Hotline Miami's not necessarily the kind of game that you'd expect to attract a string of copycats, but LA Cops follows developer Dennaton's brutal blueprint down to the most specific of details. You play as one of six clichéd LAPD law enforcers, with your objective to bring justice to some of America's most wanted. You'll do this by storming a variety of themed criminal hot spots – from doughnut stores to not-so secret drugs dens – where you'll fire first and ask questions later.
Given the current policing climate over the Atlantic, it's a potentially risky prospect – but there's never really an attempt at political commentary here. This is a 70s procedural through and through; from the big haircuts and barmy – read: embarrassing – cut-scenes that attempt to tie things together, it's clear that you're not supposed to take things seriously. Of course, with that being the case, the big skip button that appears during cinematics quickly becomes a tempting proposition.
Story's not the game's strong suit, then – but what of the isometric action that you'll be butting your afro against for the six or so hours that the experience lasts? Well, it's not exactly non-uniform calibre either. The problem is that it rarely feels fair, with screen estate limited, and baddies brandishing shotguns often ready to pick you off from places that you can't see. You can zoom in and out to get a better view, but you'll regularly encounter points where dozens of off-screen ne'er-do-wells will all be baying for your blood at once.
And these moments never end well. Unlike a rap star, taking a bullet to your spongy torso will see you out of action, and while you do get two cops to play with, you'll be restarting stages a lot. This isn't a problem per se, but loading screens break the puzzle-like pacing present in similar games, and the random nature of the encounters – antagonists follow a general set of rules, but are prone to stray from their designated positions – makes it difficult to bind a specific set of successful actions to muscle memory.
You're supposed to bounce your two selected officers off each other, wielding your fiddly cross hair as a kind of Command & Conquer-esque cursor. The problem is that anytime that you send your pal into a particular room or area, they'll usually find themselves out of action in an instant. We did find some success in later stages using our accomplice as human cover, but this only really worked in open areas, making the tool tip about infiltrations the funniest non-doughnut related gag in the game.
You can upgrade your characters, but even this aspect hasn't been especially well conceived. You'll earn XP based upon your rank in each mission that you complete, and this can be spent on increasing the speed, health, clip size, and damage of your character, as well as unlocking new default weapons. The problem is that you won't notice the benefits unless you've invested a lot, and you don't really earn enough points to make that happen – well, unless you play the opening stage over and over again like we did. Sorry officer, you've caught us cheating.
At least the presentation is a bit more successful, which focuses on bold primary colours and simple shapes to augment proceedings with a pop minimalist-like look. Environments can bleed together due to the rudimentary style, but the developer does just enough to inject a touch of personality – be it slot machines in the gangster-infested casino or bench seating booths in the local diner. The music's decent, too: a selection of twinkly KORG-driven tracks and fuzzy guitar riffs.
But irrespective of this, you'll be cursing everything about the game when you reach its latter stages, which introduce a number of maddening twists that will leave you losing large swathes of progress for no real reason whatsoever. Alternatively, you'll just find yourself up against impossible odds, such as respawning enemies who'll rush you again and again and again unless you get the darn objective done. Remember, you'll be dead in a couple of shots, so the last thing that you want is six or seven gun-toting goons encroaching on your personal space every ten seconds.
LA Cops has inoffensive intentions, but its execution is as flawed as its characters' fashion sense. The pleasant presentation represents the still-edible icing on this otherwise stale, circular snack – but glaring design issues have left us close to dialling 911.