A lot of the top-down shooters I have played involve killing all of the bad guys in the level. Games like Hotline Miami, Ruiner, and Enter the Gungeon are all about pointing and shooting. In many ways, a lot of shooter games in general are like this. But buried in my list of games I keep meaning to play is Swat 4, a game about trying to take a different approach to these kind of situations. While I haven’t played that game, I have played the combination of Swat 4 and Hotline Miami. This is Police Stories, and it’s time to think tactically from the top-down.
Police Stories is a game told as a story. Rick Jones is being interviewed by a journalist about a case he once did with his partner, John Rimes. What started out as a simple robbery soon turned into chain of events involving movie directors, large corporations, and even people from the government, with them right in the middle of it.
While there is a story linking all of the missions together, I didn’t really follow along because it never felt important. Instead, I mainly focused on the gameplay side of things. But what is the gameplay? Well, imagine the top-down, retro look and twitch gameplay of Hotline Miami, but with the slower pace and tactics of Swat 4. So, do these two opposite-sounding games work well together?
Fortunately, the combination of its two influences are surprising great together. In Police Stories, you can’t go in guns blazing like in other top-down shooters, which is refreshing considering how I am used to just shooting everything and moving to the next room. In a sense, this is similar to Hotline Miami, as for rushing in wasn’t the best way to get through a level either. The difference here, though, is that shooting everyone can lose you points as well as it being really difficult to survive.
Each level in Police Stories is filled with bad guys, but they also have civilians mixed in there as well. To make things even more complicated, not all bad guys shoot, not all civilians are innocent, and a few levels even have bombs to defuse. As a result, I had to take each situation with care, and only shoot those who were pointing a gun. This is where the twitch gameplay comes in, because you have very little time to react to a pointed gun, and it even made me a little trigger happy and accidentally shoot civilians. To make things even more difficult, you have a vision cone, and cannot see into other rooms (unless with the right equipment) or even behind you. Oh, and you also go at a walking pace and all of the enemy placement changes every time you play. The gameplay is incredibly tough, though I think it speaks to the nuance and tricky situations police have to go through in real life well.
So why not just shoot everyone and move on? On top of getting a bad grade, you have to hit a certain point threshold to unlock new levels, which means you have to be careful instead of just shooting what breathes. Unlocking new levels also unlocks new gear you can equip to both yourself and officer Jones. This equipment ranges from tools to stun enemies to shields and armor to stop bullets, and even a few weapon upgrades. While I am not a fan of every piece of equipment, every piece serves its purpose, and I found it hard to choose equipment knowing I couldn’t have it all.
Throughout this review, I have mentioned two cops, and that is because this game also offers local co-op. While I didn’t play co-op, I still had Jones with me on solo play, and he is a great partner to have. You can command him to move places, cover areas, open doors, arrest people, and use whatever equipment you give him. Eventually, I started giving him all of the equipment (breaching kit, flashbangs, lock picks, etc.), and letting him breach and stun rooms while I roll in and make the arrests. Jones is one of the most useful partners I have ever had in a game.
This game is a lot of fun and very tense, but its ultimate downfall is the lack of content or features. This game has 18 levels, and while trying to get an A rank on each level as well as the generated enemy placement offers an incentive to go back, I felt done with the game only a few hours in. On top of that, this game is missing the ability to change controls, which isn’t the worst thing considering how few controls there are, but is still annoying because I did want to change around some of them. The developers have put out a chart saying when they will release new features and content (including a level editor), but not having customizable keys at launch is questionable. There are other smaller things like wanting to take cover on walls and peek into a hallway or be able to look through glass without breaking it, but it’s the lack of features that brings this game down a bit.
In conclusion, Police Stories is a solid top-down tactical shooter that asks you to think before you shoot. It manages to combine the elements of tactical games and Hotline Miami together to make a tough yet exciting game filled with unpredictable situations and plenty of equipment to shake things up. I do wish there was more to play, but I am excited to see any future content. Still, what is there is promising, and I hope to see more games like this in the future.