Ah, The Future. If Cops 2170: The Power of Law is any indication, The Future is a very scary place to live. Corruption runs everywhere, mutants from Mars are lurking in the sewers below our very feet, giant talking rats have been armed with rocket launchers, and, due to pollution or poor lighting or something, everyone on the planet is near-sighted. Cops 2170 drags us, kicking and screaming, into this dark and dismal future. And places us in the boots of the most annoyingly optimistic and chipper police cadet I’ve ever seen. It only gets worse from there.
Cops 2170 is a turn-based squad-level combat game, similar to the Jagged Alliance series. And, as far as I can tell, the police of the year 2170 are no better than a group of mercenary thugs, because there’s no way to actually arrest the criminals. There are no handcuffs, although there are different types of “sublethal” weapons. From what I gather, the sublethal weapons are just there to incapacitate the criminals long enough to walk up and administer a much more permanent variety of incapacitation. Into this dark future walks Katy, a young cadet fresh out of the academy. The game starts on her first day, and she’s overwhelmed by the newness of it all.
I found myself to be a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of the game, too. There’s no tutorial or initial help from the game at all. It just dumps you into control of Katy, in the middle of the police station, with no idea what’s really going on. After several minutes of fumbling around with the controls, I managed to get Katy armed, rounded up a few friends, and stumbled onto my first mission. Rather than receiving orders from their commanding officers, the Cops of Tomorrow just wait around the station until someone interesting wanders by and asks “Hey, do you wanna quell a mob uprising in the bad part of town? It’ll be fun!”
The gameplay is standard fare for this sort of title. Each character has a certain allotment of action points to spend in a given turn. These points are used to move, shoot things, apply healing items, and pick stuff up off the ground. After everyone has spent all of their action points, the “next turn” button is pressed, and the neutrals and enemies take their turns. This repeats until one side or the other is dead. While I usually enjoy this sort of game, Cops 2170 managed to make this tried-and-true mechanic tedious and frustrating. One of my biggest complaints was the inability to leave turn-based mode, even if the only remaining enemy was on the far side of the map, and of no immediate threat. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by games that allow the action to proceed in real time until an enemy is sighted. But trudging, turn after turn, across the sometimes maze-like maps to hunt down the final criminal loses its appeal quickly.
The control scheme is fairly straightforward. Clicking on the map moves the character, clicking on the enemy causes the character to shoot if there are enough movement points left, etc. There are a few more buttons for running and crouching and the like, but for the most part it’s pretty easy to figure out. I had a few problems actually clicking where I wanted, and many times ended up with a character calmly walking toward the enemy rather than shooting them. This would have been frustrating if I hadn’t formed the habit of saving each and every turn, something that is vital to getting anywhere in this game.
Characters are very fragile. One or two shots will kill them outright. While this is true for both the Cops and most of the enemies, it still can be quite annoying. What makes this hair-pullingly bad is the line-of-sight factor of the game. Each character has “sight” as one of their statistics, determining exactly how far ahead they can see the enemy. In a very contrived game mechanic, this sight distance is laughably short. Across a clear parking lot, probably less than 20 yards away and wide open, the enemy can wait undetected. Even if my characters were all armed with sniper rifles, technically able to pick off a target at 1.5 miles, they would still be surprised by the thug that was standing right in front of them. And since characters with left-over movement points will take incredibly lethal shots at the first enemy that crosses into their view, the outcome of most of the battles is determined by which of the myopic opponents first sees the other. Even if a character is missed or somehow survives the “ambush” from the open, they may very likely still be unable to see the man, with the bazooka, standing a block away.
There is a wide variety of weapons available, so a bit of amusement is had in trying out the various pistols, rifles, rocket launchers, and energy weapons. Each weapon has a few different accuracy settings, requiring different expenditures of action points. In addition, there are a lot of different types of ammunition for many of the gun models, so mixing and matching to get the best stopping power is an option. My most effective tactic, however, was to simply hand everyone a sniper rifle and hopefully see the enemy before they caught wind of me. Most of the other weapons were ineffective at anything other than close range, so I was never able to survive long enough to bring them to bear.
The characters are a mixed bunch, ranging from crooked cops to honest soldiers to anthropomorphic rats. Each can be customized and improved a bit upon gaining experience, much like an RPG. Points are allotted to the different traits, such as strength, sight, and accuracy. In addition, various implants are available to boost stats, give some protections against different types of attack, or provide healing bonuses. Each character is under complete player control, except for those annoying times an enemy walks into view. If they have any action points left, they’ll take a shot at the enemy regardless of whatever might be between them and the target. I’ve had to reload countless times when someone at the back of my party let loose with a burst of automatic weapon fire, taking out two or three of my own guys. This brain-dead AI isn’t limited to the player-controlled characters, however.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen AI this poor in this sort of game. Neutral and enemy characters will wander aimlessly during their turn, shoot their own allies while targeting enemies, and will blindly rush into withering enemy fire. In several missions there are other Cops controlled by the computer, and I died at their hands due to “friendly fire” almost as often as I was killed by the enemy. It got to the point I’d just sit at the starting point of a mission, hitting the “next turn” button until all of the “friendlies” were dead and it was safe to get into the fight.
The graphics are pretty good, although the camera control is a bit annoying, as it resets itself to the default zoom and angle each time you switch views from character to character. Most of the sound effects and music are decent. However, the voice acting and dialogue is some of the worst I’ve heard. The writing was translated poorly to English, and the actors didn’t help one bit. Most of the dialogue is wooden, confusing, and unintentionally funny. I found the rat character very amusing, but even he became annoying before long. There is a thin plot tying all the missions together, and it’s possible to take sides with various factions at certain points in the game, providing a replay value for those that really want it. I can’t see myself diving back into this one to see it from the other side, however.
I just can’t recommend Cops 2170 to anyone. I’d be able to overlook the weak plot and acting if there were a decent game in there to back it up. However, due to frustrating game mechanics and tedious play, I’m not able to drum up any enthusiasm over this title. Just leave this one sitting on the shelf.
A disappointing foray into turn-based squad tactics. Some unfortunate game mechanics make this a frustrating, tedious chore to work through. Only the most masochistic squad-based tactics fans need apply.
Rating: 4.5 Heavily Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.
Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.