Developer: Mist Land
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: January 25, 2005
I must admit feeling some trepidation when I heard that I'd be reviewing a title with the, shall we say, interesting name Cops 2170: The Power of Law. Usually when I see a title like this I get flashes of memory of bargain bins thought long forgotten – not typically a good thing. This game comes far short of filling the huge shoes of the games that came before and inspired it, turn-based tactical classics such as X-Com or Jagged Alliance, or perhaps even the more recent Silent Storm: Sentinels. If I had to pick two words that best describe this game, I would choose “Mediocre” and “Frustrating.”
The heart of this game revolves around a police officer named Katy, recently graduated from the police academy and ready to start her first day on the job. Katy, along with other squad members you recruit, will be under your control as you lead them from place to place fighting crime throughout a huge futuristic city. As you may have guessed from the title, this game takes place in the future inside a world of fairly by-the-book cyberpunk fare. There are huge corporations, mutant humans, cybernetic implants to help bypass human limitations, and lots of corruption – nothing you haven't seen before. In all reality it seems very cliché, as though instead of taking of fresh and unique look at what a futuristic world could be like, the developers instead went out and bought a copy of Cyberpunk 2020 and used that for their research material.
One actually good idea they came up with was to allow you to choose factions to side with and assist. Do you want to help the mutants? Maybe instead you'll help a syndicate wipe out the mutants. This is the basis for the “non-linear” gameplay that the box hypes. Unfortunately, so many aspects of this game are simply unreasonably frustrating that it's hard to have fun or really enjoy any of the parts that might have been at least interesting or novel.
Just learning to play this game is a lesson in annoyance. Unlike most games, this one came with neither a tutorial nor a printed instruction manual (they included scans of a manual that I suppose they figure you can print out yourself). The first mission doesn't even bother trying to teach you the controls or how anything in the game works. Be prepared to face the first Frustration: Learning to Play Through Trial and Error.
The voice acting is horrible, the dialogue is horrible. Pretty much any part of the game that relates to the plot, explaining the plot, or understanding the plot is a painful experience that makes you think that perhaps those blind and deaf people have the right idea. The second Frustration: You Have Sensory Organs and are Playing this Game.
The combat in this game, truly the epicenter of any turn-based tactical combat game, is just not very good. It's like they saw enough of other turn-based tactical games to get the general idea of how they worked, but never bothered to actually learn what makes them fun. Just moving around the map is far more of a pain than it even remotely needs to be. When you enter an area that has enemies, the game switches to turn-based combat regardless of whether there are any enemies around or not. These areas are vast, and the enemies are typically scattered throughout.
A fog of war limits your ability to see where enemies are (although the background of the map is fully visible), so you only can see what your characters can see. Unfortunately their vision range is small and contrived: your characters can only see a certain maximum distance in front of themselves regardless of lighting or obstructions. In addition, characters can't move very far each turn (and you can't get out of turn-based combat till all enemies are dead). Sometimes you won't even know where the last enemy is, and will have to spend inordinate amounts of time slowly plodding around the map in turn-based mode trying to find him. Frustration #3: Moving Around the Map.
Weapons are just insane in this game, and it's entirely possible for your characters to die to a single hit. There is no control that lets you change the difficulty setting either. Sometimes the game will spawn situations that there is no feasible way to defeat, such as if they randomly put two RoboRats (strange giant rats with guns) together. These rats have rapid-fire, long-range machine guns that just mow down your squad. You can possibly handle a single RoboRat because you outnumber it to the point that you can just gank it quickly. Two is pretty much game over, prepare to reload and pray for luck. Fortunately, you'll be saving the game often (and manually, since they didn't include an auto-save feature), because save-and-reload is the only viable way to make any progress through a game where sometimes you just randomly get unlucky and lose. Frustration Numero 4: Save-and-Reload Tedium.
Most games opt to use unrealistic carrying capacities because inventory and weight management simply are not fun. In a sense, it's a form of agreement between players and developers that the players won't wonder how Sally fit a rocket launcher in her backpack and the developers won't make the players have to worry about how they're going to carry all the cool toys and weapons that they want to have. Not so here. Cops 2170 gives each character a strength attribute that determines how much they can carry, and if you go over capacity you have less action points each round. In addition, you have a limited amount of inventory space (in the form of a nonsensically shaped grid) which forces you to juggle all the stuff you want to carry whenever you get a new toy. Frustration V: Clumsy Inventory System.
The graphics are possibly the game's strongest suit, in that they are mediocre instead of the usual lackluster or plain poorness of everything else. There's nothing you're going to see here that'll wow you, and certainly nothing you haven't seen before, except for maybe giant gun-toting rodents that one-hit you. If you told me this game was from several years back, I would believe you based off nothing but the look. The design of the areas is bland, typically making them into little more than open spaces that you run around in (slowly and almost always in turn-based mode), hoping against hope that you don't lose from a single attack that you couldn't prevent.
I covered the voice acting above, and unfortunately the rest of the sound isn't much better. The music is techno, which you can't appreciate if you're not into it, and the sound effects are very simple and generic. You aren't going to get much replay out of this (and that's assuming you somehow managed to get through it once) because there is nothing but the single-player game, which has a fixed difficulty that cannot be changed. Cops: 2170 is mediocre at best, and nail-bitingly frustrating at worst. A couple of interesting concepts lay mired beneath poorly executed game design.