Management simulation games often cast you as a relatively unseen entity making decisions from on high. They present the player with menus and a bird’s-eye view that nudges the idea of bosshood into borderline omnipotence. You are above it all, viewing everything with the sort of detachment that fosters cruelty—and in this, the genre seems a natural fit for a game about law enforcement. Like its predecessor, Weappy Games’s This Is the Police 2 has you gazing down at a scale model of a northern border city, dispatching the cops in your employ in turn. You watch the tiny police cars crawl across the chilly Sharpwood to investigate crimes or run favors for the influential figures in town offering you something in return.
The game is unabashedly about being a corrupt cop. The new, largely by-the-book sheriff of Sharpwood, Lilly Reed, is out of her depth due to inexperience and a gaggle of sexist subordinates who won’t take her seriously. To solve her problems, she—in a move that’s no less preposterous than it sounds—appoints the first guy who walks through the jail cell door to serve as the department puppet master: Jack Boyd, a crooked ex-police chief who’s in hiding after the events of the last game landed him on a “most wanted” list. You’d be wrong if you saw this choice of protagonist as a potential prelude to any sort of articulate commentary on the many issues with law enforcement.
Consistent with the management simulation genre, Jack is ascribed a fairly unbelievable degree of omniscience. From a small handful of options, the player gives direct orders for how officers respond to each and every crime, many of which play out as repetitive, overly constrained text adventures (“hit with baton” seems to resolve most of them). You’re also responsible for directing units in tactical, X-COM-lite scenarios and solving investigations by putting the right clues related to the right suspect in the right order. At the end of each day, successes and failures are counted out into a final monetary reward with which you may purchase equipment or hire more officers.
The level of power given to Jack, as well as his position as the competent alternative to Lilly, might have been used to state that a corrupt system can only be run through corruption. It might have even shown him perverting a good system. But the game pulls its punches when depicting the rot at the heart of Sharpwood’s law enforcement. This Is the Police 2 never contemplates police brutality, wrongful arrests, or anything whatsoever about race. The crimes you can commit—bribery, selling drugs you’ve seized, torturing prisoners for information—help you progress, feeding without commentary into a simplistic tally of how many bad guys you stopped minus how many good guys got hurt (even executing a criminal you’ve handcuffed merely devalues him to one point instead of three). In treating some crimes as getting results while acting as if things like police racism don’t exist, This Is the Police 2 seems to justify Jack’s actions as a willingness to do what’s necessary; a successful day really does mean he’s keeping Sharpwood safe. It’s not hard to imagine op-eds calling him “tough on crime.”
As you might expect from a game that works out to such a dubious thesis, This Is the Police 2 isn’t even particularly consistent in its portrayal of Jack. The guy has eventual control over the cafeteria menu, and one of the game’s many awful, insufferably long cutscenes is devoted to him using a mop to beat an officer for insubordination. All the same, his iron grip loosens in ridiculous places like the cumulative professionalism rating of all officers assigned to a crime. If the cops you’ve selected don’t meet the listed minimum number, they can’t be sent out at all. And when assigning cops, you must cater to their every whim—such as who won’t work with a professionalism rating below theirs, who won’t go out alone, who doesn’t want to be in a car with your newest hire because he smells, and who won’t work with women.
This Is the Police 2’s portrayal of sexism is one of the few times the game acknowledges law enforcement’s capacity for prejudice, and it’s grouped into the same category as the guy who won’t investigate a crime because he says his feet hurt from driving too much. With its absurd justification of Jack’s actions, the game’s bizarre mix of naïve binaries, baffling roadblocks, and hard-edged (but selective) corruption paints a nonsensical, alien picture of law enforcement. Jack might as well be running this department on Mars.