Review: LA Cops

LA Cops arrives to Xbox One and PC on the heels of Hotline Miami 2’s release. It very much feels like a “me too” copy-cat, but that doesn’t always spell doom for a game. So how does LA Cops stack up to the competition and is it worthy of your time?

To begin, LA Cops tells the story of; you guessed it, a fictionalized LAPD circa 1970. As such, it’s got all the predicable 70’s cop movie hallmarks – the hot tempered police chief, the rookie replacement, the donuts, the drugs, the bad mustaches. Everything is fairly basic and told primarily through inter-level cutscenes but one really shouldn’t come into LA Cops expecting anything resembling a strong narrative. At its absolute best, it provides a merely adequate set up for each of the game’s 13 stages. At its worst, LA Cop’s story is a poorly written afterthought with some painful voice acting. I’ve therefore decided that this section shall be exempt from receiving a numerical score – it isn’t the focus of the game itself and so it won’t be the focus of my review.

Thankfully, LA Cops has a bit more going on in the visuals department. The game makes an excellent use of color and a type of “flat” shading to produce a nearly two-dimensional looking image out of 3D models and backgrounds. It works very well here and it helps give some much needed identity to the game. Environments are clean and minimalist… until you cover them in gore; as in Hotline Miami, violence is used to both shock and entertain. But where Hotline Miami was a synthesis of grungy pixel-art and a driving electronic soundtrack, LA Cops fails to complete its look with an equally appropriate aural component. Simply put, there are no memorable tracks anywhere in the game (save for an end-of-credits song that I kind of enjoyed). It’s a missed opportunity that LA Cops not feature any disco-inspired music – it is set in the 1970s, after all.

Presentation aside, let’s get into the real meat of the game. If I might be afforded another comparison to Hotline Miami, I would describe LA Cops as a top-down twin stick shooter where death comes hard and fast. There are 6 playable characters to choose from here, but none of them have any differentiating abilities so to speak. Instead, each cop will begin the game with different base stats – these stats are health, speed, ammo, and damage output. These can upgraded with the use of skill points which are earned at the end of each level. A perfect “A” ranking will net you 4 such points, a “B” will earn you 3, and so on. I appreciate the idea behind this system, but it’s far too easily abused if one simply replays the first level over and over again. There are only a handful of enemies in that stage and an “A” rank can be easily had in less than 25 seconds. Ideally, the game should have put a limit to how many times you could replay a level while still earning skill points – it would force players to move to later, more difficult levels where “A” rankings aren’t so handily obtained.

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Speaking about levels, these will usually task you with killing every enemy in sight (sometimes under a time constraint), offering up three difficulty settings for players to test their mettle against. Don’t be fooled by the Easy setting, however – it’s anything but. As a matter of fact, be prepared to die… a lot. Enemies are quick to notice you and even quicker to open fire; even at max health, your cops can only withstand a few shots before going down entirely. If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon be cursing the day you were born after you fourteenth consecutive death in levels 5 and 6. LA Cops also features a buddy system whereby players can order a selected partner to move to any position on the playing field. In theory, you want to set to them up such that they can cover entrances to rooms or long corridors, but in practice your partner is more hassle than asset as they can be quite slow to hit their targets. You’ll quickly learn to leave them at the start of every stage and use them only as back up once your first cop dies; downed cops can be revived with a single use med-pack present in every level.

But perhaps LA Cops’ biggest flaw is its camera. Even at its most zoomed out I found it to be entirely too close to the action. It can be rotated 360 degrees, sure, but what happened more often than not was I would unwittingly obscure my view of some thug coming around the corner and I would get ripped to pieces by a shotgun blast; the vast majority of my deaths were as a result of this unfortunate oversight. Coupled with some fairly large levels and an obtrusive heads-up display that permanently projects your mission objectives at the rightmost top of the screen, robbing you of that precious space, the game became incredibly frustrating toward the end, so much so that I contemplated quitting LA Cops entirely. As always, your mileage will vary with this kind of stuff but I felt it particularly worthy of discussion here. Some people will enjoy the challenge present here, but its a challenge born of some really questionable design decisions.