These control and gameplay issues wouldn’t be a huge problem if COP wasn’t so freaking hard. Almost every mission or task, whether it’s chasing down a felon in a hotrod or extinguishing a fire or calling in a code, has a strict time limit attached. Some of these timers are for special achievements only, but most are mandatory pass-fail deals, and sometimes they don’t even make sense.
The races and car chases also got on my nerves, particularly the ones with invisible, built-in limits. I’d be tearing along, closing in on my speeding target and just itching to pit the daylights out of him, when he’d accelerate into the distance roadrunner-style and I’d fail the mission. It turns out some chases are scripted so that when your target reaches a certain point in the city, he rockets off and you fail—it doesn’t matter how close you were to catching him. You either wreck his car in that specific distance or you lose. This is maddening when you consider that other chases have an on-screen meter that shows how close you are to losing your target; as long as you stay within that limit you can chase him from Soho all the way to the Bronx. Why they have these two kinds of chase gameplay is a mystery to me.
You’ll also get the usual sequence of checkpoint races, and the object here is to hit all the flags within a time limit while keeping your car in working shape. These aren’t as bad as the chases but damn are there a lot of them. Maybe I’ve played too many GTA games and imitators and I’m just sick of checkpoint races. Still, Dan almost went to prison for illegal street racing. It’s odd that once he’s a cop, everyone from underground racing clubs to old friends to fellow officers want him to do more street racing, and he agrees.
The aforementioned gunplay problems make gunfights a pain in normal situations and potential suicide on the harder missions. Enemies are apparently all wearing adamantium flack jackets while Dan has a jean jacket and a T-shirt protecting him. Bad guys take a ludicrous number of shots before they go down, making your tazer and 9mm sidearm literally useless after the first handful of missions. There are of course much stronger guns in the game, including an MP5, an AK-47, an M4 and an auto-shotgun, but the amount of ammo you can carry is disproportionately small for these guns. You can carry at most three extra clips for the AK and M4, while you’re carrying around 98 thirteen-round clips—clips—of useless pistol ammo. That’s 1,274 pistol bullets that barely scratch the bad guys.
The stronger guns also have realistic muzzle-climb, which is cool in a PC shooter with a mouse, and a real pain on the DS touch screen when aiming is already such a finicky chore in COP. In the later, incredibly difficult missions you’ll often find yourself hugely outnumbered and rapidly running out of ammo for your stronger guns, even after restocking at an armory.
At least there’s plenty to do. COP never has the “empty sandbox” feeling you get from some GTAs; Dan usually has at least two objectives to complete. The story moves at a good clip, the mystery stays intriguing and the situation escalates quickly, giving the game a sense of urgency. Even when he’s not on a story mission Dan gets calls from the dispatcher for optional jobs. These include stopping a speeder, investigating gang activity or clearing up an armed robbery, but the dispatcher always warns that they aren’t rookie jobs and man she isn’t kidding. Don’t even think about trying these missions on a whim, while driving a soccer-mom minivan or armed with that puny handgun. Some serious firepower is needed to mop up the thugs terrorizing the local convenience store, and you’d better “borrow” a turbo-charged rod before chasing after any speeders.
I honestly think COP’s punitive difficulty is half because of balance and control issues, and half because the beta testers got bored of playing the same levels and wanted more of a challenge. There’s a wealth of content here, at least twenty hours worth in the main story, but it’s a hard game for even an experienced gamer and the technical issues make it needlessly harder.
And yet, I can forgive the frustration because COP the Recruit is the first real stab at an all-out sandbox game on the DS. In a lot of ways it reminds me of GTA 3 and Vice City; both of those games were even clunkier and more aggravating than COP, but I loved them all the same because I understood what they were trying to accomplish. I threw down my PS2 controller in frustration more times than I angrily shut my DS on COP, because Vice City had crappy targeting or poor scripting or obtuse controls or some other amateurish issue that would’ve been fixed in a game of smaller scope. But I was hooked and kept coming back to both of them, and that’s the mark of a good sandbox game.
Way back in July when I first played COP at the UbiNintendo event, I was really struck by the enthusiasm and pride that soft-spoken producer Nouredine Abboud expressed while showing us his game. He and the rest of COP’s developers have every reason to be proud of their accomplishment. Yes it has some kinks that make it frustrating to get into, no it won’t appeal to the DS’s casual crowd, and only dedicated gamers will see COP through to the end. But VD Dev is breaking new ground here, just like those early GTA games on the PS2, and some kinks are inevitable.
That COP’s story, characters and core gameplay rise above its flaws is a testament to its addictive design. If you’re patient enough to get at it, COP the Recruit offers one of the longest, most complex and engrossing experiences on the DS, period. I just hope enough people buy it to warrant a sequel; Nouredine wanted COP the Recruit to be the first in a new franchise. COP the Recruit is a good game, and all it needed to be an excellent one was some balancing and tweaking. If VD Dev gets the chance to fix those issues, I can only imagine what they can accomplish on the DS.
Although plagued by balance and control issues, COP the Recruit is ambitious in its depth and groundbreaking in its technology. The easily frustrated might want to skip this game, but for experienced gamers looking for a challenge, COP offers a lengthy experience and hardcore difficulty.
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