LA Cops – Review
PC, Xbox One
I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to answer as quickly as you can. Don’t think about it, just answer.
Who was the best Bond?
If you said anything but “Roger Moore”, you’re not only wrong, you’re probably not going to appreciate the best, and perhaps only, thing Team17’s latest effort has going for it either.
LA Cops is a 3D, isometric shooter set in ‘70s era Los Angeles. With a colourful palette and appropriately funky soundtrack, it nails the cheesier vibe of the decade with gusto. Playing as one of the titular officers, you can choose your protagonist from a range of classic cop stereotypes, complete with sideburns, slang and names like “Kowalski” and, while the writing isn’t the greatest, there isn’t a corny police cliché it doesn’t hit.
Unfortunately the aesthetic is both the beginning and end of what it gets right. I’ve managed to get this far into the review without mentioning it, but comparisons to Hotline Miami are inevitable, and LA Cops almost always comes out the worst for it.
Where Hotline Miami feels precise and balanced, LA Cops is a bit of a hot mess. Controls feel either clunky or floaty at alternating times, particularly when trying to walk backwards or strafe, and it was difficult at first trying to coordinate the camera with my character’s perspective. Unlike Hotline Miami’s top-down view, LA Cops offers the ability to pivot the camera around its isometric field of vision in order to see doorways and enemies that may otherwise have been hidden. But while this was novel to begin with it soon started feeling more like an extra “chore” to do when entering a new area, and one I would often pass over in favour of taking my chances bruteforcing my way through the level.
Another of the tricks LA Cops has to distinguish itself is the use of a partner. No cop is complete without back up and in LA Cops your partner comes with you on every mission. Much ado is made in the tutorial and loading screen hints about the different ways you can utilise your partner’s presence to best bust criminals and I tried to plant my partner in new and interesting positions I thought would either help me or kill them in hilarious ways. However, the end result was always the same: I would invariably hide them in some out of the way corner and treat them like an extra life, either to continue the mission or resurrect my fallen main character, rather than use them in the tactical way the game obviously intends.
And on the subject of tactics, while LA Cops has a wide range of different guns you can unlock and use (though once you’ve got the assault rifle, you’re pretty much set) I quite liked the option to take down criminals via stealth. This involved sneaking up on them and using your single melee attack, resulting in an arrest and, presumably, a lot less paperwork.
However, while this was my preferred way to play the game, it was a very poorly developed aspect. Each cop has stats that can be leveled up with XP gained by completing missions but none of these stats has any noticeable impact on the stealthier parts of the game. While sneaking and making arrests is a legitimate way to play the game, the lack of perks or rewards for playing this way felt almost as though I was being discouraged to do so, particularly when repeated brute force runs ad nauseum often led to quicker results.
Ultimately, while LA Cops does well in capturing the colourful, over-the-top aspects of the stereotypical 70s cop aesthetic, it doesn’t compare with Hotline Miami for addictive, fast-paced action and also fails to really nail its attempts to be distinct. Much like the way Roger Moore used camp wit to distinguish his Bond from Connery’s gritty physicality, LA Cops is more light-hearted than its darkly bleak competitor – except, unlike LA Cops, Moore had the substance to back up such fun and frivolous character.
LA Cops is the cheerier, cheesier option to Hotline Miami’s bleak grittiness. While it’s not totally without merit, it ultimately fails to stand on its own legs, either in or out of the latter’s formidable shadow.