March 23, 2015 by Tim

There aren’t a whole lot of games where you play as a cop, and I think the reasoning is fairly simple: real police work just isn’t much fun. It’s one part action and excitement and fifty parts paperwork and bureaucracy. There are too many rules involved with being an officer of the law to make for an exciting game.

Of course, simply ignoring the fact that these rules exist doesn’t work either. In the opening minutes of Hardline I kicked open a door, gunned down five drug dealers, then pursued a sixth in a destructive high-speed chase across town that ended in a flipped car. The followup? A pat on the back from my captain, and a new assignment that leads me right into another violent confrontation.

In this day and age of increased police accountability/scrutiny, it’s a little hard to swallow. 

The way I see it, if you want to tell a cop story in a game, there are a couple of ways you can go. The Law and Order way, where if an officer shoots someone, there are procedures and consequences, etc. You try and show, at least to some degree, the reality of it. I doubt anyone wants to play ten levels of filing paperwork.

Or, you could suspend disbelief and get crazy with it. Make the cop seem more like a cowboy or a super hero, a la Harry Callahan or John McLaine. That sort of thing is perfect for video games. There’s action, you can shoot some bad guys, etc. But like those movies, the narrative needs to be framed to include the exciting stuff, and yet leave the real world consequences unspoken.

What I mean is, it’s all well and good for John McLaine to kick some ass and kill fifty dudes at Nakitomi Plaza, save the day, etc. We all enjoy that ride. But in that reality, once the danger has subsided, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that some people are looking at months of paperwork after that mess. Insurance claims, wrongful death lawsuits, internal affairs investigations, maybe John has some underlying guilt etc. We don’t need to see any of that, it’s well enough for us to assume they all work their shit out before Die Hard 2.

If we saw John McLaine kill fifty dudes, wake up the next morning, go back to work and do it again, suddenly we’re wondering if he’s a police officer or a psychopath. And that’s the problem I’ve run into with my (admittedly limited) experience with the Battlefield Hardline campaign thus far. I’ve yet to see anyone bat an eye at the criminals I’ve offed in the line of duty. That sort of mentality flies in a warzone, I guess, but within US borders even killing bad guys should qualify for some sort of mention.

I imagine this is why we’re offered the chance to play the criminal, as in GTA and Payday, more often than the police officer. It’s just easier to create gameplay. You get all of the same action and excitement, and none of the boring consequences. Criminals don’t fill out paperwork after robbing a bank. A civilian got caught in the crossfire? So what, you’re a criminal. 

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