Monday, April 30, 2012

Hutch Games Ltd: Smash Cops

Smash Cops by Hutch is a game in which you play RoboCop if RoboCop was a police car instead of a police robot. In the world I live in, the word arrest means to accost a lawbreaker with the minimum necessary force to allow the arresting officer to charge the individual with whatever crime they have committed. In the world of Smash Cops, the word arrest means to render the lawbreaker’s vehicle (and presumably the human contents of said vehicle) to a charred mess. Perhaps in this world, people are cars, and this is just the logical violent extension of the Pixar film Cars’ anthropomorphic four-wheeled characters.

The problems with this otherwise enthusiastic game begin with the fact that you cannot listen to a podcast while playing. The game’s audio overrides any external audio upon startup, even when you have silenced all in-game audio. This seems like a move of arrogance for two reasons: firstly, any application which overrides the primary functionality on what is essentially a glorified MP3 player for nonessential reasons demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the platform; and secondly, the game is not nearly rich enough to warrant a demand of one’s full attention regardless. This kind of override is annoying (and thankfully, is going out of fashion in iOS games), but is almost forgivable on a complex story-driven game, or one which makes use of its sound design in a fundamental way, but in this case, the 70s cop show knockoff theme tunes are--while amusing--not nearly amusing enough to warrant such a hobbling of the user’s device.

Further problems include repetitive level design, not helped by the relatively few ways you can effectively confront situations; properly annoying in-app purchases; and a disappointingly shallow collectible system (more on that later).This is another conceptually interesting game marred by a lack of follow through. That being said, I do believe this could have been something special, and now that my pessimism is out of the way, I can gush over how much fun the concept is, and over the few things it does well. Phew!

The controls are properly innovative. To best understand, a metaphor: imagine your fingers, nay, your whole body has turned into water. There is a droplet of oil in front of you. By putting your finger to one side of the droplet, it goes speeding off in the other direction, because of course, oil and water do not mix. This is how you drive your car in Smash Cops. Make sense? Also, this is how every iOS game should handle driving cars in the future. Please, heed my words, developers.

Most missions consist of trying to “arrest” a number of vehicles participating in gang activity, joyriding, or street racing. Remember of course, that in this game, an arrest is a euphemism for a vehicle which has been rendered a smoking carcass. The easiest way I’ve found to make an arrest is to pass an offending vehicle, pull a hairpin turn, and tap the screen for a “ram” boost ability, propelling your police vehicle headfirst into the front bumper of the criminal. This will execute a “smash” and hopefully an “arrest”. Other missions involve ones where you’re trying to race to a specific destination before pursuing vehicles destroy you, which are generally fairly simple, because your opponents tend to take themselves out in the process of trying bash into you.

My favourite mission has the description “Destroy as many illegally parked cars as possible” and suitably ended in carnage as I slid around a parking lot and the surrounding streets completely destroying vehicles parked in comically poor places, including one parked perpendicular to traffic in the middle of a road.

Sometimes other cops enter the fray, ostensibly in your support, but they mostly get in the way, and you are harshly penalized for destroying them, despite how bloody annoying they are. The mirthful violence and cops vs gangsters theme of this game reminded me pleasantly of Crackdown, and makes me wish that game had had driving missions like this one.

Smash Cops isn’t a bad game, it’s not a particularly good one either. There are much more interesting games available for the asking price, and to be perfectly honest, I feel a bit insulted by the in-app purchases, which consist of Super Cop powerups as well as early unlocks of cars. I really don’t feel those purchasing options were necessary in this game, though I suppose talking about in-app purchases in your design docs makes investors pretty happy, so I don’t really blame them. The controls are really pretty neat though, and this carmageddon has a charmingly RoboCop sense of humour. Your call on this one, Officer.

My rating:
I could...
A. Eat a bunch of donuts right now.
B. Take it.
C. Leave it.

PS. (on the semantics of collectables)
When I collect donuts in the world, don’t tell me I’m collecting pieces of donuts, when I am clearly collecting whole donuts. Furthermore, if I work hard each level to assemble a full donut out of three donut pieces, the least a game can do is acknowledge that with some sort of reward.

Now that I think about it, maybe the game is implying with the donut synecdoche that my cop is eating two thirds of each donut, leaving only a part, and requiring two more donuts to assemble those parts into a whole. Which is probably an off-hand insult to cops, because any reasonable person would just eat the two whole donuts and save the third to present back at the station, or to whoever it is that is so interested in this one-donut-per-level.

Let’s go easy on the persons in uniform, Hutch Games Ltd.

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