Genre: Action / Exploration
Release Date: November 15, 2005
Crime doesn't particularly pay. It's got that whole image of huge mounds of crisp Benjamins, lots of hot women — or men, if that's what you're after — and lots of exciting times dodging John Law and your fellow ne'er-do-wells. The only diminishing return is that whole "lifetime incarceration" thing, really. Of course, on the other side, you have the police officers, who get bad pay, bureaucracy, and the risk of death at the hands of an illiterate junkie. It's a heck of a trade-off, but thankfully, these things aren't important in video games.
True Crime: NYC is the sequel to the mostly unlauded True Crime: Streets of LA. The original could only be called a dud: while it looked good, had an above-average storyline, and featured a deep combat system, the sluggish framerate, goofy controls, and stomach-churning vehicle physics doomed it to be buried in an unmarked grave near Vegas. The sequel attempts to shed most of those ties in order to live a new, quiet life on the East Coast. New, yes, but it's anything but quiet.
Things get started entirely differently than the original, going off with enough bangs to deafen a borough. As a heavy in a gang, Marcus Wright — our "hero" if there is one — has been wronged and wronged seriously, left to die after an ambush. However, you didn't die, and not only is Marcus still breathing, but he's heavily armed and really quite mad over the whole thing. What ensues is the first portion of a three-step tutorial, teaching you the wonders of gunplay and moving about in the city. One of the first things that springs forward is the much improved aiming and gun handling system — the lock-ons are far more effective than LA's, and the guns are much more meaningful.
Fast forward a few years to find Marcus' once-thug life replaced by a beat on the right side of the law as one of New York's Finest. The second tutorial (your officer's final exam) brings in more involved gun work, wall-hugging, and driving; the third and final is a night mission with the very detective who helped bring you up from the ghetto and the gutter. When things go awry and he's killed, the plot finally settles happily into place, leaving you to find out exactly who and why this went down the way it did.
Calling TC:NYC a Grand Theft Auto III clone is applying the wrong terminology. There are no missions to wander about and find in these city streets; instead, they simply fall into your lap when the time is right, proceeding in a sequence that slowly puts the plot into perspective. It isn't exactly rocket science — you'll be more than one step ahead of the writers the entire time — but in action film terms, it does just fine. The voice acting is top-notch, done by professionals from Hollywood (yes, Christopher Walken returns, alongside Mariska Hargitay from SVU and Lawrence Fishburne), but — and I mean this nicely — the dialogue is pretty appalling, composed of generic gangster-isms, stereotypical New Yorker banter, and lots of shouting and mumbling.
The combat system has, thankfully, improved significantly this go-round: gone is the clunky "kung fu heavy" scheme from LA, switched out for a simple heavy/quick striking system. Tacked on are flying tackles (for snagging runners) and warning shots (when showing your badge just doesn't work, pop an eardrum). While dealing with street crime is every bit as repetitive as it was the first time, it's essential to pull together the reputation and most of all the bankroll you need to succeed.
Two of the hugest features are Rank and Bank. As you pull off busts, bring down drug pushers, and stop celebrities from robbing liquor stores (yes, I'm serious), you'll gain points, either good or bad. While LA had the same idea, it's more essential here because Rank brings bonuses. Bank and Rank tie together: with the cash, you can buy loot, like new cars, better clothes, and most importantly, new firearms. However, these are all tied to your Officer Ranking, meaning you can't have that new fully automatic grenade launcher unless you've been doing your Officer Do-Right exercises. It adds a new nudge to being a Good Cop, pushing you to try a bit harder in order to get the swag. Many of the new weapons are non-lethal in nature as well, which helps significantly in firefights. Earning money is as simple as turning in evidence and picking up your paycheck at the station.
Of course, if the bug bites, you can simply be a Bad Cop — anyone who watches me play will see someone reveling in sociopathic tendencies like Travis Bickle on a bad day. The game can be finished either way, but it's much harder to do when the police are trying to kill you dead, and they're very effective at their jobs. It's also possible to be a far more subtle bad lieutenant by selling evidence to crooked pawnshops, giving commandeered vehicles to chop shops, and planting things on folks while you shake them down. No amount of failure will ever result in your dismissal from the force: fall far enough, and you'll end up a beat cop with no cars and no extra guns beyond your sidearm, but even if you steal a dump truck and plow through Central Park aiming at those mimes, The Chief will just keep sending you back out there. You can't die, either — while Officer Barbrady may put a shotgun shell in your face, it's nothing modern medical science can't repair.
So what exactly do I love about True Crime: New York City? It's not the story, but more the system: it lets you get out there, get your hands dirty amongst the unwashed masses in any way you see fit, and doesn't let any of your actions (for the most part, anyway) completely ruin the outcome. Maybe it's more enjoyable as a sandbox than a full-fledged game, but I've had fun playing in the sand too. So pick up a machinegun, get in your new El Dorado, and go arrest a few Joes. On me.
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