It’s not terribly uncommon for video games to put you in the shoes of a law enforcement officer. From Police Quest to the SWAT series to True Crime: Streets of L.A. to the immortal TimeCop, there are plenty of titles out there that make you one of the boys in blue.
However, most of those games focus on taking down the bad guys with guns blazing or catching a serial killer or some other more glamorous, exciting aspect of the job. VERY rarely does a game intend to show you the other 98% of what comprises police work, the mundane, the everyday, the gritty grunt work that makes up the majority of a police officer’s duty. But this is the kind of thing The Pile is all about, reviewing a game that does exactly that, and that brings us to today’s game, Autobahn Police Simulator, released in 2015.
Just like it says on the tin, Autobahn Police Simulator has you playing as a rookie traffic cop on a beat of roughly 30 square miles on the German autobahn. You have a shift of seven game hours to complete a list of tasks like reporting to accident scenes and taking statements, to checking vehicles for defects, to stopping and arresting drunk drivers. After you complete your day’s tasks, you’re free to return to the station house and end your shift or keep working to gain extra experience points, which allow you to move up through the police ranks.
You’re free to examine any vehicle around you on the roads, initiated by bringing up your list of police tools with F5, and selecting whether to give them a speed check (yes, as it turns out, there ARE speed limits on the Autobahn), or watch the drivers for suspicious behavior like swerving or not wearing a seatbelt. If you find probable cause, you can pull the vehicle over and a giant red symbol pops up above their car showing what you’re pulling them over for.
After pulling someone over, you talk to the drivers to tell them why they’re being pulled over and asking them routine questions like if they’ve been drinking or if they have their license and registration. Surprisingly, drivers are incredibly up-front with you, and for the most part, will tell you if they’ve been drinking or are missing documents. If you feel it necessary to check the vehicle for defects, there’s a surprisingly long list of things you can check for, such as whether the car has two license plates, whether the emissions badge on the license plate is expired, whether the motorist has a first-aid kit and reflective triangle in their trunk (which I assume is a law in Germany and not the U.S.), whether the vehicle’s turn signals, reverse lights, and brake lights function, even going so deep as to check the tread of the tires, and in the case of commercial vehicles, weighing the axles to see if they’re carrying more than legally allowed, done with a pair of scales that you have to fetch out of your trunk and slide under the tires.
If you’ve found something during the stop, you have the option to let them go with a warning, write them the proper tickets, or arrest them. After you finish the process, you’re given experience points based on how thorough your search was and whether you handled the situation correctly, losing out on XP if you forgot to check certain things or punished the driver inappropriately. Aside from that, there’s no real repercussions for your actions, so if you decide to let a legally intoxicated person go with a warning or arrest someone for not having a reflective triangle, you’re pretty much free to do so, at only the risk of missing out on XP.
In between traffic stops, you’ll get radio calls for situations like accidents or suspicious vehicle sightings that you can either answer or pass on, and much like stops, there’s a very specific set of activities that they require. When you arrive at an accident scene, you’ll have to secure the scene by laying out caution cones and flashing lights by the roadside, as well as moving debris from the accident to the roadside. You’ll then have to sketch the scene (done by pushing Z while looking at an object, no MS Paint skills are required) and get the statements from the drivers involved. Suspicious vehicles may require you to search the trunk or cargo area for illicit items like drugs or weapons, which forces you to examine every item, turning it around and looking at them from each side by holding the mouse button and moving the mouse.
Now, this may not sound terribly exciting, but oddly enough, that may very well be the point, as indeed, the majority of a traffic cop’s job isn’t exactly an adrenaline rush, but this also kinda works to the game’s advantage, expecting to pull someone over and run through your checklist of things to ask about and look for only to have them attempt to evade you when you hit the lights or finding out during a routine ID check that a person is wanted is a nice little diversion during what’s otherwise a pretty cut-and-dry job. The downside, though, is that attempting to get in front of an escaping driver and cut them off is the most action-packed part of the game; wanted felons or drivers with weapons in the trunk put up no resistance whatsoever. You’ll never pull your gun, taze anybody, or even wrestle with an uncooperative subject to slap the cuffs on them, because you never actually handcuff anyone in this game. Once you click “Arrest”, the subject teleports into the back of your cop car, and when you get back to the station house and walk them inside, you see that their hands are indeed free the entire time and that they’ve just kinda meekly accepted their fate.
If you’re still interested in Autobahn Police Simulator after that riveting description of the gameplay, there are a couple obstacles in the way of potential enjoyment. First of all, the designers did kind of a crummy job optimizing the game, in the sense that, even on default graphical settings, the game runs molasses slow. My laptop is less than a year old, and even I had to run it on the lowest settings to get any sort of decent framerate, and even then, I could only play in third-person mode; attempting to use the in-car view was a disaster, as the game won’t even render what’s in your sideview mirrors, so changing lanes becomes an absolute gamble. The game doesn’t look terrible on those settings, mind you, but I also highly doubt the highest settings are worth the level of gaming rig it would apparently take to knock them around, and considering how little of the map you can actually drive on (only the autobahns themselves and their interchanges), it’s not like they needed to render that much.
The other issue, the biggest one for me, at least, is the controls. This was apparently designed for and ONLY for those out there that own USB steering wheels, because if you’re using a keyboard or a gamepad, there is no subtlety in steering. When you attempt to steer, the game only seems to recognize two options: either you’re gently nudging the wheel ever so slightly or you’re jerking it completely to one side or the other. What this means is that you’ll basically drive drunker than the people you’re pulling over, either slamming into the backs of other vehicles trying to get around them or back and forth into the divider and the guardrail, which would be less frustrating if it wasn’t for the fact that if you damage your patrol car too badly, you have to restart at the station house. You can get used to the steering over time, but even then, going any faster than a hundred kilometers an hour is taking an unnecessary chance, because if you nudge anything, there’s no telling where momentum is going to take you. Not only that, but most of the actions you need to trigger while driving are handled by the Function keys and cannot be remapped, so you’ll frequently have to juggle the wonky steering with moving your hands up to push a series of buttons to turn your lights and sirens on or radio in to dispatch.
There is also one other feature of Autobahn Police Simulator that, depending on your taste, you’ll either find kind of endearing or rather annoying, and that is that the game, for lack of a better term, is incredibly…um…German. Obviously, your patrol cars have the European-style siren, and the standard police car is a station wagon, but also, every piece of paper you’ll be laying eyes on here, from driver’s licenses to the tickets you write, are all in German. Granted, you don’t have to actually read German to play, everything you actually need to know is in English, but it is funny to see the actual ticket you’re writing the person and seeing that “No Brake Lights” translates into a twelve-syllable compound word in German. And speaking of the English translation, it’s a bit off. I know that no language translates perfectly into another, but some of the dialogue was downright hilarious to me, either for how it was worded or how someone’s reaction to something was in no way proportional to what they were told or asked. You also might have a bit of difficulty in terms of navigation when you’re going from one autobahn to the other, because the German interchange system is VERY different from what an American driver weaned on our interstate system is familiar with, but again, that’s not really a fault of the game so much as it’s a function of it being German in origin.
Autobahn Police Simulator is certainly a unique idea, but it’s not for everyone. I’m very intrigued by the idea of a game where you play not as a hardened detective or a Harry Callahan “bend the rules” kind of cop, but as a regular police officer doing routine duty, but I freely admit that the concept isn’t gonna move everyone’s needle. Even if you can get past the rather “checklist” style of gameplay, the wobbly steering controls and the oddly demanding graphics requirements torpedo it for most everyone who’d still be interested. On the upside, it stands pretty much alone in its genre, so if you’re looking for a straight simulation of the experience of being a highway patrol officer, well, here you go, but aside from that, the negatives outweigh the positives.
Current Price – $19.99
Is It Worth It? – No. If you’re interested, pick it up at a deep discount.