Sim-plicity: I am a police chief

Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he puts on policeman's hat, holsters a pistol, then hangs up the hat and puts the pistol in a desk drawer. It's time to be a police chief.

We all know from a reliable source (every action movie ever) that police chief is essentially a desk job. You yell into phones, you drink stale coffee, you call those two trouble-making cops, Murtaugh and Cash, into your office to chew them out for all the damage they've caused to the city while working the Tandino murder, a case you've specifically ordered them NOT to work, and threaten to have them busted down to traffic duty if they don't clean up their act because the mayor has been screaming at you all morning.

In Police Simulator 2: Law and Order , my first job as police chief is to recruit some patrolmen to fill the completely empty police station I've been put in charge of. Once done, I must form them into Foot Patrol Action Teams, which is a terrible name for a group of police who wish to be taken seriously. Foot Patrol Action Team sounds like an off-brand children's educational cartoon and action figure toy line*, where they encourage kids to always walk on the sidewalk, not talk to strangers, and teach them a song about how to cross the street safely. "Cross on the green! Not in between! Don't talk to that man! In his windowless van! Foot Patrol Action Teeeeeeeeam!"

*Foot Patrol Action Team and Foot Patrol Action Team Feet sold separately.

My next task is to send my Foot Patrol Action Team out onto the streets to fight crime by checking the identification of random pedestrians. Okay, I will send out my wait what now? Checking pedestrian IDs? Sending cops out onto the sidewalk to stop citizens and check their papers? What is this place I'm the police chief of, exactly? 1940's Berlin? Cold War Russia? Present-day Arizona?

Well, as long as I get a new car out of the deal, right? I send out my cops to dutifully harass citizens who have committed the crime of living in this city and thinking they could just walk around with their civil rights intact. My cops root through pockets and purses from dawn until dusk, and I'm rewarded by being allowed to purchase a patrol car, which I can then park on the street and use to check more citizen IDs.

After forming a squad to sit in the patrol car and bully the citizenry into not being criminals, I'm instructed to buy surveillance cameras and radar speed traps. Nothing makes people feel safer than cameras staring down at them accusingly from every corner of their city, right? And automated camera ticketing is great, even though several studies have shown they may actually increase accidents and actually lose revenue for the police department despite inflated ticket costs. Soon, my citizens will be broke from paying exorbitant ticket fines, tired of being hassled in the streets for their ID, and just stay huddled in their homes, my cameras watching them through their windows, and then, only then, will everyone truly be safe.

(Full disclosure: Yes, I got a $400 ticket from one of those cameras, and I'm still a bit miffed about it.)

With my city well on its way to becoming a fascist nightmare, it's probably time I actually, you know, caught a couple criminals! A robbery is reported, and I send my Foot Patrol Gestapo Teams running en masse to the address. It takes a while: my cops, perhaps themselves nervous of being captured on camera fracturing a law, reach the address by running safely along the sidewalks and crossing streets at the corners. Hey, my boys in blue don't jaywalk just because they're chasing a murderer! They remain pure , knowing that running across lawns and crossing in the middle of the block is a gateway crime; next they'd be loitering or trying to buy beer on Sunday. Still, the perp is eventually apprehended, as is, later, a murderer and another robber.

One of my thugs even reports in that he's prevented a murder by checking pedestrian IDs. I wonder how that works. Did the pedestrian's ID card read BOB MURDERER, of 666 KILLINGDEATH ROAD, STABVILLE? Is this a Minority Report situation, and a few of the members of my Foot Patrol Action Team are submerged in glowing water tanks back at the station, twitching and kicking their Foot Patrol Feet as they predict future crimes? Or, did one of my officers just see a suspicious guy (a foreigner, for example, or perhaps someone just wearing a hoodie) and figure he was probably going to murder someone? Who cares, it's a pre-solved pre-murder, the best kind of murder! Soon, we'll have the technology to execute citizens as they show up to apply for their mandatory ID cards. It's an exciting time to be (briefly) alive!

My jurisdiction grows, I hire more cops, buy more cars, plant more cameras, check more IDs, arrest more crooks. I get to hire two undercover cops, who I send to investigate the reports of a smuggling ring. They call in when they reach their destination, saying, and I quote: "Secret agent reporting in position." Um, cool story, undercover bro, but you probably shouldn't actually say "Secret agent" on the phone, or anywhere. Shouldn't you be using code? Like, "This is the farmer, the eggs are in the basket, repeat, eggs are in the basket. Will advise when they're ready for scrambling. Farmer out." Anyone overhearing that would simply think you were a busy farmer attending to his egg-related business using a telephone in an urban environment in the middle of the night.

A few days later, I hit a small snag. It seems that despite having streets filled with surveillance cameras and around-the-clock ID checkpoints, my city has one small problem: it's a huge terrible cesspool of unchecked criminal activity. I was supposed to be keeping my public safety level over 40% for two days, and it's instead plummeted to 25%.

Well, perhaps a new approach is in order. I know it sounds radical, but I pull all of my officers off ID checking duty, and instead send them on foot and car patrols into the areas of the city with the worst crime. I take resources from the safest neighborhoods and distribute them to the most dangerous. Instead of sending every single marked unit in the city to a robbery or stabbing, I send only the closest units and wait to hear if they request backup. I even hire several social scientists to create a report on residential instability in neighborhoods with a low socioeconomic status and gauge the effect on the crime rate to help me address the real root of the crime problem instead of simply relying on enforcement and punishment.

Just kidding about that last one; it's not quite that exquisite a simulation. In fact, it turns out it's more of a strategy game, where you create and micromanage individual units. Still, having abandoned my ID checks and redistributed my forces, the public safety rating rises almost overnight from 25% to 64%. Then, disaster: a nuclear strike occurs, or at least that's what I assume happens, as my screen goes completely white, and the game crashes to desktop, and I realize I haven't actually saved the game in like three days, and I don't really feel like redoing all the police stuff I did, so I don't.

Conclusion : Well, I never got to team up a grizzled veteran detective a few days from retirement with a reckless loose-cannon cop and secretly hope they solved the case that I constantly told them I didn't want them investigating. But, once I relaxed my iron grip on the city, I turned out to be a decent police chief. Except for that nuke going off. Maybe I should have left a couple units out there frisking citizens after all.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.