With the impending and rapidly approaching release date for a particular high-profile triple-A title based on cops and robbers, you might be forgiven for missing a smaller, ID@Xbox title also featuring the forces of law and order, albeit from a slightly different era.
LA Cops is a colorful, run and gun, twin stick shooter, that pays homage to the TV cop shows that some of us grew up with in the seventies and early eighties. Add into the mix that the game is played in bold, heavily stylized 3D isometric world, and you pick up a very strong retro vibe from the title. However, as someone once said, "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be," and as Hollywood remakes of "Starsky & Hutch" and "Miami Vice" can testify to, trying to recreate those happy moments from the past can be a little more difficult than you would expect.
As with most games, the first thing that strikes you about the title is the visual presentation. It's bold, bright, colorful, and the cops are cartoon caricatures of their seventies counterparts complete with dodgy moustaches, sideburns, afros, and a paunchy cop with a bad, three stage combover covering his balding pate. The player gets to learn a little more about each of these characters during the cutscenes between missions but given the fact that there are only eight in the campaign, and the brevity of each of the scenes themselves, there's little narrative to be had and the characters become mere avatars for the gameplay.
The missions play out in an equally bright and colorful 3D isometric world and despite the graphics being as sharp as you would expect in this HD era, the style borrows heavily from early 80's games, just less pixelated. It's not only the subject matter that feels retro, the presentation itself provides a similar vibe, and that's not a bad thing. The simplified visuals work well, run smoothly, and fans of that retro-style games will enjoy the artwork and presentation.
At the start of a mission, the player can choose two of the cops from the precinct. Each cop has four key attributes of speed, health, damage, and clip size, and at the very start of the game they vary in value from cop to cop. These attributes can later be selected by the player and boosted by the XP points that are rewarded on the successful completion of any mission.
The player controls one of the two cops selected, can switch between the two if needed, or can simply control one and call for the other to take up a position that the player indicates. This could be used to add a tactical element to the game, with the player being able to breach a room or location from two different points simultaneously, or have one cop provide covering fire as the other advances, however, over the course of the game, the second cop tends to act more as a backup 'life' for the player; a very useful thing to have as the game can be brutal and deal out some hard difficulty spikes during the early periods of the campaign when the player has not had chance to buff up his agents with XP.
The individual missions are short, and feature various levels in which the player has to reach a particular goal whilst fighting their way through numerous armed criminals. The player will find themselves in environments such as a warehouse, a penthouse, a bank, and a casino each represented isometrically with a camera view that the player can rotate to reveal previously hidden foes. Additionally, the player can also vary the level of zoom on the map, revealing enemies that might be a little further off.
Whilst the tutorial level and the first mission only consist of a few rooms and criminals, the later levels rapidly increase in both, and it is here where things start to go a little wayward. Targeting is aided by a lock-on mechanism that fixes on the nearest enemy and generally works, however there are occasions when it chooses the nearest target even though it is behind a brick wall and ignores the one that is a little further away, in the same room, with a clear line of fire.
The AI can also display some erratic behaviour. Enemies follow vague patrol paths from which they can unpredictably deviate, or just stop and stand still. You can't be sure whether they will walk past a door or come through it. Enemies can also be oblivious to any dead companions and remain unalerted even when walking past one of their partners in crime who is kneeling on the floor with hands cuffed behind their back after being arrested. Sometimes they will ignore gunshots in the rooms around them and other times it seems that every enemy on the level responds and makes a beeline toward the player like Chelsea players around a Dutch referee.
An onslaught of armed enemies is particularly dangerous as every type of gun, and there are a few, only contains a single clip. There are no secondary weapons or reloads, you have to run over to a dropped weapon to effectively reload. On initial levels with a pistol featuring a clip of only fifteen bullets, the cost of being charged at by numerous targets is usually fatal.
Luckily clip sizes and other attributes can be boosted by the XP gained after completing a level but here too, things get a little unbalanced. At the start your cops are underpowered, they move sluggishly whilst the enemies charge around with the speed of The Flash, and take a few hits to put them down. However, maximise your stats and the balance swings entirely the other way, with the player suddenly becoming overpowered. Once maximised, even the difficulty spikes and and boss fights become ridiculously easy; the final boss fight was done in just a couple of attempts. To be fair, you can reduce the attributes of characters too, and you can play on hardcore or nightmare difficulties to adjust the level of challenge, so you should always be able to set the right level of challenge to suit your own gameplay.
At this point you might think that this is all going to end badly, however ironically or perversely, the redeeming feature of the game is in fact its shortness and brevity; it can be completed in under six hours easily. This doesn't mean that it is so bad that you're glad it is over quickly. In a strange way, because the levels and missions are short, you tend to be a little more tolerant of the quirks within the game. If levels were longer, the amount of frustration would surely be greater, but since they are relatively bite-sized, it never gets to that. For the record, the very first level can be completed in under a minute (actually less than twenty seconds if the agent is fully maxed out). To be fair, with the missions being relatively short, it does turn into one of those games that has you saying, "Just one more try," or, "One more level." Having arrived home after a late delayed flight, I only planned to download the game and play for thirty minutes, and yet I found I was still trying "just one more" two hours later.
Within those few hours, the player will no doubt unlock most of the thirteen achievements in the game, and as you might guess, with so few achievements there is some pretty hefty gamerscore to be had. Completing the game on just the normal difficulty (there is no easy difficulty) will net 100 GS.
Playing through the game, there is a sense that there are few good ideas bubbling under the surface, but they've not quite materialised, and that's a shame. The retro styling works really well and music that plays in the background blends perfectly into that particular vibe. The biggest omission, which is almost criminal given the two cop theme, is that there is no multiplayer mode. The title is perfectly set up for local couch co-op or online co-op and would have set the game apart. It would have at least ensured a little more replayability which, unless you're obsessed with leaderboards, is sadly lacking.
LA Cops has the feel of a casual game that you can blast through quickly and give your achievement score a quick boost. In some ways, it is a little frustrating as you feel that with a little more fine tuning and the inclusion of multiplayer it could have been a great, fun, little game, but as it is, it falls a little short of that.
The reviewer spent six hours reliving the seventies, completing all eight campaign levels, all three side quests, and both bonus missions, capturing crooks, and picking up 11 out of the 13 achievements for 800 GS. The digital download was provided by the publisher for the Xbox One.
Get the biggest Xbox news delivered straight to your inbox every week.