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True Crime: Streets of L.A.

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  Reviewed by Erich Becker
December 4, 2003
In a post-GTA world, anyone who wants to enter the genre that Rockstar built is going to have to have something sly up their sleeve to one-up the perennial series. Many have come with similar themes and gameplay mechanics to vie for a piece of the pie, and only a few have made any worthy advancements to this new genre. In a post-GTA world, Activision's True Crime has a lot going for it, but is only able to capitalize on a few portions of its design.

True Crime puts you into the shoes of Nick Kang, a rogue cop who does things his way (how many times have you heard that over the last three years?). Besides the obvious cliché story elements, Nick is suspended from the LAPD and picked by EOD, an elite division that covers all of the game's 240 square miles of realistic LA streets. Nick is assigned a partner and sent on his way to unravel a crime conspiracy that covers the entire city and allows for some dynamic gameplay.

In fact, True Crime hosts four distinct types of gameplay: driving, stealth, fighting and shooting. All have their quirks, but for the most part these varying types keep the game fresh as you proceed. Driving, as you might suspect, is the biggest part of a game with so much ground to cover. You will be able to commandeer civilians' cars and use them to fight crime; it seems no one in the video game world, in any game, knows how to lock their doors. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, you are able to shoot out of the front of your vehicle while driving (not just the sides) and with the game's auto-aim function it will lock on to the car you are in pursuit of. Using precision aim, which I will touch on later, you can target specific points on vehicles, including gas tanks, to disable them much easier. The controls, for the most part, are a bit sluggish. I found that the cars didn't respond as fast as I would have liked to.

Stealth missions leave you at the mercy of hiding behind crates and pillars armed with three tranquilizer darts and two physical moves. One adds to your good cop rating; the other adds to your bad cop rating (explained later in this review). How you proceed on these is up to you, just don't get caught.

Fighting comes off as nothing more than a button-smashing good time. Once you exit your car, you are able to perform a number of moves including punches and drop kicks. When fighting an opponent their health will show up in the upper right corner of the screen with exclamation points next to their face. If you land a specific number of hits your enemy will be stunned temporarily, allowing you to queue a number of moves and set up special moves via button combos. The game also allows Nick to block, but you will find that this is rarely necessary as long as you keep the old school button-mashing on full blast. This is one part of the game where very little skill is needed to progress, but as mindless and 2D as it is, it's still incredibly fun.

Finally, through the course of the game you will have to shoot people. Here is where I'm a bit torn. The game's auto-aim is adequate and, for the most part, allows you pop a cap in any perp who may try to get away. It's when you are forced to use the awkward precision aim that things get a bit iffy. Precision aim slows the action down (intentionally) allowing you to make your shot. One example is in a hostage situation; you can aim for the criminal's head and take him down, saving the civilian. Even though it is awkward to use, the game requires that you utilize this skill at several points during your quest. In a page from Max Payne's book of bullet dodging, Nick has the ability to jump out of the way, in slow motion mind you, of oncoming bullets while squeezing a few of his own off and defying gravity. You've seen it before, but it is still fun to pull off every now and then.

True Crime puts a unique spin on things by rewarding you for solving crimes peacefully, or as peacefully as possible, and hurting you for opening fire in a last man standing kind of way. A Yin-Yang in the bottom corner of the screen shows your good cop/bad cop rating. This karma gauge can affect plot points further in the game and makes you seriously consider how you will proceed.

If you get on the wrong side of the law, you can improve your rating during the game by apprehending suspects participating in random crimes. While driving any vehicle a dispatcher will come on and a red dot will appear on your map. This is the location of a random crime. Sometimes it could be a mugging, hostage situation, illegal street race -- there always seems to be something different. While on driving missions where there is no time limit, you can take a break from the game's storyline to work on these random crimes and give yourself some positive karma. This element adds another fold of enjoyment to the game and allows the gamer to pick up and play for five minutes or five hours just solving these random events. You are also able to search random civilians for illegal items and arrest them on the spot. The What of Rights?

The storyline itself is completely linear. You progress through chapters that have a specific number of missions with a few branching off points. Unlike other games, if you fail a particular mission you are able to either repeat it, or continue on with the game, proceeding on an alternate storyline. For those who need 100 percent on everything, like myself, you can even play these other branches to achieve the coveted mission complete bonus. These bonuses allow you to upgrade your shooting, driving or fighting abilities. New weapons and cars are your rewards for completing these bonuses as well as the skills you learn.

True Crime, as played on the PS2 version of the game, doesn't show up to the table with blistering Need for Speed: Underground graphics. In fact, looking at some parts of the city it would be hard to believe this wasn't a first generation PS2 title. While driving the game has a tendency to stutter at some points and overall the texture work looks a bit muddy and washed out. Again, as hard as I try not to compare this game to GTA, the neon of Vice City looks much better and cleaner than True Crime. Yet, where GTA takes a more cartoonish approach to its representation of people and the surrounding city, True Crime is as real as it gets, for the most part.

Sound is also a letdown, but only on the music side. The inclusion of original hip-hop tracks and licensed music from some of the biggest names in the hip-hop industry is admirable, but only being able to count the number of rock songs on one hand doesn't help the game for people who aren't really into the hip-hop culture. Once you enter a car the music automatically turns on; with no radio station functionality you are stuck with what the game gives you. Luckily, you have the option to specify which songs play in rotation, but after picking the six or seven songs you may want to hear you realize they will replay every 21 minutes of driving, fighting, etc. The characters' voices are performed by big Hollywood talent including Christopher Walken, Michelle Rodriquez, Michael Madsen, Gary Oldman and CCH Pounder and sound excellent, even if the lip-sync is almost always off.

The game's two biggest problems are collision detection and the camera. Collision detection is spotty at best. One time, while chasing a perp in a vehicle, I short-changed a corner and was stopped dead in my tracks by a road sign, whereas 20 minutes earlier I was taking my rice-burner for a Sunday drive on the sidewalk destroying brick walls, 15 foot palm trees, and benches. Other times I would be fighting someone and they would morph in and out of buildings as they tried to run away. The camera is only a problem in some areas but it has a tendency to not want to look where you want to look. You will also find out that L.A. drivers don't care who is crossing the road; they will just run you down each and every time you try to cross, which gets incredibly annoying. Also in the annoying category is a criminal's ability to run to the nearest car (usually the car you were using to pursue them) and take off. Holding off the urge to blast them away for a good cop rating adds only to the frustration as they jump from car to car unscathed.

Minor problems include the aforementioned sluggishness of your vehicles as well as Nick's laughably bad one-liners and movement. The guy runs like Shaggy from Scooby Doo with huge leaps and bounds and, add this to the sometimes crippled camera, you may end up in a dark corner clipping into a wall. Fortunately this doesn't happen very often. As for the one-liners, some of them are genuinely funny like, "You fought the law and the law won," which Nick sings. Others are better off not repeated.

As long as I have babbled on in this review about the good and bad of this game, it really comes down to the fact of differentiating itself from Grand Theft Auto and staking a claim in the genre, and I'm happy to report that despite the shortcomings and pitfalls of the game's engine and gameplay, it is still a fun experience that, at the very least, is worth a rental. It isn't a terribly long game, but with three different endings and the never-ending fun of solving random crimes, you could find yourself playing for upwards of 35-40 hours. It isn't Grand Theft Auto, but it is a worthy diversion until we get another helping of Rockstar's ground-breaking series.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
PlayStation 2.


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