Police Stories (PS4) Review – Hotline Sting
I don’t think I’d have the temerity or patience for being a police officer. The constant refrain from saying what you really think to someone mouthing off at you, the faff and hassle of deploying certain bits of kit, not to mention the ensuing paperwork afterwards.
That, and the whole “being shot at” business. Admittedly more of an American practice, what with their Second Amendment-twisting shenanigans that allows everyone and their mums to be packing heat, the whole notion terrifies me.
Which is why I stick to video games. Being shot in one of those doesn’t offer the same limited mortality as it does in real life, thankfully. Although after a few days with Police Stories, I’ve replaced the fear of being shot with the sheer annoyance of constantly being shot in this game.
While it may look like Devolver’s violent, top-down caper from the other side of the law, Mighty Morgan’s crime-fighting owes more of its gameplay to the Police Quest and SWAT games from Sierra. But like Hotline Miami, in terms of persevering, is it worth sticking through or would it better just to retire from the force? Grab your badge and your gun, we’re going on… review patrol, or something.
You Have The Right To Not Shoot At Me, Preferably
If Hotline Miami were the yin, with its emphasis on fast-paced violence and combo mechanic, then Police Stories is the yang with its more methodical approach to each level. Which, I suppose is quite thematic, as you’re a member of the law.
As such, you’re given a briefing to each mission before you’re allowed to kit out officers Rimes and Jones with various bits of tactical gear. As you progress you unlock more, like a borescope camera and taser, but to start with you’ve got lockpicks, flashbangs and medical kits. These are not to be taken for granted, as I found out, as Police Stories will punish for playing fast and loose with the rule of policing.
After a brief mission intro, you start in the relative safety of a driveway, loading bay, or something with a door in the way. The left thumbstick has you move, whilst the right pulls double duty as aiming/camera control. Again, much like Hotline Miami, but we leave those similarities at the door once it’s opened. Much like in real life, you can’t see through other doors or around corners, so progression becomes a tense yet rewarding process.
When you do spot a hostile target, you have several options to think of in a heartbeat: You can yell at them to surrender, you can sprint up and slap them to drop their weapon, or risk firing some warning shots in the hope that that’ll make their grip weaker. Or, as a supposed last resort, you can neutralise them with bullets. I say supposed, because more often than not I could never get the warning shot system to work, and had to put them down before I ate a buckshot sandwich.
It’s You And Me, Partner
The parallel to SWAT and Police Quest wasn’t an idle one, though. There is an element of tactical intrusion that you are not required but heavily implied that you make use of in Police Stories.
You could, if you’re feeling brave, tackle every locked door and room full of hostiles yourself. You may do alright, might take a slug to the shoulder or even worse, have a civilian shot in the crossfire, both of which negatively affect your end-level score (more on that later). But there’s a reason why the load-out screen lets you kit out the pair of you, not just the lead.
You can have your buddy, Jones, pick a locked door whilst you cover his back. Or, if you’re wanting to breach and clear, you can use the Command Wheel (mapped to L2 in the PS4 version) to bring up the flashbang option. This lets Jones stack up against said door, whilst you stand back, chuck a flashbang in and allows you both to storm in and subdue anyone caught in the concussive blast. Later gadgets let you scout ahead through keyholes to get some idea of who’s in their, adding a massive element of pre-planning to busting doors and heads.
It’s not just for room clearance that your buddy comes in handy, as you can select areas of the map for him to scout ahead or cover your six. However, this can have mixed results: On some occasions, he’ll be a [police] force to be reckoned with. Others, he’ll get shot more than Peter Weller did in Robocop. Again, this will have a negative effect on your score, so keep an eye on him.
Fortunately, if you have the means to do so, Police Stories can be played in local co-op. So while the element of tactic still applies, at least you can hope that someone playing next to you will have a better grip on things. I don’t, so I had to micro-manage the AI not getting shot.
Just Call Me Officer Cliche, And This Is My Partner, Officer Stereotype
I’d like to tell you the story is as deep as Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s quoted above masterpiece, but I can’t. It’s not diabolically written, nor is it necessarily terrible in terms of how it all plays out either.
It’s just a “standard cop drama” that unfurls about as well as you expect it would. I wouldn’t call that a negative, though, as it’s been entertaining throughout the several missions I’ve finished already. I’d love to tell you how it plays out (or at least try, without spoilers) but proceeding is much harder than anticipated. Turns out, guns may not kill people, but crack-shot smackheads do.
Police Stories starts pretty innocuously, with John Rimes returning to town and catching up with Jones over coffee in the late nineties. These two former partners aren’t long reunited before they get a call out to a suspected drug den… which turns out to be a small piece in a much, much larger scene of events, all told as part of a framing device to an investigative journalist.
We’re talking suspected bomb plots, string-pullers and all that jazz. As I say, it’s not terribly original but it is engaging enough that you want to play through the game to see what happens. Whilst some games are a case of slogging through despite the story, or the other way around, Police Stories achieves the joy of both and is fun to play. Well, fun being subjective, as the game throws up some “That was bullshit!” moments from time to time. There’s only so far skill can carry you when an unseen gunman shoots you across the room.
I Wanted To Call This “Swatline Miami”… But They’re Not in Miami
I actually love Police Stories. I was sold on what I initially thought was, “Hotline Miami with the 5-0”, but was pleasantly surprised when this turned out to be a bit deeper than Devolver’s hit.
The tactical implementation throws back to classics like Commandos and Cannon Fodder (and recent offerings like Desperados), yet there are also interspersed moments of adrenaline-filled room clearing too. Securing targets, nabbing evidence and the occasional bomb-defusing mini-game thrown in for good measure make a great little indie to play.
The one thing that hampers it is the level progression system. You get a score as you progress through a level, and have to hit a certain amount to unlock the next one. I would have rather you just unlock the next level by completion alone, then go back and hit better scores a la Hitman Absolution, instead of having to smash a decent score on your first time through. It can derail your flow if you’re a couple hundred points off, but it’s not a deal breaker. It just means you have to fall in with how policing works and not shoot unarmed civilians… [insert current American climate joke here].
Fortunately, the quick restart nature and randomised enemy/hostage placement each time keeps you on your toes, enough to drive you do it properly and hit that higher score and better grade each time you conduct a raid. It treads that fine line of taking itself somewhat seriously, yet lets you occasional loose to have some high octane carnage. If you can convince someone else to join you, then that will double the fun.
Whilst it initially looks like carnage, Police Stories offers a level of tactic and forethought to the top-down shooter genre. Get past that initial steepness and there’s a wealth of fun to be had in the methodical approach.
Police Stories is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mac and PC.
Developer: Mighty Morgan
Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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