I’ve always tried to think of videogames in terms of verbs, at least since a smarter friend told me that’s what he does. Run and jump are a given; shoot (or punch, or emit flame at, or eat with your huge weird tongue) is right behind them. There are so many underserved verbs, though, in videogames; the running joke is to lament the lack of a hug button, but honestly, no matter how complex or wide-ranging a game’s scope is, verbs in general stick pretty close to a tight, unimaginative core.
Weird verbs are my favorite! Eat is a surprisingly common one for Nintendo, between Yoshi and Kirby, and it goes back to at least Pac-Man (although it’s a consequence of motion, there, so it’s questionable as a verb). If I had to define what I mean when I say verb, it’d be something like: a single explicitly programmed action, directly tied to a controller input, that achieves a unique outcome. So: move counts as a verb, but move up and move down aren’t separate ones. Walljump, though, should be treated as a separate verb from jump because it’s precipitated on different starting conditions; you can jump from anywhere, but you can only walljump from the wall. Obviously. That’s pretty arguable, too! If you want to call it a verb and you’re not just being stupid, we’ll find some common ground to yell at each other on, I’m sure.
So, there’s one verb that I’ve had a soft spot for since quite some time ago: arrest. A (reasonably) non-violent form of enemy pacification! It’s a pretty rare verb, to the point that I could only remember or uncover a handful of examples. First, though, here’s a list of games about cops that lack it, and are mostly pretty happy to equate “justice” with “bullets”:
– NARC (1988)
– Virtua Cop
– Future Cop: LAPD
– Dynamite Cop
– Max Payne
– Urban Chaos: Riot Response
– Sleeping Dogs
– NARC (2005)
All of them, basically! It’s understandable; it’s really cathartic for most of us to inflict violence upon simulated things, and that’s fine. It’s really unfortunate when it’s in the service of normalizing extraordinary violent action taken by taxpayer-funded public servants, but hey: Videogames, right?
Anyway, yeah. Here’s a bunch of cool games that I might not have played, but in which you can peaceably incapacitate individuals via restraints, rather than tiny ventilation holes.
#4. Battlefield: Hardline
Okay, this is why I put the disclaimer on here. I’ve never once played Battlefield: Hardline. It looks cool enough! I hear a lot of complaints about it being crappy or whatever, but the Venn diagram of the people who complain about perennial franchises and the people who only play multiplayer is basically a circle, so that doesn’t bother me none. The campaign looks as neat as these things get! As militarily fetishistic as ever, of course, but cool in a bad-movie kinda way. I wish blockbuster action games didn’t have to settle for that, but here we are.
Hardline actually has an arrest button. Well – kind of. It has a “freeze” button, which makes you hold up your badge in one hand and yell (quietly, apparently, since it doesn’t seem to trigger other enemies) while still aiming your gun, because of course you always have a gun in hand. That’s cool, though! None of these other games let you show your badge, or get people to give up at long range like that. I guess it mostly ties into the stealth gameplay, since if you go in guns blazing you’re not gonna get a chance to arrest too many corpses.
That’s kind of the problem with it, too: it’s absolutely cosmetic. I’ve heard stories of grinding, scraping, wheezing ludonarrative dissonance on a pretty high level; where you spend an hour creeping through a mission, stealthily incapacitating every single enemy and quietly exiting without firing a single shot, only to be met with a cutscene where you dash from the building, out of breath, and your partner says, “DAMN, SON, YOU A REAL KILLER, CAN’T BELIEVE YOU SHOT EVERYBODY IN THERE” – and pardon me for paraphrasing. It kinda makes the effort feel a lot more hollow, and fake. Still: I’ll take lip-service over nothing at all!
#3: Urban Chaos
Yeah, I had to pull some pretty deep cuts to put this article together.
Urban Chaos is a completely forgotten and heavily underrated acrobatic beat-’em-up that literally came out last millennium. In context, its janky controls and weird level design are forgivable as artifacts of its era, which is great because its controls are pretty janky, and its level design is pretty weird.
You can play Urban Chaos as a cool young lady cop or as a beardy old guy cop, but the beardy old guy cop is strictly worse (he’s “slow but strong”, which is useless in a game where you either get a three hit melee KO or get shot to death from across the map), so: you play Urban Chaos as a cool young lady cop. She’s not even white, which is amazing! It’s fairly bog-standard action gameplay, a lot of running and climbing and punching with long-distance weapon pickups. On the whole it’s a pretty decent transposition of Double Dragon to 3D, which I’m still amazed we don’t see more people try to do since we’ve been able to for 20 years.
Anyway: Urban Chaos’s version of arresting still requires you to knock the bad guys down, which leaves it with a lingering air of police brutality still. Considering how far down that path every non-listed game starring a cop goes, though, it’s really quite tame; the rhetoric is still really unfortunate, but it could be so much worse. Even its ostensible sequel, the completely-unrelated PS2-era fruitless-attempt-at-enfranchisement FPS Urban Chaos: Riot Response (which is a really neat game in and of itself, with the same hefty chunkiness that Rocksteady’s later Batman games have) is just about Exerting Lethal Force on bad guys in goofy outfits. Urban Chaos at least has the good graces to nod customarily at the sign on the door that says “COPS OUGHTN’T KILL PEOPLE BY DEFAULT”, which I guess makes it better than real life?
For real: I like this game plenty, even if it has a handful of extremely frustrating missions and doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. Good memories, you know?
#2: S.W.A.T. 3
I’m going to drop the periods and assume you know what I’m talking about from here on out. SWAT 3 has the dubious distinction of being one of very few FPS games spun-off from Sierra adventure properties! The first game in the series, Police Quest: SWAT, was a godawful mistake of FMV gameplay and police procedural, and nobody had any fun with it at all. Police Quest itself was known for a pretty decent adherence to real police ethics and procedures, at least in the first couple of games. 2 is my personal favorite, while my dad’s copy of 3 was always unplayable and IV, which I excitedly hunted down over a couple of years as a teen, was the most unfortunate, gross, stupid murder mystery I’ve ever played; there’s a Lost Forever item in the VERY FIRST SCENE that renders the game unbeatable, which you don’t find out until almost the end, and then when you beat the game for the second time because of this, you find out it was some random insane transperson murderer living in an abandoned theatre. I Could Not Possibly Make This Up (™).
Police Quests 1 and 2 both had a few hilariously Sierra insta-”kill” scenes where, if you forgot to do something simple like removing your gun holster before walking into a government building or airport or something would end with you getting Busted Down to Sergeant, Mister. Which was great! But the SWAT series tried, from top to bottom, to be a real police simulator, to varying degrees of success. The original, as mentioned, was an FMV game – so, unplayable – but still did its best to punish the player for bad decisions and not following protocol, which is admirable. SWAT 2 was a top-down real-time strategy game about infiltrating fortified locations while administering minimal casualties; in other words, actual police work, but on a grander scale, something more like being a commander or captain.
SWAT 3, sort-of-but-not-really subtitled “Close Quarters Battle”, is an FPS! But actually a decently innovative one, although it does crib literally the entire playbook from the original Rainbow Six. One or multiple teams of cops infiltrate… well, I mean, it’s the SWAT 2 description – but from a first-person perspective! You control one specific cop, usually the team lead, and honestly I forget if you can switch mid-game but I feel like no, you can’t. (It’s been a while.)
What I do recall are two things, both of which kowtow to my weird, esoteric, idiot tastes:
1) TOTAL BALLISTIC SIMULATION. I am a sucker for physics engines and weird collision effects, and this is the first game I remember that actually bothered to let bullets penetrate materials kinda realistically. If you knew an enemy combatant was behind a wall, for instance, you could just shoot them through it, assuming you accounted for it keranging in a random direction when it came through the wall. It was awesome, and amazing, and something games still don’t bother to do, for some reason! You’d lose a boatload of points for it, of course, because this is a game about pretending to be a police officer, but whatever, that’s what save-scumming is for.
2) ARRESTING PEOPLE, obviously. SWAT 3 is notable for being the only game on this list that forced you to holster your weapon while attempting to arrest someone – meaning you couldn’t just hit the Arrest Key in the middle of laying down suppressive fire, but had to wait for a safe, calm moment to do so. Mostly they’d hang out with their hands up once you yelled at them and held a gun to their face – just like in real life!
(I like to pretend that there’s an alternate universe where SWAT 3, specifically, is responsible for the stickup-shuffle-shuffle thing you can do to enemy soldiers in Metal Gear Solid 2.)
Honestly, the SWAT series, in retrospect, gets a ton of things right in this sub-sub-genre (of which it seems to be the only series interested in exploring, you know?) – all of them could have had a place on this list, since they all let you – hell, practically require you to – arrest perps or lose tons of points on your debriefing review. Police Quest: SWAT didn’t really give you another choice, but SWAT 2 nailed the overall tactics, while SWAT 3 and SWAT 4 – both very similar takes on the FPS side of things, and did you know SWAT 4 was made by a pre-Bioshock Irrational Games? Yeah nobody else either! – made it all very personal and intense. One thing all four games do: randomization. No mission is memorizable, no mission is quite the same twice. Sometimes things will start off in such a way that a good conclusion is almost impossible to achieve, and sometimes things will start off half-solved for you. Either way, they’re less frustrating about it than modern roguelikes, since it’s a lot less about generating infinite content, and a lot more about keeping even experienced players on their toes.
#1: Judge Dredd
Here it is: the reason I wrote this list. The first game I ever played with an Arrest Button (specifically, X). Judge Dredd is one of those movie-adaptation games that Should Not Be. At least, one of the ones that Should Not Be This Good.
Judge Dredd is, simultaneously: a satirical post-fascist British comic book; an unforgivably unwatchable ugly thing of a film starring Sylvester Stallone; and this, this fascinatingly just-good-enough video game, gleaning a little bit of its identity from both of its source materials without really bothering to do justice to either. But that’s okay! Judge Dredd, at least on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, is a pretty solid shooty jumpy exploration game. (On the Game Gear, it’s just barely playable. On any other platform – you are on your own.)
Judge Dredd (The Person) is a terrifying human being – literally, of course, judge, jury, and executioner. It’s extremely satisfying, then, that when you play as him, enemies will try to surrender at the slightest provocation. It’s a weird sort of mechanic; it always takes a couple of shots to soften them up and make them want to surrender, which makes it extremely easy to “accidentally” kill them. This isn’t helped by how many different kinds of ammo you get for your one gun with a million different modes; for example, there are Rubber Bullets, which you’d assume would be totally excellent for non-lethal suppression! Unfortunately, they’re completely useless, since the surrender threshold seems to be damage-based, meaning that any bullet that doesn’t do a bunch of Actual Damage just doesn’t do anything.
Some enemies will never surrender, either, which means you have to kill them. That’s not so different from the other games on this list, or real life, I guess; that sort of thing actually happens. Once you convince them to do so, though, you’ve got about ten seconds before they change their minds and start murdering you again. No rhyme or reason, really; just a videogame, nothing to see here.
Further to that point: once you’ve finally made it through all of the prerequisites for arresting somebody, you stand next to their supine form and push the Arrest Button. Dredd claps some cuffs on them and then a magical platform from out of nowhere comes flying along and hauls them off to jail.
(Note also: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)
So, yeah; I’m never going to try to argue that Judge Dredd revolutionized the rhetoric of police procedure in video games. But… it sort of did? So never mind, ignore that prior statement. Here’s a new one!
“The videogame adaptation of Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 starring vehicle Judge Dredd revolutionized the rhetoric of police protocol in side-scrolling action videogames, against all wisdom, logic, and odds.”
(- M. Alasdair MacKenzie, 2015)
Okay! I think that’s everything I think about arrest buttons. Thanks for hustling through all that; I hope you’ve got a new appreciation for video games that let you do things others don’t. Next time, on Videogame Verbs: barf!
Hahaha, just kidding.
Or… am I?