I try and play every throwback first-person shooter that comes out. I feel like they hit the mark more often than not, and I’m glad there’s still this much interest in the genre Half-Life mutated so long ago. Fashion Police Squad (its initials are FPS, get it?) is visually pitch-perfect. And it has a lot of intriguing ideas that are as humorous as they are creative. The game certainly has more to set it apart than most do. Unfortunately, it’s also let down at times by uneven difficulty, extremely cramped, linear levels, and some design choices that would have been better off taken to a nearby tailor.
The titular squad (which actually appears to just be two people) is made up of Des and his partner Haley. They’re literally fashion police, so they show up on the scene whenever people commit fashion crimes. These include such faux pas as wearing too many dull colors, wearing ill-fitting clothes, or wearing socks with sandals. But there’s something strange about the number of cases they’re seeing. Naturally, it’s up to Des to get to the bottom of things and stop the influx of fashion crimes.
It’s a cute setup and there’s a fair amount of dialogue in Fashion Police Squad. The script is loaded with puns and it elicits enough chuckles to be worth a gander. There are a number of extremely silly plot twists that had me smirking, which is a bit different, as throwback shooters aren’t known for having much going on outside of the gameplay and level design.
The presentation is just awesome. Fashion Police Squad is a pretty standard ‘2.5D’ shooter, but the sprites for the weapons and characters are as detailed as they are charming. The levels and enemies are also absolutely dripping with personality as well, making the game a knockout on the presentation front.
Don’t go out like that
In a surprising twist, almost all of Fashion Police Squad‘s weapons have infinite ammo. They and the game’s foes tie into the aforementioned fashion crime setup. You start out with a paintball gun that you’ll predominately use to splash color on dull enemies. Then you get a machine gun that tailors clothes until they fit. There are also little gnomes that act like grenades, a water gun that shrinks clothes, and a BFG-type weapon that you get towards the end of the game that has very little ammo.
The shooting and movement controls are exactly what you’d expect from a ’90s-style FPS, as those are honestly hard to screw up. But there a couple additions. Most weapons have a secondary fire with a special attack. Des can also use his belt as a melee weapon. It additionally lets him swing from certain objects, which either damages or stuns depending on the enemy.
What are you wearing?
There’s a lot of variety to the roster of foes and they’re all wildly different. They range from men in grey suits throwing briefcases, to women in potato sacks and guys wearing saggy pants. Everything here is delightfully silly, which is a fairly large departure from the usual dimly-lit, gore-soaked shooters we’re used to.
There are 13 main missions in Fashion Police Squad, three of which are boss battles. The game will take most people roughly five to six hours. It’s a fair amount shorter than most FPS games, but it also doesn’t wear out its welcome or allow itself to grow stale. The levels here are much more linear than you might expect, however. You mostly take a straight shot through the levels, guided by waypoints to make sure you’re always moving forward. Instead of keys, you need scissors to bypass colored gates. But the game is never about wandering or searching to find the way forward, as levels tend to loop you back toward your objective. I’m not crazy about this style of level design, but at least the pacing is focused and snappy.
The first half of the game mostly satisfied me. I was impressed and definitely leaning toward giving it an 8.5, especially considering said first half ends with one of the best boss battles I’ve ever seen in retro shooter. But things sadly start to get as sloppy as a jacket that’s a few sizes too large. Fashion Police Squad has a very agreeable difficulty curve up to this point, as it mostly makes sure you’re comfortable with the mechanics as it briskly offers up new ones. But it doesn’t take long for the game to introduce a healthy amount of frustration.
One of the game’s biggest problems is the way damaging enemies works. Specific weapons need to be used on specific enemies. It’s necessary to constantly switch between weapons during combat encounters. Fashion Police Squad isn’t all that difficult, but it does get cheap and tedious in equal measure. Whenever a big group of different varieties of foes appears, that means that you have to use a single weapon to pick off the most threatening one, while avoiding attacks from their friends.
But there are too many instances where it feels impossible to avoid damage. The game introduces an enemy that uses fire at the midway point. It can summon fire right underneath you, even if they’re far enough away that you’ve got no idea they’re around. Of course, this compounds with the fact that you have to deal with individual types one at a time. If that were all there was to it, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. However, Fashion Police Squad‘s combat arenas are often tiny and it becomes a chore to maneuver around them. There’s just not enough room.
Just leave me alone
The first level after the second boss has you dealing with enemies in a subway station while you jump over electrified railroad tracks. You need to use the water gun to spray the floor to make it across the tracks while dealing with multiple enemies taking potshots at you, all while the fire enemy sets what little ground that isn’t electrified on fire. These sections are horrible, and are the kind of thing that will keep me from ever playing the game again.
Unfortunately, Fashion Police Squad trots out these sorts of situations time and again. Another level has you fighting hordes of foes on narrow rooftops. Belly-flopping enemies threated to knock you off the roof, while two other kinds of enemies shoot at you while there’s nowhere to run. You have a chargeable super attack that gives you about 20 seconds of invulnerability, and the ability to teleport to foes and take them out with a melee attack. But it takes so long to charge that you can only really use it once a level. There are also encounters that seem designed with you using your super in mind. If you use it beforehand, you can make your life much harder. The BFG gun also gives you such little ammo that you almost never get to use it prior to the final boss fight.
I was simply aggravated an awful lot while playing this game. There’s also an enemy with an area buff that hurts you if you’re within her radius if you don’t take her out fast enough. In certain situations, there is nowhere to stand that will prevent you from taking damage. The gnome grenade is especially questionable, because you only use it on two enemies and it’s kind of awkward. Finally, Fashion Police Squad trots out platforming sections like Doom Eternal, but they require so much precision that they also got on my nerves. First-person platforming is something that almost never works well since the player can’t see where they’re landing.
Almost, but not quite
The final boss battle at the end of the game is clever, but it can’t compete with the level of fun and quality of the second one. It’s pretty decent for most of its duration, but, again, the last section gives way to extreme tedium as you spend minutes dodging the boss just to wait and wait for a chance to attack. Therein lies the problem with Fashion Police Squad‘s design philosophy: it’s more interested in being hard than it is in being fun, but instead of being hard, it’s consistently annoying.
I wish the game had quicksaves instead of checkpoints too, as many of said checkpoints force you to redo encounters far too often. It’s a real shame, because the concepts, general gameplay ideas, and visuals are all so good. But they can’t change the fact that I felt like I had to slog my way through the game’s obnoxious second half, even if the two sniping sequences and car chase level both focus on fun over tedium and remind me of how fantastic this game could have been.