Has anybody read, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Colloquially Robert Louis Stevenson's novella settles in alongside such idioms as, "it's a game of two-halves"; it shouldn't.
A man of his time, Victorian gentleman Dr. Jekyll must repress his desire to rebel against the restrained conventions mandated by society in order to maintain his station. Through Gothic alchemy, Jekyll develops a concoction designed to overthrow his malaise by unleashing his desire. Such is the difference between Jekyll and his state under the influence of his chemistry, we witness a metamorphosis of sorts, the genesis of Mr Hyde, a being so utterly free of social responsibility that it is capable of heinous acts. Jekyll, addicted to his concoction, eventually becomes inseparable from Hyde even without the use of medication.
Dr. Jekyll gets romanticised as the good guy locked in an eternal battle against his polar opposite, but at no point does Jekyll admit to the crimes of Mr Hyde publicly, or indeed the fact that Mr Hyde's birth comes from his own privilege - that of a wealthy man bored with convention, but too afraid to live without it, who ultimately chooses to circumvent this dilemma by formulating a substance that allows Jekyll to morph into Hyde without legal consequence. For the sake of his own selfish convenience, Jekyll imposed Hyde upon society.
Imagine treating drink driving the same way: "Yes officer, my physical form caused this horrific crash, but fear not for it was only alcohol which influenced it; I'm a real Jekyll at heart." Unfortunately, This is the Police, is a real "Jekyll and Hyde" performance.
This is the Police revolves around two core phases: a heavy dose of cutscenes chronicling Jack Boyd, the de facto player-character, and a strategic phase in which the player is tasked with managing the precinct's limited resources in response to day-to-day city emergencies. Cut-scenes comprise the game's opening gambit, making for a deceptively strong start. Jon St. John, most famous as the voice of Duke Nukem, provides a suitably deep-pitched and time-worn voice that somehow straddles the line between signifying the hard-boiled, private eye's of film noir, while never feeling like too much of a cliché. Minimalist art work forces the player's attention towards the strong voice acting, which regales a city rife with corruption, crime, and under financed police. Still if Jack can make it through the next year or so he can at least retire with some money, and maybe do a little good along the way with the time he has left. Plunged into a press conference, the player can answer queries in a variety of ways, which engenders a sense that what Jack says matters, and that Jack, as head of the precinct, will have a signfiicant say in the day-to-day lives of his officers.
From this backdrop we are graced with the first appearance of the strategic phase, which comprises the bulk of the game. Our roster of Police Officers and Detectives are the prime resources the player has at their disposal. Officers are dispatched in response to various crimes around the city, returning after a cooldown period. The more serious the crime, the more officers, preferably with higher skill ratings, need to be dispatched in order to successfully deal with the problem. There's a real sense of tension in the first few days of the game, as it quickly becomes apparent that there aren't enough officers to go around. Multiple calls will come in at inopportune times, forcing the player into difficult situations. At times dilemmas are simple, one ignores "disturbances of the peace" in favour of more serious crimes, but occasionally you'll be confronted with two crimes of similar priority and only have the manpower to respond to one. It is possible to dispatch one officer to serious crimes, but chances are your would be hero will fail to make the arrest or, worse still, get themselves killed and you recruiting another cop. Either way, the department looks bad, although devious players will be thrilled to know sacrificing inept officers through such means is a valid way of playing, which circumvents the legal shenanigans involved in firing somebody.
Making matters more interesting, some calls turn out to be hoaxes, forcing players to scrutinise the likelihood of a terrorist outbreak in a suburb versus a drink driver elsewhere, while city hall mark your performance on a weekly basis. Perform well, and you'll be rewarded with more staff, better equipment, or greater income, but under perform and the town hall will start making cutbacks in your department. The greatest twist comes directly from the Mayor's Office which will occasionally issue special requests. Within week one I was asked to fire all my Black staff in order to placate some white supremacist faction. I didn't, my best officers happened to be Black and screw acquiescing to racism, and the result was my department having its budget slashed - which meant firing an officer.
All of this seems to mesh well with the dark opening narrative, which only becomes darker still as the game progresses and more factions are added for the player to contend with. The Mafia soon become involved with your precinct, leaving you a choice between working with them, making extra money on the side and perhaps using that to save more lives in the long run, or taking a zero tolerance approach that will stretch your meagre resources even thinner. The problem, however, is that none of this really matters.
No matter how well, or how poorly one plays the game (even to the point of responding to zero crimes during the strategic phase), the cut-scene narrative remains largely unchanged beyond a few events. This is problematic because more often than not when one shift ends the player is dragged into another cut-scene that ultimately has no bearing on the actual gameplay mechanics. For as good as the voice acting is, it becomes increasingly difficult to muster any feelings for Jack and the myriad of side characters who come and go as the game progresses, especially considering that these cut-scenes can often run for several minutes at a time. It's as if a separate e-book is chortling away, blissfully unaware of whatever happened during the day-to-day gameplay, completely overshadowing the game's pacing.
Compounding this problem is the fact that without a real sense of narrative impact, the strategic element becomes largely pointless. Jack cannot be fired, and although the narrative urges Jack to try and earn enough money to retire comfortably, after thirty or so shifts you'll likely tire of playing the game anyway. Each day progresses at a snail's pace, a timer gradually ticking away as the player waits for incoming criminal activity, and beyond their aptitude rating, each officer is only really differentiated by how often they'll turn up to work drunk, tired, or pulling sickies. That could make for something interesting, but the management aspects of This is the Police really don't go much deeper than this. Certainly, firing employees for no good reason will land you in trouble, an employment tribunal fining you, but otherwise everything continues running just as it did before.
Worse still, detectives respond to unsolved crimes, and over time find evidence presented to the player in the form of polaroid snapshots and eye-witness testimonies. Once enough have been collated, the player must arrange the snapshots into the correct order of events, ergo solving the crime and leading to the suspect's arrest. It's a nice idea, but playing on the Switch's handheld mode makes reading some of the text tricky, and as the game progresses the number of clues needed increases. This makes the puzzles harder, but not more interesting, and as the days become more wearisome over time, it's difficult to muster the effort to accurately sort through the evidence.
Ultimately the gameplay cycle simply isn't engaging enough, feeling like a mobile game that overstays its welcome. It's such a shame that this is the case. Between the game's stylish introduction and the high stakes placed upon the player early by city hall, on face value, the scene is set for an interesting game full of intrigue and consequences. There are sadly precious few video games which take the police, as both an institution and as individual workers, more seriously than objects to evade in Grand Theft Auto games. Situations whereby the player can role-play as Jack Boyd in press conferences early in the game signal narrative and gameplay consistency that signals the potential to really deal with aspects of policing seriously and in an engaging manner. In practice, however, This is the Police is a real Jekyll and Hyde game, full of high stakes intent but ultimately unable to take full responsibility for those ideas.