Dan’s interactions with Brad, by-the-book lieutenant Strickland and various other characters aren’t amazing but at least they’re believable. The writing is actually solid, not the grade school PSA stuff I was expecting. You do get some confusion with a lot of characters popping in and out of the story, but I can say the same of any GTA game where random thug X shows up after 20 missions of inactivity. The story is presented by well-drawn art panels and scrolling text. With so much content packed into the DS card there isn’t much room for spoken dialogue, but these cutscenes convey the action and get the job done better than most comic-style exposition I’ve seen in other games. In any case the story kept me genuinely interested, something I haven’t experienced in a sandbox game for a while, but more importantly the story kept me playing, even when I was really, really frustrated.
COP is a complicated game, and sometimes it trips over this complexity. Like most city-based sandbox games it involves two main forms of gameplay: on-foot/shooting, and driving. The driving is straightforward; as a cop you can “commandeer” (read—jack) any vehicle you come across. While it’s a pretty big privilege for a felon-turned rookie cop to have it does replicate the steal-anything-with-four-wheels gameplay so popular in GTA, allowing Dan to drive trucks, sedans, buses, SUVs and the hotrods he raced in his rougher days. You’ll occasionally get behind the wheel of a speedboat but this is scripted into various missions.
The driving controls are simple, although I wish they’d have put the handbrake on the L-trigger instead of the Y button; it just feels more natural there. While Dan can’t pull off crazy jumps like Niko Bellic, the car physics in COP are respectable and allow for hairpin turns and rubber-squealing doughnuts. These physics are actually a bit too touchy, causing my ride to spin out when I just wanted to whip around a corner—for even the slightest tap of the D-pad Dan must be cranking the wheel like mad. It doesn’t help that, well, it’s New York and the roads are choked with traffic, making chases an exercise in obstacle avoidance.
The on-foot controls aren’t too bad until you get to the shooting. The D-pad moves and turns Dan, while the face buttons handle sprinting and camera rotation. Once Dan pulls a gun out, then you run into some problems. The camera shifts to a Resident Evil 4 over the shoulder perspective, the D-pad switches over to strafing, while aiming is controlled on the touch screen similar to a first-person shooter like Metroid Prime Hunters. You’d think this would let you point and shoot anywhere, but it’s not that simple.
You can only hit an enemy when your crosshair goes red, regardless of whether your crosshair is on him or not. Moving around breaks your aim very easily, and a moving target is almost impossible to hit. This leads to standoffs where both you and the enemy stop to shoot at each other; the only time you can get a solid hit is while standing still. It’s more realistic than running around and landing shots with perfect accuracy, but standing still is a good way to get Dan killed in the crossfire. It’s a catch-22 that makes the gun combat a clunky and risky prospect under the best conditions.
There are a few on-foot missions where you must explore a dark area with a flashlight, or evade patrolling guards and shout into the DS mic to distract them from their routes. These sections are the most creative when it comes to using the DS hardware because they use the mic, top screen and touch screen in conjunction. While the action is presented on the top screen, everything from the map to mission data is displayed on the touch screen, in Dan’s 3C.
In addition to a small arsenal, Dan is outfitted with a PDA called a 3C. It’s an all-in-one gadget that displays a GPS map when he’s driving, lets him check his objectives, input codes and search a directory of important places. It packs a lot of info but navigating it is overly complicated. To set a destination on the GPS you must first open the directory, scroll through to the right entry and double tap it, then return to the active GPS. You can call in 3-digit codes by writing them on the touch screen, which lets you radio for backup, unlock doors, set road blocks and do other police activities. This is a cool idea, but again you must hunt through the directory for a location’s corresponding code, which can be a real pain when you have a time limit. On the bright side the 3C has some unique uses like scanning surveillance cameras and organizing a SWAT team raid, but overall it isn’t easy to use and you can’t even pause the game while using it.
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