My greatest fear in life – other than physical media vanishing entirely and leaving us in a digital world where we can no longer share or sell things we supposedly own – is playing a simulator with a poor introduction or a barely present tutorial. This fear stems from playing a farming sim circa 2013 and spending an hour trying to work out how to plow a field. But that was ten years ago, and simulators have come a long way since, blessed with bigger budgets due to increased popularity.
Police Simulator rides the trend of modern sims developed by sizeable and experienced teams, featuring not just a step-by-step tutorial but also a policeman’s handbook to reference. Amusingly, the developers have pointed out that the laws and regulations mentioned in the handbook aren’t representational of the real world – just in case any players somehow end up quoting it while standing in a court of law, presumably.
After picking an officer from a small selection, we’re introduced to Brighton Police Force to begin a new profession of a policeman – or policewoman. Sadly, not the coastal rainbow-adorned UK city of Brighton, but rather a fictional US city.
From my experience with the US, this recreation isn’t too well observed – the streets are too clean and quiet, there’s a distinct lack of franchised coffee shops, homelessness has been completely eradicated, and around 25% of the population sports a mohawk. You may even be pushed hard to tell that it takes place in the US; my guess would have been a European city – there are public modern art sculptures to discover, the game’s main fictional restaurant “Steak in Whiskey” appears very upmarket, and everyone is remarkably mild-mannered – even when being arrested for carrying firearms and narcotics.
The police force is portrayed in a positive light – a friendly and vital part of the community. People often greet you – and there’s a chance to say “hello there!” back – and poor choices when dealing with the public will see your reputation diminish. A firearm is present in your inventory from the outset, and unsurprisingly, you’re warned that it’s only a last resort and improper use will result in dismissal. If you damage a citizen’s vehicle while driving a patrol car, you’re also encouraged to pull over, apologise, and hand over the force’s insurance details. How’s that for realism?
Indeed, cast aside expectations of bank robberies, kicking down doors to drug dens, and 100mph police chases with helicopter support. Police Simulator deals with everyday duties for US officers, and this means handing out countless parking tickets and fines (or warnings) for littering, jaywalking, or drinking in public. You are, for the most part, a glorified traffic warden. You pick a district to cover, select a shift time (from 15min to 90mins) and then walk the streets to slap out some tickets on wrongly parked cars, and stop people if you catch them staggering around, running across the road, or throwing a bottle to the ground. If you frisk somebody – and have good reason to do so – you may find narcotics or a fake ID, meaning you can then call for back-up and have them taken away.
This formula is in place for a couple of hours, with the first new tool to be added being a radar gun, allowing you to spend a shift standing on a bridge (or dangerously running up and down a road) while catching speeding citizens. Around this time, accidents can be attended too. These are more involving, as you essentially need to figure out who’s to blame, and whether anyone should be arrested. The focus is on being throughout, taking photos of the damage, breathalysing citizens, and searching cars for illegal items. Being sloppy harms your reputation and results in an incomplete report.
Around 2-3 hours in, a vehicle finally unlocks. This is where things become moderately more entertaining. You can now order citizens to pull over – again, only if you have a valid reason, such as failing to stop at a red light, or a smoky exhaust – and you may discover that they have a warrant for their arrest. Occasionally, some will try to flee – and this is about as exciting as Police Simulator gets.
When in a vehicle, you’re encouraged to follow the rules and set an example. This means using indicators, sticking to speed limits, and staying in your lane. Controlling a vehicle is initially cumbersome, with almost every button on the joypad accolated an action. For these reasons, I preferred to walk the streets. An online partner can also join your shift, although it appears that more XP is earned playing solo. Presumably, though, it’s possible to arrest more people when playing in a team as one player can take perps back to the holding cells while the other patrols.
The presentation is slicker than you may expect. The UI is easy to navigate, using a radial menu for not just your inventory but also choices when talking to the public. The voice acting is above average, while character models are a mixed bag – the main characters are detailed, while pedestrians look a little uncanny valley. The city itself mostly looks great – especially at night – utilizing the benefits of the Unreal Engine such as realistic shadows, lighting, and reflections. It still falls foul of the usual problems associated to open-world city games, with AI occasionally behaving oddly, or even glitching, and cars blocking the street seemingly unable to navigate past an obstacle.
While I did find taking in the city’s sights and slapping tickets on illegally parked cars cathartic (I have a disdain for bad parking in real life) I did wonder who this is aimed at. More so, who would enjoy it? The ‘patrol’ part of the game’s title rings true – you’re mostly patrolling irregularly quiet streets while waiting for an accident to happen, and even then, nothing greatly changes from one RTC to the next. I dare say most of the enjoyment comes from inadvertently causing trouble by disregarding the handbook, which in turn, may make this amusing to stream.
If you’ll excuse the weak pun, Police Simulator: Patrol Officers is ultimately rather…pedestrian.
astragon Entertainment‘s Police Simulator: Patrol Officers is out Nov 10th on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, and Xbox One. It first launched on PC in 2021.