When talking about LA Cops, it’s easy for me to spiral into a comparative discussion about how it doesn’t hold up to Hotline Miami. The visuals aren’t as dizzying and hypnotic as Hotline Miami. You don’t have as many tools or means of gratuitous mutilation as you do in Hotline Miami. And you aren’t treated to a dope-ass soundtrack like in Hotline Miami. While that’s not entirely fair, it can’t be helped with such derivative systems and design choices – not to mention that this is directly competing with the recently released Hotline Miami 2. Even on its own merits though, LA Cops is a confused, underdeveloped, and often frustrating twin-stick shooter.
Despite the glaring influences of the aforementioned beloved franchise, LA Cops tries a number of things to form its own identity. Among the most obvious alterations from the derivative formula is the isometric camera. LA Cops tilts your view at an angle with the purpose of implementing a tactical layer that allows you to swivel the camera around. This allows you to survey your surroundings before advancing, with the game frequently boasting the suggestion to use the in-game camera to locate enemies hidden behind walls (who in reality just wander about) – similar to how Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker tucked secrets and solutions away behind cleverly placed bits of the environment. However, developer Modern Dream contradicts its own mechanic by placing “Shoot this fucker!” arrows on top of enemies. The game also offers a redundant mini-map that, while not expanding your field of view in any way, marks all hostiles within sight.
But while the camera ultimately fails to present any significant means of strategic planning, LA Cops’ buddy cop system actually flirts with the idea of ‘execution’ when done properly. At any given time, players can take control over one of two different officers while the other stays in overwatch. Using your partner works best when breaching doorways that involve having the first cop to fire off aggro shots, which will then lure enemies into both you and your covering partner.
There are multiple considerations on both sides that go into double-teaming situations, outside of positioning one officer in a vantage point and controlling the other. For your cops, their level and weapons on hand matter. LA Cops employs a simple leveling system that concentrates on clip size, movement speed, damage output, and max health, along with unexplained upgrades to field weapons for each cop. Most players will favour one officer over another, so equipping the weaker partner with a more powerful weapon is important. When looking at criminals, you’d be wise to be aware of just how many enemies are on the other side of the door, seeking to aggro one at a time.
However, as I’ve eluded to before, this is only amounts to an ideal scenario that isn’t entirely reflective on LA Cops as a whole. Baiting criminals to walk into your trap doesn’t always spur the intended results. It’s unclear as to just how far and wide the sound of your shots travel, which may trigger one schmuck from off screen, the dude that’s right on the other side of the wall, or half of the assholes within the entire level. It’s not uncommon to get overwhelmed without any insight as to how or why everyone made a beeline to your position.
Alternatively, such set-ups are heavily dependent on the stage’s level design. Another suggestion the developer tries to beat into players’ heads is the belief that the game is virtually impossible without your partner. While this typically applies to stages with many walls and insidiously placed doorways, later levels – with the exception of some bonus stages – become less interesting by opening spaces significantly, to the point that your partner will likely serve as a second chance after your lead character dies. That in and of itself doesn’t go unappreciated however as, much like Hotline Miami, LA Cops isn’t afraid to shoot you dead without remorse if you’re not careful.
Outside of relying on your often stationary buddy, you have but a few combat tools at your disposal. Beginning with just a pistol, you’ll pick up fairly standard-yet-effective weapons once you start taking down criminals. If you’d rather be a stealthy pacifist, you also have the choice of arresting them, a tactic which sees your foes instantly slump over handcuffed while their pals meander around their incapacitated posture. The inclusion of weaponized doors (yet another Hotline Miami staple that allows you to take down foes on the other side) is surprisingly ineffective. Due to them being physics-based, you’ll often find yourself bumping into and ultimately breaking down the door long before the bad guy gets back up and wonders what the fuck you’re doing. Therefore, even with the few options on hand, it’s infinitely more effective to shoot dudes in the face to bypass their hyper-aggression.
The game’s challenge is by and large the only factor that keeps LA Cops interesting; however, numerous little hang-ups make the game more frustrating than need be. Baseline movement speed is painfully slow, which often creates an ill-feeling tension when retreating from danger. But that’s only if you don’t get caught on environmental clutter and plentiful corners which annoyingly demand extra work from your use of the camera. Both issues are exacerbated in a few horrendously scripted timed-based levels where the clock keeps going even after you’ve died. Those were the only instances where I wanted to restart a level, which became a matter of picking the lesser evil since retries are bookended with a load screen that’s all too long for this type of game.
One would hope that among all of LA Cops’ shortcomings, its style would be the game’s one redeeming quality. It’s not.
The bold, colourful 70’s visuals fall completely flat not because of artistic negligence (though the art in the levels themselves often looks uninspiring), but because the story is excruciatingly pointless. Cutscenes often lack a proper narrative through line, only then relying on failed attempts of campy humor. By the time the plot begins to commit to a sequence of events, it hastily comes to what some – not all – may consider a conclusion.
As hard as it tries, LA Cops attempts to be different while simultaneously emulating one of the best indie titles to come out in the last five years. Consequently, LA Cops isn’t a good game. Its sadly misplaced and underutilized deviations from its inspiration achieve very little. And while it’s a challenging game, there is just too much that gets in the way for any significant enjoyment to be had.