The DS celebrated its fifth birthday recently. Typically five years is a good, respectable run for a game console, but compared to its predecessors in the Gameboy line, the DS is still in diapers. Even then, it’s become obvious to me that the DS line’s tech is looking pretty long in the tooth. The DSi may have faster processors and more storage ability, but its technology still pales in comparison to the years-old PSP. And yet, the DS still has games coming out for it that push what it can do.
COP the Recruit is just such a game, a game with technology light-years ahead of other DS games. Amid the countless Cooking Mama clones, pet simulators and movie tie-ins that clutter the DS library, here we have an honest-to-goodness sandbox action game with nearly all the trimmings we’ve come to expect from the genre. It’s so rare these days to play a DS game that takes modern game technology into account, a game that tries to recreate on the DS what we expect on a home console. The steady diet of minigames and simple formulaic ideas made me forget what is possible on the DS. COP, on the other hand, made me forget for a brief moment here and there that I was playing a handheld game. COP the Recruit is an unassuming game that will make you stand up and rub your eyes…and possibly want to throw your DS through a wall.
I won’t get into the negatives right away because first I want to convey just what an achievement COP is, at least on a technical level. The people who made it, Velez and Dubail Dev (VD Dev for short) have been producing high quality 3D graphics on the Game Boy Advance for years prior to their work on COP. VD Dev is similar to other long-running but largely unknown dev houses like High Voltage Software (The Conduit) and n-Space (Geist, most every DS action game you’ve played in the last three years), in that they push Nintendo’s limited hardware platforms for all its worth.
Let me make a comparison. When developing GTA Chinatown Wars, Rockstar Leeds took the DS’s hardware constrains into consideration—they built a top-down game on a 3D engine because the DS seemingly couldn’t handle a fully 3D, behind the back sandbox game. Chinatown Wars is still a damn fine game and you should go buy it, but my point is that Rockstar took a reasonable, some might say realistic approach to exploiting the DS hardware.
VD Dev takes the opposite approach. They throw caution to the wind and hardware limitations be damned, they squeeze the DS for all it’s worth and do the apparently impossible. They render all of Manhattan, Queens and parts of Jersey in full 3D, with plenty of bustling vehicle and pedestrian traffic. The environment is replete with steaming sewer vents, active smokestacks, weather effects, and reflection mapping on all of the cars and most of the buildings. That environment is married to a behind-the-back perspective for both driving, shooting and exploration. The kicker is that it all runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second with virtually no load times and impressive draw distance. It’s truly something to behold.
Does it look like something from the Playstation 1 era? Sure. I remember seeing GTA 3 for the first time at a friend’s house and saying “hey, this looks like crap. It’s like something on the N64.” “Well of course it is,” he responded in irritation, “but look at how much they have going on. It’s a whole city at once.” At the time I was expecting Metal Gear Solid 2-level graphics out of every PS2 game, when that wasn’t the point—the “wow” factor behind sandbox games has always been quantity vs. quality, and how well that quantity is managed. To its credit, COP already looks better than most DS games out there, with only Nintendo’s first party offerings looking noticeably better.
As long as we’re making GTA comparisons, you might be surprised to learn that COP’s story isn’t half bad. You play as Dan Miles, a street racer who gets pulled over after a bad case of road rage. The officer making the arrest, Brad Winters, gives him an ultimatum: do hard time or enter the Criminal Overturn Project—that’s where the COP acronym comes from—and become his apprentice. Dan accepts and is soon sucked into an investigation of the Bomb Zombies, a gang of urban terrorists set on making New York a war zone.
For a game about cops, I was expecting a story and characters written by conservative PTA moms. I was surprised when Dan turned out to be a likable character; just enough of a sarcastic rogue without being cliché. He’s ultimately doing the right thing, but the red tape is always getting in his way. Dan uses his badge and contacts from his underground racing days to bend and even break the law when he can see a less-than-legal way to combat criminals. The game’s tagline is accurate: the badge is fast, but the street is faster.
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