"This is essentially not cool." So said my character, Dan Miles, on a case gone wrong. Man. Etc. It has become my refrain for the entire game. But oh, oh but oh, it's a game that's trying so very, very hard to fit in.
COP, as its title so excitedly shouts, desperately wants to hang around with GTA. It sees GTA in the playground, watching it scuff its boots against the wall with the other cool kids, staring enviously at the apparent ease with which the rock star game emits its nonchalant air. If COP could just cultivate such an image, surely GTA would accept it, consider it a peer? COP bought clothes that looked like GTA's, kinda, different logos but the same from a distance. It wrote Tippex swear words all over its pencil case just like it had seen GTA do. It tried putting some gel in its hair to get rid of that damned side parting. But GTA still never looks up when COP walks past in the corridor.
If you ignore the technical problems that make COP missable, it's this misfired attempt to be cool that makes the whole experience more unappealing. They've created a large, detailed three-island rendition of New York. They've filled it with different models of cars, ambulances, fire engines, speed boats, dirt buggies and monster trucks. There's piles of missions and optional side-missions. There's guns to shoot and people to shoot at with them. But COP really is the nerdy kid who doesn't quite get it.
The main story is a mess. From an opening cut-scene that has neither dialogue nor meaning, but instead a series of disconnected images, what's actually going on is a mystery. But not an interesting one. You, it seems, are a criminal who's gone straight and joined the cops of New York. Occasionally you have memories of a time in snowy Jersey from your wild past (of driving quite fast), recalled as you begin to get involved in less wholesome activities in the present day. Some other guy, Brad Winter, who's in prison at the start for reasons that aren't clearly explained, is the guy who got you the police job, and he encourages you to do some dodgy activities from your new position of power.
You also get involved in some racing gangs of equally dubious repute, further questioning your ethics. But I cannot stress enough how much I've misrepresented the reality of the game in that description, accidentally giving it some narrative sense in hindsight. As you play it's really just a series of unconnected and irrational conversations with characters you've not been introduced to in any useful way. Oh, and there's the terrorist called the Bomb Zombie. Oh dear.
So instead you check your missions and go off to complete them without a good sense of why. It has a fair mix of these. There's car chases, shootouts, sneaky-stealth sections, races, time trials, and so on. When considering this, and the genuinely impressive scale of the city on a DS, you have to recognise its accomplishments. At first glance it looks really impressive - "Wow, I didn't know the DS could do that." But it doesn't withstand a closer look at any section in detail.
Will you support Eurogamer?
We want to make Eurogamer better, and that means better for our readers - not for algorithms. You can help! Become a supporter of Eurogamer and you can view the site completely ad-free, as well as gaining exclusive access to articles, podcasts and conversations that will bring you closer to the team, the stories, and the games we all love. Subscriptions start at £3.99 / $4.99 per month.