“And remember – shooting first is not an option!”
When I played the demo version of Police Quest: SWAT 2 in my late teens, already a devoted fan of UFO: Enemy Unknown and Jagged Alliance 2, I was simply shocked. Wait, do you really want me to play a tactical game which doesn’t want me to kill every baddy if it’s possible to avoid it? Which actually punishes me for excessive use of force? And, the worst thing, it forces me to find the Golden Mean between effectiveness and frugality because police budget is strained to the limit? What an outrage.
The first and only scenario available in the demo involved a typical hostage situation with a besieged bank full of terrorists, innocent civilians, and a ticking time bomb as a bonus. Since I was used to solving tactical problems with heavy plasma guns and mortar strikes, my first attempts to win would make Waco and Ruby Ridge pale in comparison. Slowly, painfully, I learned to act as a police officer, not a xenocidal commando or mercenary leader, and then a miracle happened. I actually managed to save the hostages and disarm the bomb without firing a single shot. My brilliant solution was to provide an escape car, as demanded by the villains, and place two officers right next to the bank’s main entrance. The terrorists then left the building in a file, without noticing my men at the door, and were promptly handcuffed one after another. Clearly, this was a result of a flawed AI, and definitely not my tactical genius, but the non-violent victory made me feel so great.
These sweet memories were one of the reasons to get interested in Police Stories after I watched the trailer. Another reason was, obviously, that it looked and felt like a total conversion of Hotline Miami – without flashing neons and ultra-violence, that is. Immediately, I started to follow the game on Steam, still in a very early stage. As always, I soon forgot that I did and Police Stories disappeared from my radar.
Until yesterday. Out of sudden, I got reminded that the game actually exists by a news article. Following the link, I found out that an early Alpha version is available the download. The few screenshots I saw looked too familiar to resists the temptation.
After clicking through a few menu screens, I arrive at the scene of the crime with a bang, my huge armoured car crashing a few motorbikes. We’re at a biker bar taken over by some violent thugs and the first thing that captures my eye is a nice reference to the Sons of Anarchy. Now it’s time to knock at the door. “Hello, do you have time to talk about our Lord and Saviour, the Government”. The man behind the door isn’t interested. I’m too slow to pull the trigger and Officer Rimes lies down on the floor with a generous dose of lead in his belly. Yeah, this feels like Hotline Miami. Even the “R for Restart Level” button is there.
My further attempts to pass the level are more successful and soon it becomes clear that the similarity is superficial. Yes, death is very cheap but Rimes is not The Jacket. In Police Stories, both heroes move very slowly, and for good reasons, because they have to be really careful. Unlike the Devolver game, here the enemy is invisible until you enter a room and then you have very little time to assess the situation and take decision on how to act. The game punishes you for unauthorised use of force and you have to be sure that the evil guy really wants to shoot you to avoid a penalty, but even then you receive more points for arresting them – and the score required to play the second level is rather high.
Above, I wrote that Police Stories caught my eye because it looks like Hotline Miami, but it’s not entirely true. Of course, the top-down view, detailed interiors and character design are clearly similar, but the colour palette is toned down and there are no image distortions to make it look like a VHS recording. Actually, it reminds me more of the adventure classic Dreamweb.
Speaking of differences, it’s a police operation and not a war zone, so you can’t just pick up enemy weapons. Hitting someone with a gun butt is a viable option if you want them to surrender, but it’s quite risky too, so forget jumping at an armed enemy with bare fists like it sometimes happened in HL.
One of the most important things is that you’re not alone in this. There’s always your partner behind you and it’s possible to give him simple commands – basically, you can tell him to stay put, guard a corridor or handcuff someone.
When I’m writing these words, Police Stories is still in early development. There’s is no plot or dialogue, the inventory screen is inactive and, sadly, there are only two available scenarios. The worst thing is that the AI really needs improvement, both the enemies who are too passive and the player’s sidekick who notoriously suffers from poor reflexes. Despite that, at the current stage, the game looks more than promising and I’m ready to pay for the beta version as soon as it is released on Steam.
If you feel that this may be your kind of game, and especially if you’re a fan of Hotline Miami just like me, you can download the alpha version here.