January 26, 2012 | Andy Boxall
Smash Cops is a brilliant idea. It’s based on those thousands of police pursuit-type TV shows that feature nothing but the cops chasing down a suspect, all shot from a police helicopter. They’re trash of the highest order, but compelling and exciting trash nonetheless. Making a game using that exact formula is inspired, and Smash Cops is the result.
Viewed from above – complete with the continuous whirr of the helicopter’s rotors – you must pursue and apprehend a variety of criminals from street racers to escaping bank robbers, plus complete side missions including time-based challenges such as answering an emergency call on time.
You start in a standard police patrol car, but as you earn more stars from completing levels, you can upgrade to one of four other vehicles. Each vehicle has its own set of stats, and some are more suited to particular missions than others.
A big red arrow points the way to your suspect, and once you’re in range it’s time to smash them into submission. Rear-ending another car doesn’t cause any damage, and you need to get alongside or in front to cause a full-on ‘smash’, which eventually results in an arrest once the vehicle’s energy bar has been depleted.
Smash Cops looks gorgeous, thanks to specially enhanced graphics for the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, and some highly detailed cars and environments. The addition of the TV feed-style timer and opening cut scenes really makes the game feel special too. It’s a fun world to drive around, with scenery that can be obliterated, civilian cars to be knocked out of the way and plenty of neat touches like skid marks on the roads and bouncy suspension on the cars.
The developers have come up with an unusual control system for Smash Cops. Pressing a dot behind your police car sets it in motion, and it then follows your left or right movements as you make them. Think of it like the touch systems found on various iOS shooters – Esgaluda II and Battle Squadron for example – and you’re on the right track. A tap on the screen makes your car surge forward, a move used to ram suspects cars and do maximum damage. There are no brakes, no accelerator and nothing to do but steer. It really couldn’t be much simpler.
It’s partially successful, but does cause confusion when you find yourself facing the wrong way and need to do an about-turn, and the lack of brakes makes challenges needing precision practically impossible. However, it’s not the controls that are the main problem with Smash Cops, it’s the poor handling of the cars.
Turning a corner must either be done with a wide-angle sweep around or a speed-sapping, tire squealing slide, which usually results in sliding off the road. There’s no middle ground, and no way to control the slide to corner faster. As there’s so little finesse in the controls, any attempt to weave in and out of traffic is pointless too, and it slows the game down terribly.
It’s not the end of the world, but Smash Cops is so close to being a great game, the awful handling ruins the experience. The cars get a little better when you unlock new ones, but not to the extent the problems disappear.
Smash Cops is also a bit short at just 22 levels, and it can easily be completed in a couple of hours. Fine, you can try for the Game Center achievements and 5-stars on each level, but that’s hardly a decent substitute for extra levels. Oh, and watch out for ‘opportunities’ to use in-app purchases to unlock all the cars or buy ‘super cop’ extras to make those tough levels easier to pass. Why is it we need these on a $2.99/£1.99 game?
Smash Cops recalls the classic Chase HQ and various Burnout games, and also Reckless Getaway on the iPhone. It has the makings of a really great game, but falls short thanks to the poor handling of the cars.
- Great graphics and sound, plus plenty of detail on the cars.
- Universal for the iPhone and iPad.
- An excellent premise which has a lot of potential.
- Control system takes a little getting used too, and can get confused in some situations.
- Poor car handling makes high-speed cornering and precision control almost impossible.
- It’s all over much too quickly.
- In-app purchases aren’t needed.