Tactical turn-based RPGs are very fashionable today. More than that, they are definitely a genre quickly on the rise, both in demand and in offer. The main reason is probably connected to the huge success of the X-Com series that brought back some old school gameplay mixing it with modern UIs, good graphics and quality of life improvements. Clones and vaguely-inspired titles are popping up like crazy and more are on the horizon; this is a good thing for us, the players, but it’s also a time where critics and analysis are needed the most.
More of the same, when that same is nice, is probably always good, but each dev puts in his own formula and in the end the dish ends up tasting different. What I mean is: it’s the time to be thorough and understand exactly what makes a good tactical turn-based RPG, what are the key elements, so we can recognize the really good ones and don’t waste money and time on sub-par experiences. This is the era of videogame abundance, but those two resources, money and time, are usually not that abundant in our lives.
Rebels with a cause
Rebel Cops is a spin-off of another cops-based game saga, This is the Police, a pretty interesting take on the whole managerial/tactical genre in which you manage a Police Station in their everyday chores. While the first one was a barebones managerial effort, the second one flashed out the experience introducing tactical combat and continuing the narrative quality tradition with an intriguing story. Both games had issues, notably the second one that had irritating difficulty spikes and a lackluster tactical combat part. Given this, it is both puzzling and intriguing that Weappy Studios decided to focus precisely on the tactical combat. My positive-minded side thought this was a good idea as the whole police tactics mojo is unique and potentially very interesting, while my negative minded one frowned upon the pitfalls in which the devs fell in with This is the Police 2.
So, Rebel Cops puts you in charge of a band of renegade policemen that, because of rampant corruption, decided to take justice in their own hands in the small town of Ripton. The objective is Viktor Zuev, a Russian mafia boss who basically owns the city and that you will have to take down, one mission after the other. And when we say that, we mean exactly that…missions are linear and previously scripted. There is no randomization nor procedurally generated stuff. Your police squad is also always the same with no way of customizing anything. Rebel Cops focuses straightly on the management of team and inventory, and on tactical combat.
Every battle is won before it begins
Every cop can be equipped with weapons, accessories, protective gear that you can buy in the store, where you can also sell objects that you find during missions. Cops have also experience; when one of them grows he gets one point to spend in strength, shooting or speed. When you do that you also get one or more perks providing special bonuses. When those three stats are maxed out (at three points) that cop just stops growing and he is basically maxed out and full of powerful abilities. There are no classes, no alternative growing paths, no abilities. Again, a lot has been cut out in Rebel Cops, supposedly to make you focus on what counts: barebones team management and tactical combat.
Before getting into missions, you have one last thing to do: listen to citizens and see if you want to accept their objectives in the particular map you are going to face. It’s most of the time just about searching particular objects, but from time to time you also get to liberate hostages or some other interesting ones I’d rather not spoil.
Satisfying the citizens’ objectives is also connected to another side objective, that of keeping the people of Ripton on your side. You do that by being a good cop, this means arresting rather than shooting (and of course achieving the people’s objective as we said). This is an interesting mechanic as in fact, it changes completely the way you’d approach the tactical combat.
X-Com recipe with added elements
Shooting your way is always possible but hardly recommendable as you do need people backing both for money and resources and for popular support, a sort of currency that you can spend to activate very handy one-time abilities for your team (like a general overwatch, or a bonus in shooting, or higher protection).
So, how do you arrest someone? Well, you can just shout at them, or baton them to submission, pepper spray or taze them…once you have done that you will have to get there and handcuff them (and they will then disappear). Shouting chance of success depends on how far you are and how experienced is the cop, while using your baton never fails, but needs proximity.
Rebel Cops uses action points system similar to X-Com in which you have two points to spend in moving or in shooting or in another action (like handcuffing, batoning, shouting).
By now you have probably figured out that the tactical part is similar to a puzzle in which you have to constantly weight success chances, the safety of your cops (cover), popular support and something very important… the awareness of the enemy. Whenever you open fire or do something loud, in fact, enemies will investigate and, if they see something suspicious, they will raise the alarm. At this point, it’s basically free for all and almost all the enemies in the map will converge on you.
The last thing you need to know here is the damage system. Every part of the body has different chances to hit and different consequences. Hit the head and it’s instadeath, hit the chest and the enemy will bleed out in three turns, hit the hand and the enemy won’t be able to shoot and bleed out in six turns, hit the legs and he won’t move and bleed out in six turns. It works for you and the enemy. You will be able to use helmets and bulletproof jackets, but Rebel Cops doesn’t fool around, there is permadeath and only three saves available per mission.
Then everything falls apart
The recipe is, on paper, really interesting but it is marred but a lot of problems, unfortunately.
First of all, one of the most problematic is the lack of information. You won’t know the cones of attention of enemies, how far they see or hear and where you can step safely. It’s basically tried and error, which is a very bad decision in this kind of games, and will result in a lot of save-scumming.
Second worst offender is the AI. Enemies will often run at you mindlessly, standing out in the open with no cover just for you to pick and shoot like sitting ducks. I have never seen the enemy try something interesting, not even a basic encirclement.
Third, maps are too big for their own good, which results in you having to navigate all your cops in empty areas to reach action, wasting a lot of time doing basically nothing.
Besides these very problematic issues, there are also some minor, like the very limited personality of your cops (they all end up being the same in the end) and the fact that animations are lengthy and not skippable (a similar issue that Battletech had at launch).
Graphically, the game has a pleasant style and good music that will make the experience at least visually and audibly acceptable. The writing is plain and the story is straightforward and pretty devoid of any surprises. The interface could use some more work as a lot of times I miss-clicked due to a representation of information on the map that is not that clear nor clean.
All in all Rebel Cops has some good ideas and a streamlined approach (with an affordable price) that are almost completely ruined by bad design decisions and technical shortcomings (AI). Tactical RPGs are popping out everywhere in these days and there is no shortage of good ones, without even resorting to champions like X-Com, Banner Saga, and the likes. Rebel Cops is probably something that you can try, just for the sake of curiosity, when it gets even cheaper.