Ever since playing and being pleasantly surprised by Lawn Mowing Simulator a while back, I’ve kind of been on the lookout for a new game in the simulator genre to surprise me. From developer Z-Software and publisher, Aerosoft GmbH comes Autobahn Police Simulator 3, which was news to me as I didn’t even know there was a 1 or 2… or a 3 until I got my review code.
“You are a rookie police officer and it’s your first day back at the station after a car accident involving an illegal car race left you out of commission for quite some time. But now you are back in uniform and ready for duty, so there is no time to waste while sitting behind a desk. You and your partner get right behind the steering wheel of the police car to get you back up on the basics of police work, eager to prove yourself to the police station and to your experienced partner.”
I don’t really need to cover the story here as that blurb did the job just fine. Autobahn Police Simulator 3 starts out with a character selection and it is pretty meagre. You get to pick from three different characters, either male or female. There’s no character customisation at all, just the three males and three females. Not that picking a character has any impact on the game itself, they really are just empty avatars that look a bit different. Then you are thrown right into the action of patrolling the autobahn.
Playing as your chosen officer and under the supervision of your partner, you are pretty much free to explore the semi-open world and do whatever you like. I say semi-open world because Autobahn Police Simulator 3 really doesn’t let you explore the map a great deal. Yes, you are free to drive on any of the roads (within the boundary of the map), but you can’t go driving off anywhere. You can’t drive on the grass, for example, and your car just hits an invisible wall. The same goes for when you are on foot too. This really is a shame as it makes the map much smaller than it appears to be.
However, what you can do on the map is really very open. You can pull any of the vehicles over and do random checks. Ask to see the driver’s license to ensure that they are who they say they are and that they are the registered owner of the car. Do a tyre pressure check, search the boot of the car for any illegal items, etc. If you find booze in the car, you have the right to issue a breathalyser test. Are the car lights working properly? If the driver seems to be acting strange, you can even issue a drug test. Then, if you are happy, you can send them on their way. If they have done something wrong, you can choose a punishment from a fine to arresting them. Adding to that, the different vehicles that you pull over will require different checks. Pulling over an HVG as an example, you’ll have to check the driver’s rest stops, that they are not carrying too much weight, that the cargo is secure and more. There is variety here and that is just from doing random checks on the vehicles, only one of the many jobs you can do.
There are a good amount of different jobs to do as you patrol the map. You can use a speed gun and ensure that drivers are not speeding. You could be called out to a stolen vehicle and have to try and pull it over. Maybe the driver will cooperate… maybe they will make a run for it. Then you get involved in a chase. You can be called to investigate a crash and have to photograph the area, collect evidence, construct a sketch of what happened and question witnesses. All leading to you (hopefully) working out who was to blame so you can take the appropriate action. In one instance, you may need to attend to a situation where some cows have escaped a nearby field and need to be corralled back into their home. You’ll have to close down lanes of the autobahn, put out traffic cones, clean up debris and get the traffic moving again. Another call and you’ll have to deal with a hostage situation at a petrol station. The work you have to do here really is quite varied.
Start out as a patrol officer and do various jobs to earn XP. Unlock new skills and vehicles. Rank up, get promoted and become an undercover officer as you progress through the story. Honestly, Autobahn Police Simulator 3 really does pack in a lot of game and being a police officer, pulling drivers over, taking part in chases, investigating accidents… moving cows and more is really good fun too. There are even a few distractions such as finding and collecting rubber ducks (don’t ask) or taking photos of landmarks. Seriously, there really is a lot of gameplay here and a lot of variety too. I really was genuinely impressed with the number of things you can do in Autobahn Police Simulator 3. But it’s not all good news.
As crammed with gameplay that this game is (and it really is), it feels like it had just been thrown together will little to no programming skills. The controls are terrible. When on foot, you feel like you are controlling a police officer on roller skates and in mud at the same time, it just feels way too loose but very sluggish. When at a crash site, you get a bonus for placing cones in the exact right spot… fuck me is that hard to do though, as the controls are just too damn finicky. When in the car, that looseness feeling of the controls remains. The way the vehicles handle is as if you are making your way around an ice rink… on roller skates. There are options to tinker with axis settings and sensitivity and I tried for 40 minutes to find something that worked. 40 minutes of going into the menu and adjusting the control sliders, to then go back into the game and find it still wasn’t right. 40 minutes of continual tweaking and nothing seemed to work. You have a handbrake for the car and it does nothing. You can’t use the handbrake and slide the car around corners or skid to a halt. All the handbrake does is gently slow your car down, which is exactly what the normal brake does. The handbrake is utterly redundant.
The camera is even worse and it keeps shifting and jittering around. When taking part in conversations, the camera never settles behind your character and is always left hanging at some bizarre angle. Here, I’ll show you. The following screengrab was taken directly after I had finished talking to the receptionist at the police station.
I haven’t set that up, that was just how the camera settled after the conversation ended. You are always fighting the camera in this game. If it’s not a close-up of your bollocks, the camera will settle on a strange angle that you need to manually reset each and every time you do anything in the game. Talk to a witness, strange camera angle, get out of your car, strange camera angle, do anything in the game and you are constantly correcting the camera.
The graphics really are awful too and look like something from two generations ago. I’m playing on the Xbox Series X and it has the little logo to say that it is Series X enhanced. Sweet baby Jebus, if this is the ‘enhanced’ version, I’d hate to see the normal one. Look, this is a low-budget indie game, I’m not expecting Rockstar Games levels of production here, I’m not thinking that they should be using the Unreal 5 engine. But still, I have played a lot of indie games over the years and I don’t think I’ve found one this fucking ugly. Your character and the NPCs all look like they are made out of plastic with really shiny faces and stiff animations, the mouth movements when talking are truly horrific and I mean genuinely scary. Every character looks like something Mattel would throw into the Barbie rejects bin. Even worse, sometimes when taking part in a conversation, the camera will embed itself inside your head.
There is massive pop-up with the graphics when out in the car and the game stalls and stutters like crazy. Framerate drops and just outright pauses in the gameplay are frequent. Again, I’m playing on the Series X and it is a machine that can run a game like this in its sleep. This is just really bad optimisation. Little things like the in-game map is just a pain to use because scrolling it is woefully slow. Then there is the fact that you can do anything in the game and not be penalised. Just a quick reminder, this is called Autobahn Police Simulator 3… a simulator, just keep that in mind as I describe the next bit. So then, when in your car, you have a lot to do. Flash the blue lights, put the sirens on, use your indicators… yes you have to manually put your indicators on when turning. The level of interactive detail for patrolling is pretty impressive. But none of it actually matters.
See, when I first began playing this and as it is a simulator, I drove sensibly, I stopped at red lights, I used my indicators when tuning and I waited to overtake if necessary. I drove properly The only time I broke the rules of the road was when I was on a call and had the sirens blasting. One instance when rushing to a scene of an accident, I had the sirens on and due to the awful controls, frame rate drops and terrible camera, I ended up crashing head first into another car. This is a police SIMULATOR so I was expecting some kind of punishment, a loss of XP or something. Nope, nothing. After the crash, me and the AI driver just drove off as if nothing had happened. In fact, you can drive like a complete loon in this, crash into everything go through red lights and drive on the wrong side of the road. Do whatever you want because there are no repercussions at all. Which begs the question, what is the point of all the little details, the use of indicators (that you don’t have to use), the police siren so you can go through red lights (that you don’t have to use) and so on? You can play this like a GTA game and not have the police come after you because you are the police. There are no penalties no matter what you do. Crash into every fucker on the road and play bumper cars with every vehicle that you see, it really doesn’t matter to you or them.
Speaking of crashing, there are no repercussions for doing that as there is no damage in the game. This is strange because one of the upgrades you can unlock is to increase the damage that your car can take. But the car doesn’t seem to have any. Trust me, I have tested this. I crashed into posts and walls at speed and nothing, not even a scratch on my car. I even managed to roll my car multiple times and ended up on the roof, the game just reset it and away I went, not even so much as a dent. Then, when you do crash, there is no damage to the things you crash into either. Hit a small post at the side of the road and all that happens is that you stop dead, the post itself stays exactly where it is as if it had just been stroked lightly with a cotton bud. So you just drive away. Nothing moves when you hit it. Crash into a lamp post, nothing, a road sign, nothing. It is as if damage has not been programmed into the game and everything is made out of carbon steel dipped in tungsten with titanium rods inserted… just in case. Everything is an immovable object, no matter how hard to hit it, nothing happens. This is a simulator remember.
Oh, and the voice acting is atrocious. No, I’m not expecting a small indie dev to get A-list Hollywood stars to voice their games but seriously, this is the best they could do? It’s not even the terrible voice acting that is the worst part. This is set in Germany, the road signs are all in German, the place names are German and the people you talk to have German names. Yet, every single person you talk to speaks the Queen’s English with perfect English accents and you never talk to anyone who even sounds remotely German. I was questioning a witness called Franz Müller (or something) just about the most German-sounding name as you could get. But when they talked, they sounded more like John Smith from Woking. I’ve not heard English voice acting this bad since I played Watch Dogs: Legion. Plus, I think they only used two voice actors, one male and one female because everyone sounds the same. The characters also use English slang, which makes no sense given that this is set in Germany. Even more so, when you get a radio call from the police station, they use English slang terms and it just doesn’t sound right. I’m pretty sure that trained dispatch operators working for the police force don’t use the phrase ‘they’ve done a bunk’ in reference to a driver of a stolen car failing to stop.
I know when you are on a budget that hiring voice actors costs some coin. But here’s the thing, there is a German version of the game with German voice actors. So why not hire German voice actors who could speak English? They could’ve done both jobs and had English voices with German accents, it would have been just a bit more authentic. You know what would be nice? The option to play with the German voices but with English subtitles… nope can’t do that. Seriously, it makes no sense that, a game set in Germany, for everyone to speak perfect English with full-on English accents and have them use English slang. There are numerous sound/volume issues too. When in the car the dialogue between you and your partner is whisper quiet, unless it is the police dispatch operator talking when it is unbelievably loud. The sound of the car engine just stopped several times and it sounded like I was driving an electric car and more audio issues.
I also came across a pretty big game-breaking bug. See, to advance in the story, you need to rank up. To rank up, you have to complete certain tasks. For example, do a successful traffic stop, rightfully breathalyse someone, buy a donut (yes, this is a thing), investigate an accident and more. Every rank will give you three tasks that you have to complete. When you do rank up, you get more tasks and story missions will only occur when you reach set ranks. So then, you can’t advance through the game unless you rank up and you can’t rank up unless you finish the three tasks given. Simple stuff. Until one of the tasks for me to rank up had me having to buy a character upgrade from the upgrade tree. The problem was that I had already purchased all of the character upgrades before I got that task. As I had already purchased the upgrade before getting the task, I couldn’t buy the upgrade again to complete the task and so, I couldn’t rank up. As I couldn’t rank up, I couldn’t further the story and was stuck in limbo. Now, some tasks you can spend XP points on to pass them… some tasks. It just so happens that this particular task was one that you can not pass by spending XP points. So that was it, I was stuck with no possible way to advance the story. The only thing I could do was start a new game… so I lost all of the previous progress. Fucking annoying!
Another game-breaking bug occurred when the game wouldn’t allow me to select any of the story missions. They are there on the mission board, but greyed out and I can’t start them. So I had nothing to do. I could drive around and randomly stop people, but I couldn’t go any further in the game and progress just stopped dead. Six times I’ve had to restart my progress because the game bugged out… six times and even then, it still has this bug that stopped any story missions from being selectable. I had to give up.
With a price tag of around £25-£27, depending on the format, this game is too frustrating to recommend. The basics of the game, the actual patrolling, pulling people over, driver and vehicle checks, accident investigating and everything else in the game are actually pretty good fun to play. The idea is brilliant and the game crams a lot into it. But it is everything else that lets this one down. The terrible camera, the awful controls, the atrocious and nonsensical voice acting with no Germans living in Germany and game breaking-bugs. Look, I’m even willing to overlook the dated graphics and animation, because this is a low-budget indie game. But no, I can’t forgive the crappy optimisation and poor implementation of everything else. You don’t need a big budget to get a game to run smoothly, you don’t need a big budget to have a better camera and controls. You don’t need a big budget to fix bugs. That is just poor programming.
This is a shame too because, as I say, the fundamentals are really damn good. Patrolling the autobahn, doing random checks, investigating accidents, getting promoted and everything else. Living the life of a police officer is kind of unique and refreshing in a video game. There is a decent amount of variety here in your actions as a police officer but the game is swamped by poor optimisation of the most basic of technical mechanics. The asking price is just not worth it. Now, I did get a note from the promoter saying that this version is going to be updated over the summer with new features and bug fixes. Honestly, if they can optimise this, if they can work on the camera and controls (mainly), if they make the game run smoother on current-gen consoles and if they can fix the game breaking-bugs and glitches, then this could be worth a purchase. Maybe still not at £25-£27 though. £15 to £20, at a push, feels more reasonable and that is only if they do fix the basic issues. Autobahn Police Simulator 3 is flawed, frustratingly so too because under those technical problems is a good game that is really worth playing.
I may come back and re-review Autobahn Police Simulator 3 if the devs do keep their word and sort out the technical issues. Because this is both the best and worst indie game I have played this year.
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