Studio.

At the end of each day, the comic book pages turn and more of Boyd's story is told. This story is as compelling as any told by interactive comic games like Telltale's The Walking Dead or Tales from the Borderlands. It's successful because managing a police force is fun, but the daily break for narrative helps humanize the pixels and make everything real. As Boyd, the fear is very real. He's afraid he'll get caught. He's afraid he'll anger the mob and get killed. He's afraid that he'll do everything right and end up getting fucked anyway.

This Is the Police is available July 28 on Steam.