The 2016 game This is the Police was a strangely enjoyable entry into what has become a little strategy sub-genre - the Hopelessness Simulator. When done right, games like Papers Please and Beholder turn the drudgery of a miserable government job into a challenging and darkly humorous experience. This is the Police was decent in that regard, but it wasn't one that left players begging for a sequel. Nevertheless, Weappy Studio has delivered that sequel in This is the Police 2. The good news for fans of the original game is that Weappy has been hard at work enhancing the game with a bevy of new features, most of which intelligently address the criticisms of the first game. The bad news, unfortunately, is that all of that hard work was squandered on a game that collapses beneath the immense weight of a few terrible decisions. Punishing and monotonous, This is the Police 2 is a bad game - one that appears to be the product of gross misjudgments about what makes for a fun experience.
The way in which This is the Police 2 wastes so many intelligent ideas is downright tragic. Every change that Weappy Studio injected into the game's formula makes sense. The first game suffered from a few major flaws, like a lack of depth and a lack of feedback on how the game's systems worked. To address these issues, the gameplay in This is the Police 2 has been vastly expanded over that of its predecessor. Now, instead of just one rating, each of your officers has a "professionalism" rating, on top of a series of role playing traits like intelligence, strength, stealth, speed, and shooting. As your officers gain experience, they level up, and you can choose where to apply that experience so that they can be more successful in fighting crimes. By successfully fighting crime, you earn currency, which you can then use to hire more officers and buy more equipment. Each time that you send your cops out to stop a crime, you are given at least one choice on how to handle the situation, be it whacking the offender with a stun baton, trying to negotiate a peaceful solution, or even using lethal force. The more successful that you are capturing suspects and keeping citizens safe, the more currency that you earn. And, the game's more important missions now use an X-Com-like turn-based system, where your squad of officers takes turns moving, shooting, and capturing suspects. The game has so many great ideas - yet at times, playing it feels like being waterboarded.
The frustration in This is the Police 2 is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to list all of its irritating and forgettable moments, but perhaps one example can illustrate what is so wrong with it. Early in the game you have the opportunity to complete an ethically questionable side quest for a doctor. It requires an expensive and hard to acquire item that you can otherwise sell for a pretty big sum of money. If you complete his quest, then he makes himself available to return your wounded officers to action for a fee. That way, if somebody has a car accident or gets shot, you can get him or her back quickly instead of losing that officer for a few days - theoretically. However, if you actually pay this doctor his required fee, your officer usually dies instead of returning to action the next day. In other words, the game completely screws you over for completing the doctor's side quest and actually expecting it to do you some good. This is the Police 2 is bursting at the seams with these moments, as if you are constantly the butt of a practical joke.
The currency is valuable (up until about the 2/3 point of the game, when it suddenly and inexplicably drops out of the game). It's also very hard to earn, since the game punishes you brutally for making even the slightest mistakes. This type of arrangement is not unheard of in video games, but rarely is this punishment as arbitrary and illogical as here. When your police officers are sent out on a call, you usually have three choices on how to deal with the situation. There is rarely any indication given as to what the optimal choice is, so you will usually have to guess. Often, you guess wrong and the offender escapes, usually with a civilian being killed or injured. Since the game is so painfully unforgiving, you need to complete almost every day perfectly so that you can scrape together enough currency to just barely survive. One mistake can almost ruin your day. Two mistakes wrecks it to the point where you might as well reload your saved game and start over, unless you have no interest in actually completing the game. If you do want to complete the game, then you should be ready to replay certain days over and over and over again, as you are constantly bludgeoned over the head for making perfectly logical decisions. It is as if all of the game's systems were designed solely for dark humor instead of to facilitate fun gameplay. This type of approach might be acceptable if the game itself featured fun mechanics. However, none of the core gameplay in This is the Police 2 is fun enough to sustain a second, a third, or a tenth run through any given day. Almost at the start, the game becomes an irritating and frustrating slog.
Each police call requires a minimum level of "professionalism" from the participating officers. A minor call might require 1200 points, whereas an especially difficult one might require 4000 points. This system, like many others in the game, is a great idea that is half-broken. Since you can only send six officers on any given call, your less effective officers are effectively disqualified from going on any difficult calls. By the end of the game, when almost every call is a 3000 or above, most of your officers will be twiddling their thumbs while a handful of elite officers shoulders the workload. This was not a problem that was present in the first game, and I don't think that Weappy intended for it to work out this way in the sequel. By the end of the game you are also getting quick, back-to-back 3000 and 4000 point calls that are impossible to answer. There is something to be said for a game giving you a challenge, but in this case, the game barely lets you do your job.
One way to survive the game's punishment is to immediately spend everything that you earn on cops and equipment, and then give everyone the day off to rest them up and save them. On that one day, you simply ignore every call and let every crime play out. Since the game never drops you below zero currency, if you are going to have a bad day, then you might as well just let it get abysmal (you also need to make sure that you don't squander any bonus currency for solving a tough case that day). Ultimately, I found this approach to be the only way to get through the game. In other words, I got through the game by occasionally not even playing it. I cannot think of a better response to a game that signifies game design failure better than that one.
Speaking of game design failures, the biggest new feature, X-Com-style turn-based missions, is arguably the worst. In theory, it should be great. Your officers apply their role playing skills and acquire perks. You move officers through cover and stun, capture, or kill enemies by using your abilities and inventory items. It is a well-intentioned addition, but some awful mission design spoils whatever entertainment value it may have had. Most missions are very heavy on stealth, and some of them result in instant failure if any of your troopers get spotted. One infuriating mission, in particular, involves you infiltrating a heavily patrolled area to assassinate a gang leader. No matter how carefully you tread, that mission is impossible until you have failed at it a dozen times and you have memorized all of the enemies' patrol patterns. Being a time consuming and slow moving affair, replaying a turn-based tactical mission more than a couple of times gets very old, very fast. Not all missions instantly end in failure when you get spotted, but they might as well because of how punishing they become. Your police officers are vulnerable and fragile, and the cost of getting one of them killed is severe. To make matters worse, you can only control those officers of yours that are loyal to you. Disloyal officers move on their own, shoot at anything that moves, and generally wreck any mission as if they were griefing in a multiplayer game. Before some of these missions you can pay informants to supply you with information, but most of that information is something that you will learn on your first attempt anyways, so paying for it is pointless. As if that weren't enough, these missions sometimes get sprung on you late in the day when you have a lot of cops out on a call. If they don't make it back before the end of the day, then you can't do that mission and the game pummels you for it.
This is the Police 2 seems to have been designed with the philosophy that everything that was annoying or inconvenient about the first game was great, and therefore should be amplified by an order of magnitude in the sequel. In the first game, these little difficulties added to the game's sense of tongue-in-cheek nihilism, but here, they are simply annoying. Do you remember how in the first game you had the occasional alcoholic or bum on the force? Now at least half of your force is either an alcoholic, a lazy bum who constantly fails to show up for work, or a finicky head case who constantly refuses to go on calls. Every day begins with you clicking through at least a half dozen messages that are either "so-and-so didn't show up for work today", "I drank too much I don't think that I can hold it together", or somebody providing a lame excuse to try and stay home. One officer is a woman who refuses to work with about 80% of the male force. Another officer refuses to ever work with women. Another officer only goes on one call a day. Another refuses to work with anyone who is not in uniform. When all is said and done, virtually all of the fun has been drained out of managing your police force.
In This is the Police 2 you once again play as Jack Boyd, the cynical and deeply flawed protagonist from the first game. On the run from the FBI as a result of your corrupt actions from the first game, you hide out in a remote northern town, drinking yourself into oblivion. Pretty soon, however, events conspire to pull you back into the world of law enforcement. Before long, you are once again hiring men and women for a police force, sending them out to handle crime calls, and managing your ever-so-scarce resources. All the while you are hoping to clear your name before the FBI can find you.
This is the Police 2 invests considerable time and effort into its storytelling, which features a lot of high-quality voice acting. This storytelling takes place via horribly long-winded cutscenes though, where characters ramble and yammer and ramble and yammer endlessly, usually about topics that have nothing to do with the story. It makes the cutscenes a monotonous bore in a game that is already brimming with annoyances. For the most part the story in This is the Police 2 isn't much of an asset to the game. The first problem that it has is that Jack is now a thoroughly unlikable character. He is not just a flawed individual like he was in the first game - now he is just a complete jerk who is incapable of having a friendly interaction with anyone. It is difficult, if not impossible, to care about whether he ever clears his name and becomes a free man. And, speaking of clearing his name, how can this game put forth the premise that Jack Boyd even deserves to have his name cleared? If you finished the first game, then you probably did it by doing missions for the mafia and selling your confiscated guns and drugs for extra money. Jack is anything but innocent, yet the story invests a lot of its emotional weight behind the idea. The Jack Boyd that I played as in the first game deserves to be behind bars. Is there some alternate "good guy" version of the first This is the Police game that is canon?
It is very easy to appreciate the hard work that went into this game, which includes a terrific jazzy soundtrack that plays during the day and then more of an electronic version that plays during the turn-based missions. There is the outline of a very good game here, but it is lost beneath about twenty-five hours of frustration and repetition. Time and time again, as I played This is the Police 2, I encountered some sort of fun-destroying event that had me saying out loud, "What the hell were these guys thinking?" It is a difficult game, which is not a problem by itself, but a high difficulty amplifies gameplay issues, and they are in abundance here. I would never go so far as to say that This is the Police 2 is a poorly or incompetently made game, but it is by no means a fun one. Even if you loved the first game, I cannot recommend this sequel to you, either for its gameplay or its story. For what it's worth, the game's story ends on a cliff hanger, and I am still interested in seeing how the next game turns out. I don't know if the third game will end up being a good one, but I do know that I have no desire to ever go back and play through the second one.