When a game’s title reads like the first and last sentence of a boardroom pitch, you know something has gone wrong, and in the case of Cops 2170, you’d be right. While the game’s premise of exploring law enforcement in a futuristic setting offers a glimmer of potential, the reality is that Russian developer MiST Land’s turn-based strategy title falls immensely short of its goals, with significant deficiencies in presentation and gameplay.
The first thing you notice after booting up the game for the first time is that you have no idea what to do. After a short cinematic introducing the player’s character, an eager rookie named Katy, you’re suddenly inside the police station with no indication of your objective. Sure, quite a few games have had their first scenario set inside a large area, giving the player time and space to get acquainted with the setting and controls, but these examples always have some structure to them. Referring to the manual for help quickly becomes fruitless, as the Russian-translated text proves to be poorly organized and confusing. From the get-go, the lack of a training aid or tutorial hurts Cops 2170‘s credibility. Once you eventually get your subordinates rounded up and stumble to the first mission, the actual game starts.
When undertaking a mission, control shifts from real-time to turn-based, and the game begins to careen downhill. In order to perform any action at all, be it moving, shooting, or even minor tasks like turning a player around or managing inventory, you’ll need the requisite amount of Action Points, or AP. Once all AP for each of your units is spent, any AI-controlled NPCs on your side will advance, followed by any enemies on the map. This process is agonizingly drawn out by the low worth of AP (walking about ten feet will practically use all of a unit’s AP), and the nonsensical actions that friendly NPCs take. Even the camera gets cranky, as it swings around in stuttering arcs that can put a hurt on the player’s eyes while the camera tries to track wandering NPCs. Being forced to sit through a loading screen in between enemy turns doesn’t help either; even stranger, the screen curiously reads “Hidden Movement,” ignoring the fact that you’re able to see enemy advancement on the battlefield.
Maybe the “hidden” refers to the oddly-implemented Fog of War feature, whereby if an enemy is too far away from a unit, you won’t be able to see it on the overhead view. Of course, unseen enemies can still fire at you, resulting in a baffling display of gunfire and muzzle flashes emerging from the ether. Yet another problem is frequent pop-up and disappearing characters, even when in close proximity to your units and blatantly within their line of sight.
In fact, unit management may be Cops‘ biggest downfall. You can only control one officer at a time and can only issue one order at a time – odd gameplay choices that slow down battles to a painful crawl. With spacious maps constituting most of the levels, just making your way to the enemy’s position uses up three or four turns, depleting any sense of tension for the upcoming clash; and with the aforementioned Fog of War in place, tracking down the final foe is often a tedious exercise in combing the map, step by step.
The least offensive aspect of Cops 2170 is the graphics. Mediocre as they are in structure and texture, the character models are serviceable with no glaring deficiencies. Vehicles are slightly better realized than their human counterparts, with fewer irregularities in animation due to their mechanical nature. Maps tend to be spacious, although barren of objects, and the low requirements to run the game ensure that few will have trouble with the visuals.
The audio is also largely innocuous, with suitable techno tracks backing the exploration and battle sequences. Sound effects during fights are nothing special, with the generic suite of shots and explosions. However, all of the voiceovers are quite awful, due to both bad actors and bad dialog. Even more annoying are the repetitive audio clips that play during battles; within the opening minutes of a shoot-out you’re guaranteed to hear the same snippet played at least five times.
Although the game is severely crippled by technical worries, at least the creators tried to add new wrinkles to the genre. Crossbreeding RPG standards with strategy, your units earn experience points through combat, letting you personalize your subordinate cops. There are also technical implants you can surgically attach to your cops, offering permanent boosts in stats and abilities.
The game’s attempt at a non-linear narrative hints at unrealized potential, as Katy must choose between serving dutifully as an officer or shacking up with the shady corrupt cops, with slight changes on the story depending on which side you choose. For all its efforts, this element becomes as muddled as the rest of the game due to poor execution. There’s even a stab at GTA‘s atmosphere-rich radio channels, as you can check your PDA for news updates and possible story clues, but this too is underwhelming in its presentation.
Cops 2170 is not a user-friendly title. There’s no tutorial to ease you into the game, the manual is overly cryptic, there’s no adjustable difficulty level, and combat seems almost intentionally tedious. My defining experience with Cops was the first time Katy died in combat. When any other player-controlled unit goes down, the possibility of emergency aid is always an option. When Katy bit the dust, however, the game abruptly ended, and a load screen popped up for me to select a saved game to play from. If it hadn’t been for a tiny screen in the lower right that read ?Katy has died! Game over!’ or something to that effect, I would’ve been mystified.
There’s no multiplayer to speak of in Cops 2170, and not much replay value unless the Cops experience moves you to choose different factions to align yourself with in a second play-through. Given all of the serious problems with the game, it makes sense to pass it over – or, as they say in 2170, ?cop out.’