Players take the role of rookie cop Katrin to step into the brave new world of 2170, where the power of law may be used as shield of protection or a tool of violence. Katrin comes to understand this for herself as she joins with a squad of fellow officers for a variety of dangerous missions. The tactics-oriented action of COPS 2170: The Power of Law is set in an uncertain society, where only the ingenuous are blessed with contentment and fateful decisions are made behind the closed doors of corrupt corporate boardrooms.
The futuristic "cyberpunk" 3D city where COPS 2170 takes place is brought to life with detailed textures, vivid, comic-book colors, and creepy, dark shadows. The stealth missions, skirmishes, and large-scale battles that take place here may be viewed from nearly any perspective. Katrin can draft a team of up to seven other police officers and lead them into battle, making good use of their diverse talents and abilities. In many situations, strategic teamwork is required for the squad to emerge victorious -- or even alive.
The game is designed with many possible solutions to any situation, however, and the player's particular choices may have long-term consequences. An interesting feature of COPS 2170 concerns the way its plot develops. As players make their way through the missions, their actions and selections can affect other people and places in the game world, even though they may not be aware of their influence at the time. Seemingly trivial decisions can spark chains of events that lead to significant results. This system is designed to create a living, interactive game world, which may develop quite differently each time the game is played.
Pretend you're a police officer. You discover that a group of people -- let's call them the Syndicate -- is preventing another group of people -- say, mutant fugitives -- from going back to their hideout. You're going to help the mutants. The Syndicate soldiers are just standing around the streets between the mutants and their destination. What do you do? Start a conversation with the Syndicate men? Try to negotiate? Arrest them if they don't comply?
In Cops 2170: The Power of Law, you walk up to the Syndicate operatives and shoot them point-blank. Don't expect much in the way of police procedure in this mesh of an RPG and a turn-based tactical shooter (a la XCOM: UFO Defense. As much as I'd like to say that Cops 2170 is as enjoyable as that venerable classic, it comes up short on a few counts.
Cops is certainly a highly playable game, with a mostly intriguing plot and some interesting action. Mission locations are huge, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore and boxes to open for bonus goodies and people to talk to (in order to further your investigations). And, of course, bad guys to shoot. You play Katy, a rookie officer whom, from the first mission, is torn between playing a by-the-book cop or joining a secret order of police officers who believe themselves above the law (and act accordingly). You're also faced with another decision: to help those mutants, or to gun them down and take the side of the Syndicate. The various choices result in branching plotlines.
The missions usually first involve killing every bad guy on the map and then looking for key NPCs to converse with. Sadly, the conversations are longwinded, could have benefited from a good deal of editing, and are poorly translated from Russian (the game's original language) with comically bad voice acting. And yet somehow, this doesn't ruin the game -- it creates a goofy air of kitsch reminiscent of John Waters' movies. (On that note, I should mention that there are giant rats armed with guns in the game. You've been warned!)
Getting started in Cops is a nightmare of trial-and-error guesswork. You're simply dropped into Katy's shoes in the police headquarters with absolutely no tutorial or coaching. It's like one of those games in which your character wakes up with amnesia: you don't know who to talk to, where to go, how to start a mission, or anything else. (The limited instruction manual doesn't help a whole lot, as it's poorly structured and jumps around. I had to read through the tiny print of the key reference page to figure out how to do basic things, like changing a character's facing without moving her.) Eventually, I figured out how to engage the first mission, recruit a couple of squad members, and go to work. But even then, I couldn't decipher out how to end the opening mission even after I'd killed the bad guys and talked to everyone on the map. The mission goals, detailed in the diary on your character's PDA-like device, could be a hell of a lot clearer.
Graphically, Cops 2170 looks splendid. The character models and animation are convincing, and the 3D maps respond reliably to camera management, such as scrolling, turning and zooming with ease. Shadows are a bit blocky, but everything else looks terrific, including explosions and other effects.
The turn-based, tactical aspect of the game can be frustrating at times. You can only engage enemies that you can see, and sight range is a developable aspect of a character that varies from cop to cop. Your actions are governed by action points (APs): everything you do, from turning to walking to running to shooting, eats up APs. When a character runs out of APs, he can't do anything else for that turn. When your turn is done, it's the computer player's turn, and you alternately watch NPCs do stuff and stare at a screen that simply announces, "HIDDEN MOVEMENT." Sometimes the game hangs on that screen, a problem that was addressed in a recent patch.
When it's the bad guys' turn, your dudes are sitting ducks. You can crouch and use cover during your turn, but that won't prevent a bad guy from tossing a grenade and blowing your officers to heck. Bad guys often enter your view, shoot at you, and then walk out of range of your cops' eyesight. Thankfully, there's a quick-save option (use it). I can't count how many times my squad got mercilessly shot up during the enemy's turn by enemies I didn't even know were nearby, forcing me to load my last save. The good news is, when it's your turn, enemies are similarly helpless. You can blast away at them as long as you have the APs to do it. It's unrealistic at best, but turns out to be the fun part of the game.
Another problem involves cops who aren't in your squad, out of your control, making some really weird moves. They'll walk right past bad guys without shooting; they'll sneak forward and then run across the enemies' line of sight; they'll dart back and forth in bizarre spasms, and so on. It's AI simply in desperate need of re-coding.
One final complaint: sometimes, your meager forces are faced with adversaries against whom your guys don't stand a chance. For instance, there's a robot factory guarded by walking mechs with incredibly powerful and accurate laser weapons. A few hits and you're dead -- and in playing this level I died over, and over, and over again. It didn't help that my NPC allies ran around in circles, fluttered about as aimlessly as butterflies, and rarely fired when they had a clear shot.
Occasionally, you gain enough experience through shooting everything that moves (including hapless, homeless people) that your characters level up. You can then tweak their stats, which include strength, accuracy, health, sight, and other attributes. The desire to improve my characters was enough to keep me playing for a while, as was the huge variety of weapons, armor, ammunition, grenades, ability-improving implants, and other odds and ends. The plot has just enough intrigue to keep you wondering what will happen next. If the A.I. was better and the combat system wasn't so clunky, Cops could have been the next great tactical shooter.
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