Published on January 3rd, 2015 | by Isaac Davis0
SXPD – The Comicbook Game Review
Entertainment companies have been chasing the dream of the “transmedia property” for years – that is, some story or universe that would be equally at home in film, TV, books, games, etc. That chase has mostly led to forgotten products and bankrupt companies, but Little Chicken Games is giving it a shot with their new “comicbook game hybrid,” SXPD.
In SXPD, you play as a rookie cop in a private police force made entirely of women who were born and bred for the job. They protect the corporate-owned, dystopian state “New Royale” from a terrorist organization called “The Secret Order of the Black Seraphim,” led by (seriously) Destruction the Destroyer, who seeks to unseat the billionaire dictator of this world (again, seriously) Mephistopheles van Gold.
If that all sounds extremely heavy handed, it is. The grimy sewers are filled with scarred-up motorcycle gangs, and the SXPD bikes shoot drugs into their pilots in order to help them fight better. This 90s-style unearned darkness serves as a backdrop for bad people to race bikes around industrial slums while shooting at each other. Careful not to cut yourself on all this edginess.
The gameplay cuts in whenever the story finds time for a motorcycle action sequence. SXPD bikes are, of course, equipped with weapons and nitro. Players drive the rookie’s bike by tilting their device, tapping the screen to fire machine guns, holding with two fingers for a nitro boost, and swiping up to fire missiles. It works surprisingly well, for tilt controls. I was able to maintain control, even in tight turns, with the exception of a few frustratingly narrow passages. Luckily, a crash only results in a little health loss.
Taking down enemies is easy enough, but my one major gripe is that enemies can pass through walls. I suppose it’s a concession to keep them from crashing all the time, but it’s frustrating to know that when I finally line myself up behind an enemy, they’ll disappear through a wall and force me to find them again. Missiles become more prevalent later on, which offsets this issue by offering one-or-two-hit kills.
I will say that the cohesion between the 2D comic and the 3D gameplay is pretty impressive. The visuals during gameplay aren’t necessarily fantastic on their own, but it’s cool how much they look like comic art. It’s very Sin City, bold black and white with red highlights. The comic parts are well done, too. At their best, they hearken back to gritty 90s comics like Spawn, and although I don’t think those story elements play well today, the quality of the art holds up.
The thing is, Little Chicken Games would have you believe that the gameplay is not the focus here. Or rather, that it is only as important as the comic story that it punctuates. This is certainly an interesting idea, but I don’t believe that this is the story to sell it. The dystopian bits are cliché and the supposedly titilating bits seem exploitative. Even the title is nonsensical. Given no proper explanation, I can only assume that “SXPD” stands for “So eXtreme Police Department” or just “SeXy Police Department.”
The game ends up hindering the comic, more than enhancing it. The storyline is forced into the same dingy, uninteresting locales over and over again, thanks to the game’s limited environment assets, and the expectation of gameplay interludes means that the story can never spend time on either plot or character, since it has to return to motorcycle action at regular intervals. There is neither enough comic, nor enough game to make either worthwhile.
Somewhere, there’s a great comic book just begging for playable action sequences. Come to think of it, Telltale Games’ recent output (Walking Dead and Game of Thrones in particular) has been just that, for the most part. Unless you are dead-set on waving your tablet around in the name of sexy future justice, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
Summary: In trying to be both a comic and a game, SXPD fails at both. Though the gameplay is acceptable, the "edgy" style really weighs it down.