True Crime: Streets of L.A.
So many gameplay genres, so little space on the game disc. Does True Crime do the job with true style - or is it battered in GTA's shadow?
PS2, Xbox, Cube
By Rick Larson
Welcome to the E.O.D., the Elite Operations Division stationed in Los Angeles, California. This new division was created to deal with the toughest and most ruthless criminals in L.A. Headed by The Chief, Wanda Parks, the E.O.D finds itself up against new threats making their way onto the streets - mobs, gangs, and mercenaries. To combat them, The Chief calls in the only man ruthless and rugged enough to wipe the streets clean, Nick Kang. Nick's methods got him suspended from the LAPD, but his skill and willingness to get the job done is exactly what the E.O.D. is looking for.
True Crime is one of those games that tries to do it all. It has shooting, fighting, driving, and RPG elements all rapped into one massive 260 square mile package. Though offering a similar foundation to Grand Theft Auto, the rest of TC's make up manages to separate itself; it's is not a game where you're encouraged to go and cause mass havoc across a city. On the contrary, TC promotes doing good deeds in many ways ranging from earning more upgrades to getting better, longer endings. Causing civil unrest will cause police to hunt you down and make your game a living hell - though it can be fun trying to take on the entire force.
"True Crime tries to do it all - shooting, fighting, driving, and exploration."
Nick can do just about anything he wants in L.A., whether it be frisking citizens for weapons and drugs or jacking someone's sports car in the name of the law. It's is very open ended in terms of what you can do. When you start, you have your standard revolvers, old brown Cadillac (though not officially licensed) and a few kung fu moves just for good measure. Sadly, at this point many gamers will probably question their purchase. The game almost feels unfinished. Shooting seems dull, the fighting is lacking, and the car looks like a massive cigar. To my despair, I have heard many stories of people returning the game soon after a purchase for these reasons. What these gamers fail to realize however is that you're not just handed everything at the beginning. TC has you earn upgrades through 24/7 training areas that enhance your basic skills.
"Sadly, many gamers will question their purchase early on - you're not just handed everything."
Take for example fighting early on in the game. Gamers will notice that all they can really do is throw a few punches and kicks without any real combos or special attacks. Even when the opponent is on the ground unprotected, Nick is helpless to attack. The solution to these dilemmas is to find a 24/7 dojo and learn new move including combos and finishing moves, plus the ability to kick the snot out of a foe while he's down - which is very satisfying. Upgrades for guns range from slow motion FPSing, to laser sights, along with brand new guns altogether. New cars are also available as unlockables, with the addition of learning how to do 180's and speed bursts.
These aren't all just freebies though. On the contrary, you have to earn badge points. Badge points are kind of like experience points you earn for busting or killing criminals. This is the RPG element mentioned earlier. You need a badge to enter a 24/7 training facility, and to get one you can cruise around the massive city and break up random crimes. This adds quite a bit of depth to the game. Once you have upgraded numerous skills the controls for all the different areas feel tight and enjoyable.
"Badge points are kind of like experience points you earn for busting or killing criminals."
Another gameplay feature is the ability for gamers to choose what kind of cop they want to be. It's the old good cop, bad cop routine. To sum it up, gamers can earn good cop points by handcuffing their enemy rather than blowing their brains out. On the other side of the spectrum you can just go around and waste those no good grannies that bust out into street fights oh so often. Going about it that way earns Nick bad cop points. These points eventually translate into the ending players will receive. There are three different endings - but the 'good cop' ending explains the most.
The graphics in this game are initially disappointing. If there was another game to compare the basic graphics with (character models, overall environmental look) it would have to be the better looking levels of Enter the Matrix. This isn't a bad thing, it's just not up to par with most games this generation. After a few hours of playing the reason for these bland graphics makes itself apparent. The detail and sheer size of the map is overwhelming. Luxoflux got just about every road, house, and building in L.A. perfectly recreated. As far as the Xbox version goes, every area of the map is accessible without having to load between any region of the map. That's right, you can drive from one end of L.A. to the other seamlessly. Any loading time takes place between missions and when entering the rare accessible buildings in the game. That truly is a huge feat. To add to that, animations are top notch as well. Facial expressions and lip syncs are all very convincing. Normal movement and fighting are also well captured. The bullet time effects don't look all that bad either.
"The detail and sheer size of the map is overwhelming, with every road, house, and building in L.A."
In addition, most of the environments are interactive. While in buildings nearly everything can be destroyed. Tables, chairs, stoves- you name it, breaks. The outside world may not be quite that interactive but it still can be manipulated. Light poles and fences can be smashed over by driving into them, which damages you car. Even the car models get banged up in a believable manner. The most enjoyable aspect of the game in my opinion is when Nick is tailing a car and goes into FPS mode in slow motion - by targeting near the rear bumper and unloading a few shots the gas tank will ignite sending the vehicle in in a forward flaming flip. When you pull it off the first time it will be one of those breathtaking gaming moments you'll remember for a long time.
TC's sound will blow you away. It really is that good. To start with the voice acting is incredible. This is mainly due to the professional actors lending their voices. When I heard Chris Walken's voice during the first narration a smile grew from ear to ear. It seemed awkward having him play a cop though. With such great voice acting the story really came to life and never sounded cheesy. The voices also play a big role outside of the story, too. The streets are alive with clamor and as soon as you start picking up on what people are saying you'll notice this game isn't for kiddies. TC probably has the most curses I've heard in a game, ever. The first time I heard Nick drop the F-bomb while smacking down a baddie I nearly fell out of my chair. Cursing is basically the standard vocabulary in L.A. Take for example a simple drug bust:
"The voice acting is incredible, with professional actors like Chris Walken lending their talent."
Nick: "Ready to become Bubba's little b*tch?!"
Crook: "F*ck you, you piece of sh*t cop!"
Just another day at the office. The environment sounds equally spectacular especially in DD5.1. There are conversations everywhere, birds chirping, and engines revving. Based on the area, sounds change too. If you go to the airport you will hear planes - hear but sadly not see. The sandy beaches offers some nice ocean sounds like crashing waves and the chirping of birds. The atmosphere is intended to engulf gamers. When action gets crazy the sounds of explosions and gunfire ring out along with locals' desperate cries for help. To top it off Nick just about always has something clever to say whether it be "Hi, I'm Nick Kang and I'll be your carjacker this evening" or "I told you my Kung Fu was better!". It lightens up the mood and allows a good laugh quite often.
"The environment audio is spectacular - there's conversation and traffic everywhere."
There is also a whole list of music featuring Snoop Dogg, Taproot, Deftones, and a ton of rappers. The music is great, thanks to these guys, fitting the L.A. vibe perfectly. The best part is when Nick gets into a big fight, the music goes into some great metal that really gets the adrenaline pumping. For those not big on rap, TC offers the ability to use custom soundtracks on the Xbox hard drive.
Just Off Target?
With all that said there are some things that tend to hurt this game. Mainly the part about it taking place on a 260 square mile map. Sure it was listed as a highlight of the game but when it comes down to it, it's too much. Unlike most games with massive maps- GTA, Morrowind, Shenmue, The Getaway - L.A. never feels like home. It is so big that most, including myself, will never really explore the entire map. Every time you start a new mission, Nick is dropped off in a new place, leaving you unfamiliar with your surroundings. Sadly, there's no attempt to give gamers a purpose to explore the maps either. Yes, there are random crimes that pull you out of the car and on to the streets, but unless you intend to run for hours to get to the green dot on the map labeling your objective, most gamers will just hop in a car and burn rubber. And as far as exploring the beach is concerned - don't. There is nothing there. Don't go with a busted car either, it'll take a half an hour to run back to the freeway - trust me.
"Nick is dropped off in a new place every mission, leaving you unfamiliar with your surroundings."
As mentioned before, the graphics aren't the greatest either. That added to the lack of weather effects and daylight changes only based on missions, the environments can sometimes seem bland. Often when NPCs are hit next to a wall they will fall right through it, which is a major clipping issue. This often allows criminals to get away in the middle of a fight. The overall A.I. isn't anything impressive either. It is also annoying seeing the same faces over and over. Even though there are a ton of different crimes - including my personal favorite "Hallie Cherry" doing a hit and run then fleeing from the crime scene - they eventually repeat themselves, over and over. It gets frustrating hearing that a guy car jacking felon has never been caught when you have already busted him eight times.
As a final gripe, we beat the game in three days, 100% completed. Though it will probably take longer for most gamers with a life, it still may feel a little short. The only thing that may add replay value is being able to unlock the infamous Snoop Doggy Dog himself. Even that seems like a big task when you have to find 30 dog bones located around the HUGE map. If you're like me you'll probably go through the whole game without finding a single one. These drawbacks hinder the game but don't do much to hurt the experience.
"It gets frustrating when a felon has never been caught, when you have already busted him eight times."
True Crime is one heck of a game. The cinematic feel grabs and hurtles you into an interactive, free flowing movie. With all the different outcomes for each individual level, most gamers will be truly awe-struck. The massive world is very immersive and addicting for most of the game, and though there are some drawbacks, it pushes through a winner.
There is plenty to do and even more to see in True Crime. It's a shooter, fighter, RPG, driving sim all in one. All of these areas are done well to boot. The size of the game will simply astound those that pick up a copy. In the end even with the small problems don't hurt it enough to keep me from recommending the game. It's worth a purchase, just be prepared to adapt to the gameplay.