LA Cops review for Xbox One

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PC
Publisher: Team17
Developer: Modern Dream
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Hotline Miami with a ’70s sheen.

That, in a nutshell, is LA Cops’ elevator pitch. It’s selling itself as an ultraviolent top-down shooter that trades in Hotline Miami’s dark weirdness for the tropes and fashions of cop shows from 35 or 40 years ago. Take out the trippy soundtrack and stoner logic, sub in bright colours and funky music, and this is what you get. Or so the thinking presumably goes.

To some extent, LA Cops succeeds. It certainly gets the aesthetic right. It’s all moustaches and sideburns and aviator sunglasses, conveyed using vibrant earth tones via animation that looks like it was conceived during a midperiod Hanna Barbara-Filmation tryst. On top of that is music that sounds…well, “’70s”, for lack of a better description, though you could probably just call it a knockoff of The Theme from Shaft if you’re looking for a little more specificity.

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Of course, if we’re talking knockoffs, you can’t avoid seeing how much LA Cops borrows from Hotline Miami. I’m sure that Hotline Miami didn’t invent the ultraviolent, ultra-bloody top-down shooter genre, but seriously: LA Cops plays almost identically every step of the way, from the moment you start moving your character all the way through to when their insides get splattered all over the decor.

“Almost” is the key word there. Because no matter how liberally LA Cops may have borrowed from Hotline Miami, they still forgot the key ingredient: the fact that, beneath all the violence, the game was basically a series of puzzles.

See, I’m not a huge fan of ridiculously hard games; as I’ve said before, I prefer to turn my brain off and go in both guns blazing whenever possible. Yet I absolutely loved Hotline Miami. Why? Because as difficult as it was — and man, was it ever difficult — it also never seemed anything less than fair. Each level may have been tough as nails, but that difficulty was balanced out by the fact you could beat it if you sat back, looked for the patterns, and planned out what you wanted to do. No one would ever mistake it for Tetris or anything, but deep down, Hotline Miami was all about rewarding players for careful thought and planning.

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LA Cops does not do that. LA Cops, for the most part, comes down to luck. Enemies just wander around rooms randomly, with no apparent pattern, which means that your ability to beat a level pretty much comes down to where the game decides it wants to place enemies at any given time. There’s no balance here, no sense that if you give things enough though, eventually you’ll be able to solve the puzzles.

It tries to mitigate this, in certain respects. You can arrest people rather than killing them, thereby preserving your bullets and not having armies of bad guys descending on you the moment they hear gunshots…except because they move so randomly, sneaking up behind one and slapping on the cuffs is esssentially a suicide mission. Likewise, the game gives you a partner instead of sending you out on your own…but again, it doesn’t help too much because AI in this game is incredibly dumb. Occasionally they kill the bad guys, but for the most part they just act as bullet sponges — which, again, highlights just how poorly balanced the gameplay here is.

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Or maybe it’s just unbalanced when you compare it to a masterpiece like Hotline Miami. As I’m sure I’ve written before, it’s a little unfair to expect a game to measure up to one of the absolute best examples of its genre. Then again, even if Hotline Miami didn’t exist, it’s hard to imagine that LA Cops would seem like a worthwhile game. One that’s fun to look at, sure, but one worth playing? Until and unless there’s a balancing patch on the way, probably not.

Grade: C-