Police Stories and my tragic tales of twitchy trigger fingers

If you have a fast trigger finger, an even faster mind and a love for unforgiving enemies, Police Stories is a game you might want to add to your list.

Police Stories follows two police operatives through a series of top-down tactical missions. In gameplay, you get to control the both of them, and it’s usually your job to round up the suspects, taking out any hostiles and keeping civilians safe. What complicates the matter is the reactions you’ll need to have to make the right decisions. Uncalled-for violence and injuries to your operatives are both punished, but so is the time you take to do a job.

So, presented with a building full of potentially dangerous criminals, how are you expected to proceed? Police Stories provides a good moral system for this: call for the person to surrender first, then fire a warning shot before either hitting them until they give up or shooting them dead. If at any point they get down on their knees and give themselves up for arrest, you walk over and handcuff them.

Well, in theory.

A police operative lies in the middle of a dark screen, which a prompt to restart the level.
You may become familiar with this screen.

It’s incredibly easy to kneejerk click the second you see someone move and unintentionally mow down an innocent civilian. It’s even easier to hit a moving target with something meant to be a warning shot, or get your brains blown out because you were a bit too slow working out that that guy just wouldn’t surrender. Police Stories is the sort of game given to infinite retries. You will not come away clean. You may feel quite glad that you’re not a police officer (unless you already are). Taking any hits yourself is a bad idea and if you lose focus, it’s not too unlikely that your partner will catch a bullet in his back. Or maybe that’s just me – I’m woefully bad at this game.

Of course, since there are two of you, you need a way to control both of your actions. For the main character, John, these are the standard WASD controls with buttons for everything else you need. His partner Rick is another matter – he can respond automatically to anything in his eyesight and either follow you around or stay put, but you need to command him to do anything else. These commands – from opening a door to arresting someone or using an item – are all accessible via a right-click menu wheel. It’s functional, but it’s not something you want to be fiddling about with when you’re surrounded.

A tutorial describing how to use the menu wheel to issue commands to your parter.

This is where multiplayer comes in. If it’s a bit overwhelming to keep issuing commands yourself, you can rope in a friend to play as Rick via either local or online multiplayer. This should make things a little easier and give you some breathing space, making your collective reaction time much faster.

Multiplayer may be especially useful when it comes to items, which can be selected to take with you prior to each mission. Some are perfectly easy to command Rick to use. Things like lockpicks and pepper spray work well enough, but if you’re playing on your own, it’s tricky to get him to throw flashbangs to the right spot. A simple dashed line indicating whether it would bounce off any walls would have fixed this for me, but may have gone against the no-aids feel of Police Stories. Unfortunately local multiplayer isn’t a same-keyboard affair, so unless you have two controllers to hand (Police Stories has full controller support), you’ll have to stick to single player or online co-op.

The score screen at the end of a level, showing bonuses, penalties and a final grade. In this case, D.
Hey, if it counts, it counts, right?

With each mission you complete, you earn a grade and some points based on you well you did. You gain points for arresting people, confiscating evidence and defusing bombs, but lose points for using unauthorised force or getting injured – among other scoring factors. I never managed to score above a B across all the missions I was able to complete, and that became a problem.

Future missions and new equipment are points-locked, meaning you can only play them once you’ve reached a certain cumulative high score in all of the previous missions. In my case, that meant I got locked out after five of eighteen and no amount of redoing missions has  improved that situation. Other people have managed the whole game in two hours, but I can’t help thinking that since I was playing on Story difficulty, this barrier to progressing in the story could have been removed. In which case, you’d just have to clear a level to progress – which is enough of a challenge in itself.

A briefing screen showing mission details in Police Stories
The scenarios don’t vary a great deal from this.

When I first spotted Police Stories, it reminded me of another game I reviewed: Westslingers. Both have high difficulty curves (or as I called it in Westslingers, a difficulty cliff), but I feel like Police Stories never really gives you room to feel like you’re on top of things. I didn’t use half of the new equipment I unlocked because it was either tricky to use correctly or used up too much time on a mission. As much as using a borescope to peer through doors was useful, it was quicker to burst through and hope my reaction times were good enough. While it does feel like an achievement to finally clear a level, it’s disheartening to see subsequent levels blocked off until you do better – especially since levels don’t vary a great deal beyond a couple of scenarios.

Does the story make up for it? The snippets we get between each mission – parts of the story told in reminiscence to a future journalist – are enough to tie the missions together, but I can’t admit to any details sticking in my mind. It would have been interesting to see where the tale ended up taking us. It was okay, but the gameplay was the focus.

Overall, Police Stories isn’t a bad buy, but its difficulty may put some people off. At the other end of the scale, people with excellent reaction times may find themselves speeding through quite samey missions and coming out the other end without a strong desire to play through it again.

Purchase Police Stories on Humble Bundle.

Police Stories can be found on PC and Nintendo Switch

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