It’s hard out there for a top-down shooter fan, when all you’ve got is Hotline Miami’s strawberry jam coloured shootouts to look forward to and multiple playthroughs of that can’t even sate your need to lay down some bullets from a bird’s eye view. It doesn’t have to be that way though, because LA Cops puts you in the shoes of a collection of (named!) justice bringers who, via murderous means will bring the perps in line. We can’t all go the Tasers and handcuffs route now can we? I liked the look of the game when it released a stonking new trailer a few weeks ago and since then LA Cops has hit Steam Early Access. So of course I’ve shot, died, destroyed and ‘hoorah!’ed my way through it and you can read the ensuing hijinks below.
I take on the three available missions as Jo “Bullet-Sponge” Murphy and Katsuo “Shoot First, Find a First Name Later”. We’re a crack team, Murphy, Katsuo and I. Sure, I may be in charge and I may also have the hand-eye coordination of a drunk reptile (they don’t even have hands!) but I feel confident that I can deliver justice to the punks that want to challenge the long arm of the law.
Of course, I’m wrong which I learn quickly after designating XP points across Speed, Health, Damage and Clip Size. I try to power my way through the first level with Murphy’s boosted health and clicking frantically as I choose to control only Katsuo, hoping that his extra damage dealing bullets will hit something, anything to stop it from attacking me first, but like most of my muscle-headed ideas, it falls flat. Sorry Dodo’s Donuts I really had faith.
In the first 15 minutes of trying to play the game’s short introductory level, I die half a dozen times, all through my own cack-handedness and because I’ve forgotten what LA Cops is all about: teamwork.
Admittedly it’s an odd one to get used to when you’re used to dashing behind cover waiting for the crimson veins of an FPS’ heads-up display to fade, as here you need to plan ahead, using the entrances to the individual bad-guy filled rooms and corridors to decide how to position both characters rather than thinking one can take them all on in one go. So, trying again at that first level I put forward a far superior battle plan – I, controlling Jo, will rush into a room, hit the ‘R’ key to ditch her and let the automated shooting kick in as I charge in afterwards as Katsuo. Katsuo is then able to pick off the remaining enemies after Jo dies (that’s how she earnt her nickname, duh) and I complete the level by speaking to the Dodo’s Donuts manager. I might get some free doughnuts out of this although my partner courageously lost her life (as my intelligent play had predicted) but hey, that’s the price of justice.
I’m less enthusiastic about my ‘Jesus take the wheel!’ style of play as I take on Hawaiian Bob’s henchmen in level two and gangster Malfa’s singing goons in level five (the early access version of LA Cops lets you skip ahead). I don’t ask how they tie into the overarching plot and the game doesn’t tell me but I’ll tackle the paperwork for acting unlawful in the line of duty afterwards. Instead, I test out the third strategy in my hand: I call it the ‘Double Blitz’.
By now I’ve discovered that the AI in LA Cops could do with a little tweaking. For one, enemies don’t shoot from afar, as soon as they see you they rush towards your position giving you scant few seconds to shoot in their direction and splatter blood everywhere and second of all, the walls could literally be covered in dripping, fleshy goo and these enemies wouldn’t bat an eyelid. They also don’t have the benefit of knowing when you’re sneaking up behind them but luckily for me this works out perfectly.
Positioning Katsuo in the middle of the doorway, I run in as Jo like a banshee on the loose allowing the enemies to come towards me, enter Katsuo’s range and for the two of us to pick them off. Genius, right? You betcha as every time I try it this way round I’m successful, popping more caps into fools then a cap-popping specialist. I’m less boastful about the ill-fated time I put Jo in the doorway instead – after she managed to clear the entire room of basic goons before Katsuo had even fired a shot, Jo then proceeded to waste her entire clip of bullets shooting thin air. The game is great at wall detection so I’m assuming this was her problem rather than the level design, but whatever it was it proved costly when Katsuo ran out of bullets later, after hoovering up all the ammo clips already (I’d had little success with LA Cops’ melee-arrest feature by this point so running out of ammo proved to be my greatest mistake).
Thankfully, this, like most of LA Cops’ issues are small drops in a sea of frantically fun and fast-paced action. Admittedly, the range of guns (there are pistols, machine guns and grenade launchers) seem silly when strapped to the enemies because although clearing out a room with a grenade launcher is massively entertaining for us (it’s also useful as we can swap our guns with theirs once we’ve killed them) it’s pointless on enemies who, even if they’re basic goons or more deadly samurai sword-wielding ones, won’t use their weapons until they’re centimetres away from you. There’s also the fact that enemies are highlighted but objectives are not, so if you missed the picture clue when you read the mission briefing, you’re sh*t out of luck. That’s easily fixable though, I’m sure, so it’s not hugely game-breaking.
LA Cops is still in Early Access mind you and in the build I played (0.2, as updated on the 18th of August) is only a short section of its levels and cutscenes (which have beautiful art and writing that fits the 70s setting incredibly well) were available. It is a great deal of fun though and so far it’s a brilliant addition to the genre. I highly recommend it.
LA Cops is available now for $11.99 on Steam Early Access.