Genre: Action / Exploration
Release Date: November 15, 2005
A lot of people dismissed True Crime: Streets of LA as just another GTA clone, and maybe they were right. That's hardly the reception that True Crime: New York City deserves, though. This game is shaping up to be one of Activision's biggest surprises for this fall, with tight controls, impressive graphics, and a truly immersive storyline. With this game, True Crime shakes off the final vestiges of GTA-wannabe and becomes a recognizable franchise in its own right, one that mixes action, exploration, and rather deliberate decision-making.
New York City essentially abandons the cast of the previous game, instead following an angry young man from the ghetto named Marcus Reed. His father Isaiah Reed (voiced by Laurence Fishburne!) is a big-time crime boss, and as the story begins it looks like Marcus is ready to follow in daddy's footsteps. The first level features the player guiding Marcus, covered in blood and toting a gun in either hand, through a small-time vice den looking to shoot up the man that double-crossed him. What really struck us during this sequence was how incredibly responsive the controls were for the action portion of the game. The auto-targeting system made quickly getting the crosshairs over toward the mooks you wanted to shoot up easy, without resulting in jerky camera movements or unnatural angles.
However, it didn't instantly give you the ability to blow thugs away. Marcus takes plenty of damage from mook gunfire, so you're best off finding cover to snipe from. When sniping, you need to enter a "precision targeting" mode to make sure your shot will connect. The good cop / bad cop system also affects the way you handle the action scenes on down the line. While it's fine for Marcus to simply blow all the thugs away while he's just a thug himself, once he becomes a cop you'll want to choose carefully between handling things like a good cop (and shooting guys in the knees) or a bad cop (shooting guys in the head, chest, or other lethal areas). Being a bad cop makes combat easier, but trying to do things the good cop way struck us as honestly more challenging and fun. Good cop solutions are usually a bit more difficult and require more deliberate planning on the part of the player.
Marcus becomes a cop after the end of the first mission, when his father's detective friend Terry Higgins takes Marcus to task for his rampage. Apparently repentant, we catch up with Marcus a few years later, when he's become a badge-toting beat cop. During our demo time with the game, we were able to check out a few of Marcus' later adventures in the story: eventually you'll have Marcus working undercover to infiltrate a drug ring, and going toe-to-toe with the Italian mafia. But for the player approaching the game in order, you'll do a series of training missions that act as more formal tutorials for melee combat, gunplay, and driving. The driving sequences have been changed very little from the first game, other than some new braking options for keeping control of your car, and the result is that the driving sequences are perhaps the least enjoyable element of True Crime: New York City. Still, the rest of the game more than made up for this.
We didn't get long to mess around with the game's "sandbox" mode ourselves, but the ability to solve random crimes in both good cop and bad cop fashion is back. There are even short voice clips that play when you arrest a thug, varying according to the situation. True Crime is actually full of voice acting like this, not just voice-overs for the cut-scenes, and it adds a lot to the action and driving sequences. While not quite street-authentic, there's still a certain gritty ambience that the dialogue captures.
The game's music was just barely audible, but one thing we quickly noticed is that the near-solid selection of rap from the original True Crime was now replaced with a much wider range of music genres. Most songs available could be categorized as rap, rapcore, rock, or punk. We didn't notice a lot of major artist names when we browsed through the in-game song selection, but noticed that all of the songs were quite excellent soundtracks to gun-fighting with bad guys. Even better, songs were freely selectable from a particular menu interface, so you could listen to whatever you wanted as you played - and more importantly, avoid listening to songs and song styles you didn't like.
At this point, whether you play as a law-abiding good cop or a vicious bad cop has no bearing on the game's storyline (which is actually cleverly designed to accommodate this). You can even fail missions and botch plot points, and still the game's storyline will progress. This is an unusual way to reach the story-gameplay compromise, but it seems to work pretty well in context. For instance, after you've cleared a mission you can go back and play it again to try and improve your performance, and abominable gaming skills won't keep you from seeing the striking story sequences. True Crime is one of those games that strives to be as movie-like as possible with the cut-scenes, and appears to be one of the better implementations of this design aesthetic. The cinematic quality of the story doesn't impinge on your freedom when playing the game, and likewise game challenges don't become arbitrary barriers to seeing how the story turns out.
Of course, the real selling point of True Crime is going to lie in exploring the city, based largely on Manhattan, and that's something we didn't get to do a whole lot of in the demo. Still, the taste of True Crime we did get, and especially the tight combat controls, leave us very hopeful for a polished and entertaining final product. A lot of the promises of the first game look like they'll be fully delivered upon at last when the game hits stores in mid-November.
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