The best thing about Papers, Please is the way in which its work-like gameplay combines with narrative elements to create a stressful, oppressive atmosphere. You're checking documents for discrepancies against the clock, while travellers plead and bargain with you to let them pass, putting your job on the line when your family is already sick and hungry. Beat Cop, from developer Pixel Crow, attempts a similar design, although it handles it far less elegantly.
You play as Jack Kelly, a detective demoted due to a scandal in which he's been framed for murder after an incident at the Senator's villa. While the case is being investigated, Kelly patrols a Brooklyn street, handing out tickets, arresting petty criminals, and trying to clear his name. As the game makes abundantly clear, this takes inspiration from 1980s police dramas, stereotypes and all, and while it works to build a sense of place, it does feel a little poorly done in some ways.
But let's start with the positives. The game is split into chapters, each representing one day. You begin with a briefing from your new boss, a foul-mouthed police chief who's not your biggest fan. He'll give you your orders for the day: hand out 10 parking tickets, for example. Some days will be more complex than others; one sees a total parking ban on your street, while another has you protecting a troublesome Russian visitor.
Largely, though, each day plays out similarly. You'll walk up and down your beat, keeping an eye out for improperly parked cars and vehicles with dodgy lights and tyres. There's much more than that to keep on top of, however. Sometimes, thieves will be called out, and you can chase them down to make an arrest. Shop and restaurant owners will request your help from time to time too, and you'll occasionally need to make calls via pay phones. Perhaps the biggest distraction, though, comes in the form of two factions you'll form relationships with: the Mafia and the Crew -- a street gang.
A lot of your actions in the game will have an impact on your status with either of these groups, the general public, and the police force itself. You can play however you like; the game's structure is open ended, allowing for multiple endings and no real punishment for playing the bad cop. You can accept bribes, involve yourself with organised crime, and ignore your daily duties, but you probably won't get the real conclusion to Kelly's story.
Speaking of story, the writing is very hit and miss. Occasionally it's genuinely funny, but in trying to stick to the 80s action movie theme, Pixel Crow maybe takes things a little too far at times. Strong racial slurs and sexist remarks are commonplace in Beat Cop, and while the developer has tried to contextualise it, it feels poorly judged. The story itself is fine, but some players may struggle with some of the language casually thrown around here.
The moment to moment gameplay effectively makes you feel like you're working a regular beat; you'll get to know your corner of NYC and its inhabitants very well by the end. However, because you're being pulled in so many directions at any given time, it can be hard to know where to turn -- do you help out the little girl looking for her cat? Do you protect supplies for the Italian mob boss? Do you respond to a suicidal man standing on the church steps? Or do you write up some more tickets to fulfil your quota? The open nature of each day is interesting from a design perspective, but all the things demanding your attention can be confusing. The end of each day breaks down your performance, and it can be disheartening to receive penalties for failing an objective simply because you were busy elsewhere. That's partly the point, of course, but it's a bit too ambiguous.
Beat Cop is a strong effort to create a compelling police-themed adventure. Patrolling your street and building relationships with various characters is engaging, and it certainly looks the part with nicely done pixel art visuals. Its open ended design can lead to multiple endings, which makes it surprisingly replayable, but in practice, it all quickly becomes a little too complex for its own good. With your attention so scattered among numerous calls to action, it can be confusing. Still, there is some fun to be found here if you don't sweat the details.