Beat Cop appeals to me on multiple levels. There really aren’t enough games where you play as a cop, let alone one that has to spend most of their time writing tickets. Okay, that may not sound particularly fun, but in a world where bombastic is the norm, sometimes it’s nice to cozy up with mundanity. So, when a game has a day-to-day premise, a charming pixel art style and an adventure-style choice system, it certainly has my attention.
You play as Detective Jack Kelly, who must juggle both routine and extravagant tasks within a set time limit each day. While trying to fill your quota for parking tickets, a thief may abscond with merchandise from a nearby store. Maybe you’ll be called in for a fake homicide that wastes your time, or a real one that demands a lengthy process. And don’t forget in your spare time to solve the crime you were framed for. Beat Cop follows a linear story structure that drip-feeds you ever-increasing responsibility, and this works well as an introduction to the gameplay loop that demands a lot of time management. Events get pretty ridiculous near the end, but these moments are paced well enough to still feel consistent with the overall story. This direction is complemented nicely by a quirky and vibrant pixel art style. Beat Cop is an unabashed 80’s cop show, which the game outright states in the beginning. Even though I’ve never been a fan of the genre, the genuine nature of this love letter rings true all the same. With that said, some of the dialogue gives the impression that the writing is trying too hard to make the theme stick.
As for the gameplay, Beat Cop’s simplistic controls facilitate the hectic nature of the game by allowing you to perform a number of important actions with relative ease. Handing out tickets, chasing down criminals, making arrests, and calling in crimes become second nature before long. Because of the time limit, the faster you can achieve your objectives, the better. Thankfully, time pauses when speaking to people, so you don’t have to rush through dialogue. Even the seemingly dull ticket issuing has a nice balance of variety and fits in well with these restrictions. Looking at a parking meter to see if it has expired is a quick process, but checking tire and light violations take some time. Because of these time-intensive checks, there is an incentive to make immediate decisions in an effort to fill quotas or receive bonuses for extra work. Those alimony checks don’t pay themselves.
The street Jack works is so comically corrupt that I decided to prioritize being a good cop just to see how manageable it was. I looked out for the community and completed all of my police work every day, except when I unintentionally took a few bribes because the prompt defaulted to “yes”. I also accidentally killed someone’s dog, which was more my fault. I helped a little girl find her lost cat, though, so I think I’m even on my interaction with pets.
Over time I saw more value in doing favors for criminals, and the game doesn’t stress morality at all. There are required story moments that are blatantly dirty, so you really aren’t penalized for illegal activity in your spare time outside of some minor pay deductions. If the story of Beat Cop was heavy and serious, this push towards crime would be a strong incentive that presents a conflict. The end result is unfortunately less interesting because the absurd nature of the tone doesn’t dabble in ethics. So, I simply made my choices based on what seemed to be the most fun. There are some definite benefits to doing favors for criminals, and amassing enough money allows you to flee the country and end the story early. The choice is ultimately up to you, but it’s easy to feel as though you’re missing out on content if you play it clean. At the end of the day, co-operating with a particular faction of criminals to undermine the other ends up being more satisfying.
If there’s an issue I have with Beat Cop’s formula, it’s that the core of the game doesn’t change all that much. There are bizarre twists in the story, but they can occasionally feel like nothing more than distractions once you get in a rhythm of the basic quotas. That’s the point, of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that the gameplay can get a little too samey.
Beat Cop meets its quota by providing a few laughs and a fun experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The appropriate attention and care was given to the most important elements, but it doesn’t offer much else. The end result is a game with few lows, but similarly few standout moments to make it truly memorable.