You can’t beat a good cop drama. There’s nothing quite like experiencing frontline crime fighting efforts through the eyes of a couple of grizzled cops, who are also solid partners. I know I know, it sounds like I’m pitching a new TV drama, but bear with me.
Police Stories aims to bring this experience to your home console, telling the gritty story of two policemen, John Rimes and Rick Jones, as they battle criminals and uncover some sinister goings on in their own yard.
I think it’s fair to say that despite the title, it’s not the stories that will help this game stand out from the crowd. It’s a pretty stereotypical tale of dishonesty, danger and dirty dealings. The tales are told retrospectively to a journalist, through a series of flashbacks which make up the 18 mission campaign. It’s not especially gripping, and some of the dialogue is pretty corny, for use of a better word. However, this plays second fiddle to the more intriguing element, that being how you play the game.
Police Stories is best described as a top-down tactical shooter, where you have to raid various locations, infiltrating enemy hideouts and the like with no time to wait for backup. Each level is filled with suspects, civilians, and a few even have sneaky suspects who have disguised themselves as innocent civilians. You’ll also need to collect evidence as you go, and the configuration of the levels changes ever so slightly each time. This means that the evidence, suspects and civilians will pop up in different places during each playthrough.
Your aim is to use appropriate force to arrest as many suspects as possible, by barking at them to surrender, firing a round near them to scare them into surrendering, or giving them a good old-fashioned slap to force them to surrender. You’re only permitted to open fire if they draw their weapon on you, otherwise you’ll be punished for using unauthorised force. You’ll gradually move your way through the building, using your flashlight to reveal who or what is lurking around each corner, with you partner Rick Jones in tow. You’re especially vulnerable when opening doors and some will be jammed, requiring brute force to bust them open.
There will be other scenarios that unfold as you play through the levels, such as walking in on hostages who the criminals won’t hesitate to shoot. Every so often you’ll also need to find and defuse a bomb that the bad guys have rigged to explode, either by beating the code out of one of them, or blindly guessing which wire to cut and hoping for the best.
If the situation does escalate into a shoot out, and chances are this will happen before long, then you’ll need to be precise with your aiming otherwise you’ll be taken down almost instantly. This is especially difficult from a distance, and despite you having a crosshair to help guide your shot, by the time you’ve lined it up you’ll most likely be dead.
Sometimes the speech bubbles which pop up will hide the fact enemies have drawn their weapon, which doesn’t help matters. Bullet spraying seems to be your best hope of survival at times, as suspects are a punishingly accurate shot. Thankfully then, it’s not just down to you and your reaction speeds.
You have gear at your disposal, and unlock more every time you progress to the next level. You can then choose your custom loadout for you and your partner. There are a fair few items to unlock, which vary in usefulness. Med kits and lockpicks speak for themselves, but weapon upgrades and the borescope (which allows you to peep through doors before opening them) are particularly useful.
Your partner is helpfully obedient and can be instructed to do all sorts, from guarding areas and arresting suspects, to opening doors and disarming tripwires. However, he will often get himself killed, shoot you if you get in his way, or simply stand and watch you get shot to pieces. It feels like a pure lucky dip as to how the inconsistent AI will perform. Sometimes Rick is a huge help, other times a hindrance. I found myself choosing very carefully when to deploy him, because if the wrong person gets injured you’ll be facing serious point deductions.
That’s right, if clearing the level wasn’t challenging enough you also need to achieve a good enough rank, by scoring points, to progress to the next one. You can play Police Stories on either the standard or easy difficulty, so naturally I felt able to tackle the game on its default setting. How wrong I was. What followed was an utterly unforgiving and unenjoyable thirty odd attempts to clear the first level, for which I earned a big fat “F”. Maybe I’m just rubbish, but I quickly caved in and switched it down to easy, which was no picnic either but much more manageable.
Ultimately, you’ll still suffer because of the controls and inconsistent AI, albeit much less frequently. If you or Rick take damage, you lose a civilian, or you use unauthorised force, you’ll lose a chunk of points and the top grade will slip away all too easily. There isn’t much room for error, which can really sap the fun out of things if you aren’t a patient and tactical player.
Despite there being 18 levels, in reality each is only a few minutes long if you hit a smooth run. You can play local co-op with a friend, and there is a quick play mode too. However, I found little appetite for this after ploughing my way through the campaign. The custom level editor offers something a little different however, giving you the opportunity to tailor your own Police Stories experience. The options are decent enough, but personally I’d had enough of the tactical shooting action to want to dive straight into creating my own scenarios.
Police Stories brings some good ideas to the table but with them comes inconsistent execution. It’s punishing and unforgiving, which will take the fun out of the equation for those looking for a quick blast.
Police, open up! Police Stories is now available on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One