This Is the Police is a strategy/visual novel that recently launched on Steam and has since been stirring controversy.
You play as gritty police chief Jack Boyd who is just 180 days away from retirement. The problem is that his city is spiralling the drain. You dive into a deep story of corruption, crime and intrigue, taking orders from the corrupt mayor and coming face to face with the seedy underbelly of the fictional city Freeburg. Your actions will determine if Jack retires with a nice stack of bills, ends up a broken man or possibly dead.
As you choose how to tackle each situation, immoral decisions come into play. It’s up to you to determine what’s best for the city and the future of the police department even if it forces you to do horrible things. An early scene sees a racist mob threaten the lives of black cops. Instead of suppressing the mob, the mayor orders you fire all of the black police officers. Obviously an incredibly racist move, but firing the black officers provides the outcome with the least fallout for the player.
It’s moments like this that are designed to make you feel bad for your actions, although they have also stirred controversy. From the reviews on Metacritic, many journos were arguing that the racial content is of poor taste in light of US police relations, namely the recent shootings of unarmed black men.
Is this a fair critique? The developer Weappy Studio is based in Belarus, far from the political climate of the US. This is the Police also takes place in a fictional city, the game’s description states that it’s a dark story, and the gameplay doesn’t glorify violent or immoral actions. It’s likely that Weappy were aware of possible criticism for including such content, although there is no indication that it’s done with malice.
The old saying there’s no such thing as bad publicity sums up gamer’s responses brilliantly. From over 400 user reviews on Steam, 83% are favourable reviews. This is significantly higher than the Metacritic score of 66%.
Each gamer’s cultural background and worldview will shape their opinion, although producing a negative review based on content that may not be taboo in another culture feels narrow-minded and not reasonable justification. If Weappy are guilty of anything it would only be bad timing.
One final note- Police Chief Jack Boyd is voiced by none other than Duke Nukem himself, Jon St Jon.
This is the Police is available now for PC, Mac and Linux. Console versions may follow in the future. You can find it on Steam right here.
Have you played This is the Police? What are your thoughts on the negativity surrounding the game’s content? Sound off in the comments below.
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist and co-editor of PN2. He’s on Twitter @DrVane