We traveled back to '70s Los Angeles, grew thick moustaches, devoured donuts, and shot a bunch of bad guys in the face...
Whenever we think of the '70s, four things immediately come to mind. First and foremost, there's the clothes; their "Instagram retro filter" colour schemes and flared fashion. We can almost hear the groovy disco music, and almost see the voluminous hairdos. Last but not least, we imagine tough cops with big guns and even bigger moustaches. They're not afraid of a little police brutality, and the word "workaholic" doesn't even exist in their collective vocabulary. They're manly men of the law, and there's manly things to be done out there. We're pretty sure that Modern Dream and publisher Team 17 thought of the exact same things when they developed the downloadable action game, LA Cops.
On paper LA Cops is the perfect mix of Dirty Harry and the hectic action of Hotline Miami. You control two hardboiled cops of your choice in the '70s, taking down gangs of criminals hiding out in donut stores, banks and apartment buildings all over Los Angeles. It doesn't really matter if your assignment is to destroy a meth lab or rescue some poor hostages; it still comes down to killing all the bad guys dotted around any given level. And then, when all the criminals have been disposed of, the cycle repeats itself until the end credits roll. This shouldn't take too long though, since there are only eight shortish missions in the game, not counting some unlockable bonus levels.
There's also a hint of a story to be found somewhere in LA Cops. Let us try to sum it up in a sentence or two: the wife of one of the police officers walks out on him because he's too committed to his work. Meanwhile, the others at the office talk smack about him behind his back, and then he's assigned a new, female partner. I'm sure you all know where this is going. A lot of jokes about donuts (and the consumption of said donuts) ensues, and if there wasn't enough clichés in there already, the squad is fronted by a fat commissioner with anger management issues that goes by the name of Mahoney. What's odd about the story in LA Cops is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual missions you get to play in the game. The 30-seconds-or-so cutscenes are rather short infomercials that play out before you hit the streets. The chief needs to call up some janitors to install a new bathroom? Of course he does! Now, let's go kill some bad guys!
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These shortcomings wouldn't really matter all that much if the gameplay of LA Cops made up for them, but unfortunately it doesn't. Like we said, it all looks good on paper; two cops cover each other while clearing out a building under siege, room by room. Every bullet is lethal and a single mistake often means "game over". How you manage your ammunition is crucial, but the most important thing is to mind your surroundings and know where the enemies are hiding. You can also position your two cops so that they cover each other, just in case a group of bad guys suddenly comes rushing in. It's a more cerebral action game than some people might be used to, which is good, but there's so many hiccups along the way, which leaves the end result a frustrating mess.
Everything about LA Cops feels randomised. You never know if the shots you fire will penetrate the door you're shooting at, or if the enemy on the other side of the window will spot you. You never know if the guy you're shooting will go down with one bullet or two, and you never know just how far the sound of your shots will travel. The exact same scenario can have two completely different outcomes.
The worst part is the buddy cop system we mentioned earlier. Sure, you can reposition your partner so that he's watching your back, but it doesn't really matter since nine times out of ten your enemies' fire first. Thus very little can be planned out in advance, and the entire system loses its purpose. Maybe this sounds exiting, but LA Cops is trying to be a strategic action game; it just doesn't succeed. Patience is often rewarded with bad luck, which subsequently ends in frustration and much swearing. And then, after all that, if you actually manage to complete one of the later levels in the game, you probably just lucked out.
It's possible that LA Cops could have turned out to be a really cool game, if the developers had taken the time to polish their idea. Maybe they could have thrown an exciting cop story into the mix, or maybe extended the campaign so that it didn't end after just an hour or two. That wasn't the case, and now it just feels like a broken beta version of an unfinished game. A really good looking one perhaps, but it's just too bad that almost everything else about it falls flat.