Just a couple of years ago, Weappy Studio introduced the masses to the shady side of the law in This is the Police. It saw you take charge of a police department and strategise how many of your officers to send to various crimes. The dodgy part of this real-time management aspect came in the many underhanded ways you could earn cash on the side for a decent retirement, often involving the mafia. Then a sequel arrived, This is the Police 2, and brought in the hands-on turn-based sections to mix it up in between the usual management side, which wasn’t quite so well received.
Naturally, the next logical step for the developers was to create a spin-off in the form of Rebel Cops, which focuses entirely on XCOM style, turn-based strategy gameplay. It’s a bold move, but could it pay off and be an addictive addition to the series that tests your tactical nous? Well unfortunately, even if I had been given a brown envelope full of cash under the table, I’d still struggle to find much enjoyment here. Frustration though? Oh, there’s definitely some of that.
When the merciless crime lord, Viktor Zuev, rocks up in the idyllic town of Ripton he starts manipulating those in positions of power via blackmail and intimidation, leading to widespread corruption threatening ruin this once wholesome community. As a result, a group of vigilante officers banded together in the name of justice; essentially the last hope to avoid losing the remaining goodness left in Ripton. There’s no backing from any official source and they’ve only got limited resources to work with, provided by the locals who see value in the cause. It’s going to be an uphill struggle, but someone has to give it a go… and that’s the Rebel Cops!
After filling us in about the happenings in Ripton, Rebel Cops introduces the general mechanics of this top-down strategy by holding your hand through a tutorial level. There’s a bank robbery in progress and first you must take turns to put the officers into positions using action points, scoping out the joint and trying to get the jump on the enemies. The options upon approaching an enemy could be anything from whacking them with a baton or firing off a taser, to going for a shot that can kill or wound. Failing that, just ask them politely to put their hands up. Arresting them whilst stunned, on death’s door or even compliant, is the best case scenario and gets you in good stead with the locals too. The tutorial also makes it clear that shooting to kill is sometimes a necessary evil though, but what it doesn’t do is fully prepare you for the missions ahead.
Instead, it lets go of your hand and then watches you drown in your own tears as the sheer difficulty becomes apparent. Granted, the tutorial itself does a decent job of explaining the stealth-focused gameplay, however it isn’t able to show how a mission can go south in the blink of an eye.
Half of the blame lies with the ‘chance’ aspect of performing actions, seeing your chance of success increase the closer you are to the bad guy and, obviously, decreasing at greater distances. Shouting at someone to put their hands up when directly adjacent to them is seemingly the sweet spot, until it fails of course, which happens, and then you’re a sitting duck waiting to be popped off. It’s also unclear as to the sight radius of enemies, with some wandering around like Mr. Magoo and others rather eagle-eyed. Either way, every enemy usually gets alerted upon spotting you, officers die and the mission is doomed. That’s a regular occurrence, sometimes from the very first turn!
Then, when you add in the limited resources at your disposal, it’s extremely tough to ensure officers are well-equipped with guns, ammo and armour. There may be a couple of the squad going into the battlefield with just a med kit and a baton, because money is tight. Should an officer be killed on the frontline, they’re gone forever and that shortens your odds of being victorious. Unless you’ve got a sneaky save point in beforehand of course, but even using saves is limited – apart from on the Relaxed difficulty, where unlimited saves are a real saviour. The problem arises though when a reload of a save is needed after almost every mistake, which ensures the already tense affair turns into a tedious nightmare.
To be fair to Rebel Cops though, the level designs are great at least, with vast open-world environments for the most part. This allows you to approach situations from multiple angles and take your time, finding little trinkets along the way to sell post-level too. The missions aren’t exactly short in length, seeing a large amount of enemies spread out and ready to be taken down; especially in a particular mission where you need to storm a mansion after traversing the dangerous surrounding grounds, which are huge. It actually does a good job of making you feel out-manned and out of your depth, which is exactly how it must be for this rag-tag bunch of cops.
In order to earn a little extra cash, side objectives can be taken on and unlike the regular ones that generally require a named thug to be arrested, the optional goals could lead you to locate a missing person within the area or procure an item. The problem comes in the fact that you’ve only got a limited amount of slots to put officers in before launching a mission and it’s hard enough with them all focusing on the task at hand as it is. Failing to succeed doesn’t put you in good stead with the locals either. Pull it off though and the XP and rewards are yours, with the former enabling you to level up the cops and increase their shooting skills, strength or movement.
Visually, and that’s where Rebel Cops shines quite brightly because of the lovely environments full of buildings to explore. When you’re tearing your hair out at the gameplay, the setting is rather warm and soothing, with wonderful looking autumnal trees really catching the eye. As noted, most areas are large and credit must be given for the little details, as well as to the layouts that offer and encourage exploration.
Overall, Rebel Cops on Xbox One is a turn-based strategy experience which isn’t for the faint of heart. Just like the officers up against Viktor Zuev, you’ll feel up against it from the get-go and the brutal difficulty, coupled with the random chances of failure when success seems almost guaranteed, makes for a game that’s short on the enjoyment front. The resource limitations ensure you’re questioning every step and that’s tedious after numerous unsuccessful attempts. It’s certainly not limited in level size though, with huge areas to explore and plenty to sink your teeth into, should a sadistic strategic affair be what you’re looking for.
In hindsight, creating a spin-off from, arguably, the least fun parts of the main This is the Police series was always going to be risky. It hasn’t really paid off and, at best, only the most hardcore strategists will be able to appreciate what Rebel Cops tries to do.