DISCLOSURE: This game was reviewed on the following platform: PC – Check out our Review Policy page for more information.
After being in development and early access for quite some time, Contraband Police was officially released on the 8th of March. The game is set in the 1980s, in the fictional ‘Acarist People’s Republic’ – a strict, Soviet-like country that heavily monitors and regulates border traffic, as well as everything else.
Your job in the game is to check every vehicle trying to get in or out of the country, which you do by checking the drivers’ passports, the car’s interior, and especially its exterior. Tear apart cars to find smuggled goods, transfer criminals to labor camps (no prisons here), and follow the storyline.
If seeing a preview of Contraband Police reminded you of ‘Papers, Please’, you’re definitely not the only one. The game seems to be heavily inspired by it, so let’s find out whether it’s just as good or not.
Let’s get it out right away – the game isn’t very visually appealing. All across-the-board graphics just don’t look like something the developer/s focused on too much.
You will likely find the character design bland and repetitive, with characters often being very similar to the ones before them. It looks like they’re mere placeholders, instead of what they actually are – targets of the main activity the game wants you to perform (searching, checking, arresting, transporting, etc.).
That being said, the game’s graphics are far from the worst.
We’ve seen a lot worse in the gaming industry, be it within the simulator genre or outside of it, but they could’ve been better for sure.
One thing that’s relatively well-made, at least visually, are the cars. We’ll get into the issue of their functionality a bit later in the review, but when it comes to graphics, they look pretty good.
Keep reading to find out whether or not the game makes up for lacking visuals in other departments.
Something that many consider far more important than graphics, especially in simulator games, is the gameplay itself. Whether you share this opinion or not, Contraband Police did a better job on this aspect of the game, though it’s definitely not perfect.
Your job consists of verifying documentation of drivers trying to leave/enter the country (cross-checking that dates are matching), physically checking their car thoroughly to make sure nothing is being smuggled in or out on your watch (this sometimes means chopping down the car with your axe), and occasionally transporting smugglers to labor camps.
Verifying documents gets very complicated at some point, as you have to check dozens of different things, but the difficulty ramps up gradually, so you’ll have time to get used to things before they get harder. This part of the game was very enjoyable, especially with the increasing difficulty.
The map is relatively small, but you do have the freedom to roam or drive around as it is an open-world game after all. You aren’t physically restricted from exploring, but by doing so you run the risk of crashing and damaging your car, or getting ambushed by members of the resistance group that’s rising up against the in-game government.
Killing bandits rewards you with some cash, but it’s rarely worth it as they will almost always ruin your car first, which costs money to repair.
Another reason to be careful when driving around is civilians – killing them, by accident or on purpose, results in your character getting fined, and these can be very expensive. Every wrong action will end up costing you money, and it can get very annoying losing so much over the simplest things.
Many simulator games have functionality issues – character movement, interacting with NPCs or items, driving, etc. – and Contraband Police is no exception. I’d be lying if I said the issues are too much to handle as you’re mostly going to encounter minor issues, but they are still present.
Driving is the least functional element of the game, after shooting, but we’ll leave that for the next category. Within a ten-hour-long playthrough, the number of times my car got stuck in a tree, a rock, or even nothing at all is too big to count. It isn’t game-breaking because you won’t need to drive very often, but it can be quite frustrating trying to unstuck your car every other time you do have to drive.
Cars aside, the game is relatively functional. Almost everything you do in the game will feel clunky, but it almost feels like it was intended to be that way.
Shooting, and combat in general, are, by far, the most poorly done element of the game.
First of all, there seems to be no rule as to how many bullets it takes to kill an enemy. Some bandits will die from one bullet, while others may take 5 to kill, regardless of headshots.
This gets very annoying after a while, and it’d be a much smoother experience if there was a pattern to figure out and follow, as is the case with combat in most games.
You’ll end up spending a hundred bullets every time your station gets raided by rebels, which would be enough to kill an army if headshots were guaranteed kills, for example, or even if each enemy took 3 body-shots to kill, instead of the potential 5.
To make up for pistols being awful, grenades are very effective. Many games somehow manage to make grenades feel like confetti that barely does anything, but that’s not the case with Contraband Police. Throw out one of these bad boys, and you won’t be disappointed by the damage. Being on the receiving end of one of them, however, does not feel as fun!
There isn’t too much that can be said without avoiding spoilers, and you’ll find none of those here. However, what’s certain is that there is a story, and playthroughs normally take 10 hours, more or less, depending on how much you focus on completing missions and progressing through the storyline.
The plot isn’t very deep or complex, but just the fact that one exists is acceptable for simulator games. Whether you want to or not, the game leads you through it but it does so “gently”, so it never really feels forced to go through it but rather natural instead.
As you progress through missions, you will encounter members of the resistance that will try to recruit you into their ranks, and you’ll have a choice between “joining the cause” or staying true to your country. Choices you make impact the ending, so it’s worth taking a moment or two to think about it.
Contraband Police Review
Overall, the game is a decent way to kill time, and I did find it very enjoyable to perform checkups and break down cars to atoms at the slightest doubt the driver is a smuggler. Clunky functionality and not-the-best graphics get in the way of a higher score, but there are certainly worse sims you can play.