True Crime: Streets of LA Review

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Graphics: 6.0
Sound : 7.5
Gameplay : 5.5
Multiplayer : 7.0
Overall : 6.1
Review by Andreas Misund Berntsen

Have you ever felt that your intelligence was underestimated when you began playing a certain game? Although it may be a slight exaggeration, that’s not far from the feeling I got during the first few hours of True Crime: Streets of LA. You play as Nick Kang, an Asian smartass cop who got dismissed due to excessive violence – or something like that. One day you drop by the police office to have a chat with your old friends, when the boss walks in. She explains that some particularly nasty bandits need to be dealt with, and that if you want a position in the new elite crime solving unit then Nick would only need to say the word. He obviously accepts but not just because it would involve action, but because it could give him some much needed answers regarding what had happened to his father, an excellent cop who disappeared when Nick was younger. And then it begins. Through the use of cut-scenes and an almost painful amount of clichés you’re introduced to the game world, its characters, along with various game mechanics.

Later in the game you naturally pick up hints about what’s going on, but I should leave it up to you to discover those. To me it seemed as if the story sometimes leans towards a parody of all the cop movies that have ever shipped out of Hollywood. You can usually tell way ahead how the dialogue is going to unfold, but I suppose most people won’t be buying this game for its story. Unfortunately the rest of the game leaves a good chunk to be wanted as well.

True Crime is essentially a third-person action game mixed with driving elements. Think of it as a mix of Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto 3, and to some extent Crazy Taxi – just one that doesn’t work very well. To navigate the streets of the city you happen to live in you mainly use a car. Even though you start with one car and you’re able to do road racing to win better ones you can also permanently borrow cars from anyone dumb enough to stop nearby. At the bottom left portion of the screen you have a small mini-map which, like in Grand Theft Auto 3 lets you see the direction of the nearest auto repair shop, the next portion of the mission, the nearest hospital, and so on. While playing the game you often have to do small sub-quests that involve breaking up fights (which for some reason is done by beating up both parties.), stopping crazy car drivers (destroying the car and arresting / beating up the perpetrator), and more. If you’re “killed” here you just respawn with full health, but without the benefits you get from finishing a sub-quest. If you’re killed in a story mission you have to restart at a save point. At the bottom right part of the screen you often have to watch the karma and badge meter. You’ve always got this bad cop / good cop thing going on, which reflects upon your karma points. If you successfully arrest a perpetrator you’re given one karma point, but if you run over or shoot someone innocent you lose a point. It’s a good idea to keep this meter on the positive side, or else you may be in for trouble.

Interestingly, if a story related mission goes awry you can actually continue the story, which then turns out a little different than if you had completed your objective. This is a nice touch indeed, but I assume most gamers will opt to finish what they can. If this will make less players turn to cheats and trainers then I’m all for it.

The on-foot combat is actually quite simple. You run just like in most third person action games, and you hit using the left mouse button and kick using the right. The enemies each have a certain number of “bullet points” which can be reduced as you continue to attack them. When this pool is empty you can press a combination of punching and kicking to launch a special attack. These do more damage, but at least during the first few hours you can just mash the left and right button and in most cases not lose much health at all. Compared to games like Ninja Gaiden this is quite bad, but I suppose it could’ve been worse. Usually you’re also carrying at least pistols, if not more. To pull out weapons you normally press 3 and 1 for normal melee weapons. The aiming is far, far from as smooth as Max Payne 2, and the animations are even worse. With a risk of sounding mean it almost seems as though Nick Kang suffers from a case of Tourette syndrome when he’s waving his pistols around. However, what at least piqued my interest a little is that quite a few objects are breakable. Boxes have actual holes after you’ve fired upon them, and the same goes with certain pillars and such. I’m sure this isn’t done using some spectacular physics engine, but it’s a neat effect none the less.

You also do have a few “stealth” sequences in the game where guards walk on extremely limited routes. You can choose whether to be a good cop and render them unconscious using your somewhat feminine looking slap, killing them, or using a tranquilizer gun that has a fairly limited number of shots. If they spot you for more than a couple of seconds you’re busted and have to load a game. The people you render unconscious or kill magically disappear, so you won’t have to worry about other guards spotting someone. In other words, it’s miles and miles from anything like Hitman or Splinter Cell.

When you’re not beating up or shooting someone you’re probably off driving somewhere. It seems as though the developers wanted a slice of the open-endedness that Grand Theft Auto 3 had, with some of the zaniness you’d find in the Crazy Taxi games. Well you do to some extent have a choice of what you can do, but the story follows a very definite red line, so in between story related missions you usually just “solve” crimes, fix your car, and get some healing before you go back into the fray. I can’t say I’m impressed by the police in the city you play in, because serious crimes seem to happen almost constantly. You don’t necessarily have to do these, but they do tend to help your karma rating.

The driving physics are for the most part what you’d expect from a more arcade oriented game. It lacks a great deal of realism, but it’s fairly fast paced and it’s also fairly responsive. Driving here just isn’t as fun as it is in for instance the before mentioned GTA3 and Crazy Taxi games, because the sub-quests aren’t really varied, and running amok ala GTA3 isn’t an option when your karma meter is wrecked. The city is at least fairly big and somewhat diverse, so you can do a bit of exploring if you wish.

True Crime’s graphics are actually fairly badly done, with a couple of exceptions. The animations, character models and character textures during the cut-scenes are fairly good, and so are the car models. The environments are usually textured using quite low-res textures, applied to low polygon buildings and objects. Everything seems overly lit or in other words lacking shadows. There are various okay looking special effects, like various breakable objects and some particle effects, but for the most part it looks very much like a console port. Performance wise it’s quite decent, so you should be able to crank up the resolution.

Many of the voice-overs are actually very good. There are some fairly annoying in-game voices, but at least the ones used in cut-scenes fit the characters well. I really do dislike the script more than I’ve done in some time, because it just sounds so overly done, and so obviously written to cater for the nu-metal generation. I’m sure it’s enjoyable for that certain generation of players, but for everyone else I suspect it’ll seem cheesy. The sound effects are fairly standard issue – nothing sounds particularly bad, but few things sound particularly great.

The musical score is fortunately not too shabby, consisting mainly of rap, punk and heavy metal. There are some famous bands included, like Kill Switch Engage, but you’ll also find some more underground acts – something I’m sure will be appreciated by some.

You can play the game online using the Gamespy Arcade service, which is a good thing, but as of right now not that many people are playing it.

Conclusion
I had my hopes up for True Crime. It looked good on paper, but in reality it’s a game for a limited audience – so I doubt it’ll offer much for those of us who are looking for something more serious.

If you like relatively simple action games where simulating the reality is a no-no then this might be worth checking out. If it looks as stupid to you as it does to me then take the hint and look for something else to spend your money on.