If there were a book of unwritten rules, one of the rules would undoubtedly be that any game that tries to incorporate multiple modes of play will have exponentially more flaws throughout, a dedicated soul could probably even come up with a math equation for it. It's not that True Crime is a bad game, but that there are some parts that only the love of the game can get you through. A good analogy would be an only partially polished diamond, you can see the glimmer underneath just begging to be brought out, but the rough edges could have easily been polished out with just a little more care.
GTA3 sure stirred up a muck of stuff didn't it? Besides the subject matter, many people were wowed by the fact that GTA3 featured a rather large city even to today's standards, filled to the brim with people doing what people do. However, its plot wasn't based in any form of reality and the gameplay wasn't as complex as other titles. After GTA3, games like Mafia tried to put their own spin on the same concept of a living city, only this time Mafia featured a plot very firmly based in realism and human nature circa the 1930's, as well as slightly deeper gameplay. With True Crime you get the deepest gameplay yet for the genre as well as a decent plot, but there are many aspects of the game that are about as smooth as sandpaper.
Before that though, True Crime has a lot going for it. In the game you play as Nick Kaang, your average loose cannon "I'll-do-it-my-way" kind of cop. Nick's father was killed under mysterious circumstances when Nick was younger, a "true crime" as said by the narrator (Voiced by Christopher Walken in some of his best form). Nick grew up fatherless as kind of a street-smart bad boy, and though eventually Nick joined the LAPD his bad boy nature never left him. Realizing this, he was suspended from the force until one day when the chief of the LAPD approached Nick with a job offer. It seems that the chief of LAPD has now been given the task of heading up the Elite Operations Division, whose first mission is to solve the recent bombings in Chinatown. Though he's often rash Nick is quite skilled, making him a perfect candidate for the EOD. Nick accepts the chief offer and from there on out it's Nick's job to unravel a mystery over a decade old that has connections to both the present and the past.
In True Crime there is essentially four modes of play to use, which can be switched to at any time (with the exception of the stealth mode) but often only one is suited to the task at hand. The first mode of play of note is the gunplay, when you have twin pistols, a limitless supply of ammunition for them, and orders to eliminate a group of bad guys. The gunplay is almost flawlessly executed, with Nick able to dive with or without accompanying slo-mo, able to peek and pop out from around corners, and use enemy guns such as other pistols, assault rifles, and shotguns (though they have a limited supply of ammunition). Probably the only bad part in True Crime is the precision aiming skill Nick acquires later in the game, which gives you half the firepower but the ability to shoot with pinpoint accuracy. The problem comes when you realize that you are stationary while you do this, the game still runs in real time (no slow-mo), and while you are trying to line the crosshairs up on a place to disable the enemy he's popping slugs into you at regular intervals.
The driving bits of the game are accessed just like you'd expect, by getting in a car (either yours or some hapless citizens that you toss out). Driving in True Crime is very arcade like as opposed to other games in the genre, with stunts such as 180 spins and nitro boosts performed by button combinations once you learn them. The cars also handle very stiff and almost too well, which can break the immersion somewhat until you get used to True Crime's unique physics. Unlike other games in the genre you can freely shoot from your vehicle as you are driving, popping the tires of a fleeing car or even sending a slug into the gas tank, igniting the flammable liquid inside and sending the car airborne in a display of fire and shards of metal and glass. While shooting you still have a little control over your car, but realistically not a lot. After all, making a car take a 90-degree turn while one hand drives and the other shoots a .45 out the window is fairly high on the impossible scale.
The stealth bits of True Crime can be pretty fun, though only for the first time through each sequence. Enemies are always in the same spots, with the same routes, and when they see you, you lose immediately. However, it can be rather fun to sneak up behind someone and ninja chop him or her to knock the out, or snap their neck to make them stay down indefinitely. In stealth mode Nick has a short range tranquilizer gun that can be used to knock out opponents at short to medium range, but you only really need to use it about two times in the entire game.
And then there is the fighting. Now, before I begin, I am all for this mode of play in a game like this, and it can be insanely fun. I mean, when's the last time you gave a monkey kick to a Russian mobster and sent him flying through a series of bathroom stalls and piping, in ANY video game? The fun factor is definitely there, but the problem comes with the fighting engines hit detection, animations, and sheer difficulty. Punches and go right through the enemy without inflicting damage, with not only doesn't do them any harm but also leaves you wide open for attack. Hand in hand with that, the animations such as punches are so quick that they are nearly impossible to block and looks simply bizarre. Also, when an enemy is brandishing a weapon of some sort you are almost screwed, since there is no way to evade an attack, only to block, which is of little use when the enemy is armed with a katana blade. If the combat were slowed down the flaws would be easier to swallow, but the crème de la crème comes when you realize that there is no strategy to the fighting whatsoever. More often than not you are simply pressing the attack buttons in a random order hoping to score a hit rather than watching the enemy and attacking according to their actions. In a stunning display of this, for the last boss fight no combo I tried seemed to work no matter how hard I tried to make it work. Finally, as a last resort before losing my mind I simply closed my eyes, and alternated tapping punch and kick with a half second between the two. After a mind-numbing amount of punch kick, punch kick, the enemy was defeated without dealing hardly any damage to me.
Throughout the game you will acquire cop points, both good (positive) and bad (negative). Say you shoot someone in the arm to stop them, which gets you good points. Shoot them in the head, bad points. If you judo chopped them in stealth mode, you get good points. Broke their neck like a wishbone, bad points. Good deeds also net you badge points, and every 100 badge points grants you a badge. Badges are used to grant Nick access to shooting, driving, and fighting training facilities, which have different challenges and give a skill as a reward. For instance, shooting ranges grant you betting aiming skills and add-ons to your weapons, fighting schools grant Nick access to more powerful fighting moves, and driving courses teach Nick flashy stunts like driving on two wheels and quick turns. Skills are far from useless and one would be well advised to acquire as many of them as possible, since they really expand what Nick can do and how well he can do it.
Good and bad cop points as well as badge points are used for more than score or the opportunity to learn skills. Clinics and car shops fix you and your cars respectively, and since being a good cop nets you badge points it's like you bank your good reputation the get healed or your car fixed instead of shelling out cash. If you are a bad cop, or overuse the facilities you have no badge points, explainable as a bad reputation and you won't get any service. If you are a bad enough cop other cops and even civilians will begin to fight you.
There are a few features that set True Crime ahead of the pack in some respects. On the forefront there's the fact that True Crime takes place in a huge chunk of accurately represented L.A., accurate down to "Oh my god I used to live there". To make your job as a cop a bit more eventful random crimes happen every once in a while, which Nick can solve to net cop and badge points or simply ignore and focus on the mission at hand. Random crimes can be anything from celebrities from slightly changed names racing down the interstate in a white Bronco, to Halle Cherry involved in a hit and run accidents. None celebrity crimes happen more often, with things such as muggings, purse thieves, gang shootouts, pimps, attempted rapes (Though never a shred of nudity), and a few other random acts of violence.
True Crimes graphics engine has been ported to all of the big three (Xbox, PS2, GCN) and, let's not dance around it, you can tell right off the bat. Textures aren't quite as sharp as other Xbox games, or the models as quite as detailed. While not up to other Xbox games, True Crimes looks aren't too bad with vehicles displaying a nice amount of damage effects, special effects such as explosions and smoke look pretty good, and with the exception of the stiff fighting animations most animations are very fluid and lifelike. Character models occasionally look like they could use a few more polygons, but the main players such as the Nick and the chief look pretty good. The city itself is probably the best city in a video game to date, with not only a large amount of landmass to explore but also a varied landscape. Some areas are hilly, some areas have parks and running tracks with grandstands, the interstate looms overhead allowing for fast travel across the city, and high-class suburbs come complete with white picket fences and meticulously trimmed hedges.
If you are not a fan of rap music, True Crimes soundtrack could likely kill you have it not been for the developer's wise decision to include a custom soundtrack option for the Xbox version. There is a staggering amount of songs in the included soundtrack from a variety of rap artists, both popular and somewhat obscure, some of which are likeable even to those who usually don't listen to the rap genre of music. The in game music is broken down into fast paced, slow paced, and driving tunes, allowing you to adjust and tailor your music as you see fit. On the non-musical side of things, the sound effects pack a refreshing amount of both punch of quality behind them, the voiceovers are great across the board, and overall True Crimes sounds are much more cinematic than what is found in most other games. Half-Asian, half-Caucasian actor Russell Wong is the logical choice for providing Nick's voiceovers, and while I thought that his voice didn't initially suit Nick, it grew on me after a while.
When it's all tallied up, True Crime comes across as a title that could have been so much better had it stayed in the oven for a little bit longer. It's not a bad game by any means, but if its flaws were ironed out it really would be the GTA killer the hype machines have somewhat presented it to be. Bits such as the fighting engine can be fun even though it is probably the most flawed aspect of the entire game, though when fighting the tougher enemies in the game those flaws are quickly frustrating, to the point of some people returning the game. However, when you look past the game's flaws you will find a title that is worthy of a second look, though definitely not a blind purchase. In essence, rent the game first and how you feel about it on about the fourth day is how you'll feel about it for the duration. It's not that True Crime is a bad game by any sense of the word; it's just that the flaws make it painfully obvious that the game could have been so much more.
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