LA Cops: Early Access Preview

Game Info
LA Cops
Modern Dream
Top-down twitch shooter with a handlebar moustache and donut obsession.

As a teenager, I would often stare out the window in math class, daydreaming about being a cop. Not a real cop, mind you, with all the traffic tickets and paperwork. I was thinking more those '70s buddy movie cops that stuff their faces on stakeouts, gun down ludicrous amounts of obviously bad guys while wearing aviators, and then break for lunch. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, my childish daydream was not to be. Fortunately, however, LA Cops aims to provide just such an experience, and the result--while unfinished--isn't half bad.

What story the game has is expressed in short animated cut scenes before each level, each of which could easily be a direct reenactment of classic cop movies for all the cliches they use. While amusing, these don't really follow a consistent narrative and have zero relation to the level at hand, and so end up feeling kind of pointless. Perhaps if characters had unique gameplay perks or abilities reflected in their personalities, the cut scenes would feel more relevant.

Aside from these, there isn't a lot of preamble in LA Cops. You load it up, pick a level, choose which cops you'd like to use and you're off. Each level requires you to kill or arrest all enemies, while pursuing another objective such as rescuing a hostage or destroying drugs. Though almost exclusively indoors, levels are varied enough to provide a slightly different feel, from a linoleum-plastered donut shop to a crumbling mansion, to a glittering skyscraper. The graphics, while not exactly high definition, complement the '70s art style well, and the catchy music never fails to make me smile.

How hard you find LA Cops will depend largely on how you approach each situation. Charging in guns blazing is a good way to become a professional Swiss cheese impersonator, but with the right gun and quick reflexes, it can be done--and very satisfying to boot. A more cautious route generally yields better results, systematically clearing one room of enemies at a time while the others walk around oblivious. The lock-on key will make you a perfect marksman practically every time, which can make things a little easy, but there's nothing forcing you to use it. Conversely, if you want an extra challenge you can try to arrest enemies, which requires you to get up close and personal.

Enemies aren't exactly tactical geniuses, however. Apparently deaf to gunfire and oblivious to their own murdered or arrested comrades, they need to actually see you before they'll realise something's up. Similarly, your AI partner won't follow you without being directed to a specific point on the ground, but will at least open fire on any baddies that cross his/her path. You can freely switch between your two chosen cops as well, allowing you to set up devastating crossfires to lure enemies into. This is still quite risky, however, and it's often safer to take the offensive, killing enemies on your own from as far a distance as possible.

Weapons are a little unbalanced at present. Since you're grossly outnumbered and extremely vulnerable, range and accuracy determine a weapon's worth. The default pistol fulfills both criteria, and is common enough that you're unlikely to ever run out of ammo. The machine pistol is a step up, with a generous ammo capacity and fully automatic fire that let you comfortably shred through a half dozen enemies in seconds. The shotgun, however, is much less useful, with only six shots and significant drop in damage at longer range. The rifle is much like the pistol but with more damage and twice the ammo capacity, but given its rarity and enemies' generally low health, it's not as much of an upgrade as you'd think. Last is the gratuitously gory grenade launcher, which has all the same problems as the shotgun, in addition to obscuring your sight with rib cages on a successful kill.

Each of the cops has stats you can upgrade, but these could also use more balance. Health is the most useful stat, lending you some actual durability as you wade into battle, outnumbered twenty-to-one. Speed makes arresting criminals much easier, as well as letting you beat a hasty retreat if you bite off more than you can chew. Damage is fairly pointless, as most enemies go down from a single shot anyway. Ammo capacity can make the shotgun a more viable choice, but you might as well just put your experience points into speed and health and stick with the machine pistol. Speaking of experience points, the amount you get from each job seems less to do with your numerical score and more to do with the ranking (A, B, etc) that the score represents for that level. This means that if you want to build up your stats, you can just redo the shortest and easiest mission over and over, with very little penalty.

A few other minor gripes round out the could-be-better list. Achievements are currently not functioning properly, as the game has trouble tracking kills, and no matter how many times I arrest every criminal in a level, one of them is always listed as a kill. It's a short game too; while only half of the levels are currently available, I blitzed through each of them twice in a grand total of ninety minutes. Hopefully the later levels will more than double this number, and add more replayability.

If there is one thing I could suggest to add to LA Cops, it would be multiplayer co-op. This kind of light but explosive fun is best when experienced with friends, so being able to blast through levels with someone having your back would really dial up the action and strategy. Failing that, some kind of scoreboard for each level would bring a competitive edge to an otherwise solo experience. As it stands, LA Cops is a popcorn game, suited to quick bursts of indulgence while you decide on a main course.