New Sharpwood sheriff Lilly Reed is way out of her depth. She's conscientious and competent, but far too meek to corral the motley crew of misogynistic knuckleheads that make up her police force. Sheriff Reed soon makes the fateful decision to enrol the assistance of one Jack Boyd, the corrupt cop you controlled in the first This Is The Police game. At the outset of This Is The Police 2, Boyd is a deeply compromised, borderline broken character on the run from the Feds. But he's also a brilliant cop who's singularly capable of whipping this snowbound US town into shape.

If you're wondering why we've spent the first two paragraphs discussing the noirish setting of what is essentially a zoomed-out management sim, then we're guessing you have no prior experience with This Is The Police. As much an interactive narrative adventure as a true simulation, the game leans heavily on dialogue and mood to draw you into its gritty world.

If you're not a fan of soaking up interminable tone-setting cutscenes filled with rambling non-sequiturs and a sprinkling of choice language, This Is The Police 2 won't be for you any more than the first game was. Its sparsely-animated comic book story sections are pretty well acted out, but the writing can be too flabby for its own good.

The hub of the game, once you've gotten through the drawn-out opening stretch, presents you with a neat diorama-like map of Sharpwood. The officers you've assigned to that day's shift are listed below in the form of cards. As reported crimes pop up all over the town, you must allocate your limited resources within 30 seconds or so, or else leave the crime unsolved and risk losing precious ring-pull currency at the end of the day.

You'll need that currency to outfit and replenish your depleting workforce. Each of these officers has their own strengths and peccadilloes, as well as an experience level that goes towards helping you access individual callouts. Some officers are better suited to negotiating with perps, while others are a dab hand with the taser or truncheon you equipped them with. It's also necessary to take each officer's energy level into consideration. If they're too tired, they might make a fatal mistake. Building loyalty is essential, too, so granting their tiresome requests can pay off in the long run.

Balancing the needs of Sharpwood's citizens with those of your own idiosyncratic workforce is a perpetual balancing act - and it's one that you seem to get wrong an awful lot of the time. Or at least, we did. Weappy Studio seems to have deliberately made a game where you're constantly on the back foot, under-resourced and letting crimes slip through your fingers like sand. That would be fair enough as some kind of statement on modern law enforcement. This Is The Police 2 certainly makes great play of its hard-boiled credentials, and it doesn't pull its punches with the less savoury side of crime prevention. But it doesn't always make for a massively fun game.

When you only have three active officers because a chunk of your force couldn't work through exhaustion, several others called in sick (alcoholism is a persistent problem among Sharpwood's bobbies), and then one of your best cops refuses to work with another because they're a woman, it's a little irritating. When you literally don't have sufficient experience points to attend a callout (despite having several officers available), it's flat-out exasperating.

On the occasions where things are ticking along well, though, This Is The Police 2 can be a varied and fulfilling experience. You can assign detectives to work certain cases, and then spend your evenings putting together the pieces of the puzzle (quite literally) that they've assembled for you in order to push through a prosecution. Attending standard crimes, meanwhile, gives you a range of simple multiple-choice scenarios where each officer's unique skills influence the types of response and their chance of success. There's a whole series of missions dedicated to snagging you bonus funds and contraband that you can trade for information, too.

This is already a very full game, but the big new addition to This Is The Police 2 is its tactical operations. These turn-based strategy sections play out a little like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, as you inch your ragged team towards an ominously derelict house or hostage situation. These missions are very tense and atmospheric, and the game's hyper-stylised comic book graphics really set the scene. But they're also pretty punishing. If you don't enter these tactical sections with the right kind of fully kitted-out squad and make precisely the right kind of play, you'll face multiple costly officer deaths. You can at least wait until all of your officers are available to you before embarking, but we never felt like we had quite enough information to make effective decisions on the ground. Those who are fully educated in the ways of XCOM may beg to differ, of course.

Conclusion

This Is The Police 2 is a distinctive and multi-faceted management sim with a fresh tactical edge. However, its list of punishing demands, perpetually scarce resources, and sluggish storytelling can sap the game of joy and momentum. There's a lot to do, and a fair amount of that is fun, but it feels like the game's many systems and demands are competing both for scarce virtual resources and your strained attention. In that sense, you'll come to relate to Sharpwood's put-upon new Sheriff all too well.