Beat Cop is a buffet of retro themes and pixelated glory, starring Jack Kelly as our cop protagonist awash in a sea of crime, blackmail, and bribery in the Brooklyn of the 1980s. It's a smart blend of the themes of Papers, Please and the old Police Quest titles, combining simulation, time management, and even adventure game aspects to create a fast-paced, intelligent crime story ripe with adult humor, 80s references, snarky comebacks, and big decisions. Released on March 30th, Beat Cop comes from the creative minds at Pixel Crow and delivers a non-linear storyline with multiple endings, colorful characters — both on the police force and on the street — and a healthy dose of "old school ass kicking."
A Hollywood-Inspired Brooklyn Beat
Heavily inspired by 80s cop dramas, Beat Cop puts players into the shoes of Jack Kelly, a cop who’s been framed for murder. Thrust back into the riveting, infuriating world of the beat assignment, Kelly monitors and manages one particular street in the city. The location of the gameplay, Kelly's beat is full of frenzied motion and hordes of random strangers, store owners, gang members, and the resident mafia, all done up in the garish hues of the era. Tiny details, such as the tunes blaring from a boombox on the corner or the chatter of conversations near an apartment building, make Beat Cop come to life in a way that is rarely achieved by an indie pixel-graphics title.
The cast of characters in Beat Cop helps to create that TV drama atmosphere; Kelly is a sarcastic, impatient antihero who's more concerned about shutting up his boss and raising the money to pay his alimony than he is saving the day. Still, players have a host of cop-related options regarding gameplay: You can fill your shift by crossing off objectives, such as filling a ticket quota or catering to a resident on the street, or you can choose to focus on the battle between the Crew and the Mafia.
The Language Is Aggressively “Period”
There's a lot of off-color humor in Beat Cop, and more than a few statements by a pedestrian or even by Officer Kelly made me do a double take. But I suppose the 1980s weren't terribly politically correct, especially in some Brooklyn hood, and Beat Cop doesn't hesitate to "go there" with this supposedly period language. While Kelly and company are crude, gloomy, and aggressive, there's a dark humor here that feels vaguely well-intended.
That said, the delivery seems like it pulls its punches, seeming less like gritty realism and more a lukewarm excuse to misbehave mixed with not having the guts to go full-out with more social unaccepted racial slurs. Instead of treating all slurs equally, Beat Cop dodges to the left, falling back to the slightly less offensive "darkies," all while still wielding misogynist terms rather casually. It's perplexing, and it's merely additional shock value in a title that could stand on its merits alone, eschewing such tactics.
Polished Police Precision?
As mentioned, when it comes to the gameplay, Beat Cop combines time management and strategy elements, which are present in the form of players receiving a set amount of time to complete objectives outlined in their notebook. When playing with this area of the title, it quickly became evident that I would need to memorize the locations on my block as soon as possible, especially since more than a few optional side quests are timed, sometimes even requiring you to complete them at a given moment and location. However, most of these quests are voluntary, and while it isn't an easy task to manage your ranking with the police force, the citizens, the Mafia and the local gang, I was able to shoot for a middle ground rather than polarizing my various loyalties. That option counts for a lot in a title like Beat Cop, given that it increases the flexibility of the experience and lends to replay value.
Beat Cop does have a few issues with glitches and occasional bugs, which become even more frustrating than they already are as the only way to record your deeds (save) is to end the day. That said, while I'm never a huge fan of that dynamic for saving my progress, in the case of Beat Cop it lends extra importance to making decisions quickly, not to mention having to live with the consequences of your responses. Despite being imperfect, this aspect was minor for me, and overall I found the interface to be simple, polished, and easy to understand.
I'm No Time-Management Genius, But Beat Cop Works for Me
I'll be the first to admit that games requiring strong time management/strategy skills are not my forte, and yet titles like Beat Cop draw me in with their retro graphics and pixelated simulation charms. Fortunately for me, Kelly can typically get his work done without too much trouble, despite a frustratingly small stamina bar and his smart mouth. And the storyline, especially the focus around Kelly's murder charge and crumbling personal life, is interesting enough. I was repeatedly drawn back to Beat Cop for the sense of accomplishment at the end of each day, the cool Steam achievements, and the ridiculous interactions between the police force and these Brooklyn denizens.
Pixel Crow delivers on what it set out to do, which is to create a title that is ripe with sexual content and violence, blending adventure themes with the brutal complexity of a simulation laden with choices, objectives, and a ticking clock. After all, per the Steam store page description, "There are thousands of things in this world you can laugh at, and even more you shouldn't, but who cares. It's jungle out there baby [sic], and sometimes you just need something to release the stress." Personally, I favor stress-relief in a way that isn't polarizing and objectifying, or offensive to whole groups of people, but Beat Cop goes for the throat when it comes to being gritty, and it doesn't overwhelm the rest of the game. Jack Kelly doesn't take any shit off of anyone, except for his chief, and although the difficulty could use some rebalancing and tweaking, there seem to be only a few bugs in this title that need to be ironed out.
In all, Beat Cop is a sharp, retro-centric look at 80s Brooklyn, with all its exciting cocaine, prostitution, gang wars, and overly synthesized tunes, but Beat Cop doesn't rely on nostalgia to succeed. It's a title that stands on its own, and casual racism and sexisms aside, it handily competes with similar titles that have been released in the last few years.