I’m going to try something a little different with this review, a little change in structure. I notice that when I read a game review, I’m often looking for information about a particular game facet – What are the graphics like? What does it play like? It can be a little burdensome sifting through a couple of pages of write up when you are only looking for one thing. So, as an experiment, I’m going to try a review that is broken down into sections for you, predigested bits that should be easier on the tummy. Bon appetite.
I don’t want to give too much of this somewhat rehashed but very well done plot away in the telling, but you play Nick Kang, a cop, the son of a cop who disappeared in the midst of a corruption scandal. You work for some special crimes unit called EOD (Elite Operations Division) investigating what begins as a Yakuza crime ring and ultimately involving the Russian Mafia, North Korea, and a 300 year old Chinese warrior, and it might, just might, lead you to find the fate of your father. Depending on how you play the game, it has three possible mission branches with three different endings (one a good deal shorter than the other two). What exactly can you do to determine your own destiny? That’s a good question. The manual says that everything you do will effect the game’s outcome. As near as I can see, that adds up to a grand total of three pivotal missions – fail one and take one plot line, succeed and take another. Whup-dee-do.
TC is a mixture of driving, shooting, and fighting. By solving crimes (which more or less consists of just going to a location and beating up and arresting everyone there) you earn points (“shields”). These shields can be redeemed at locations around the city to improve or add to your driving, shooting, and fighting techniques. The mission tree is linear (beyond the three branching points). Solving crimes also gives you “good cop” points, which offset collecting “bad cop” points. Accumulate “too many” bad cop points and the citizens will become more violent towards you, and other cops will come after you – at least that’s what the manual says. What I’ll say is that I played the game pretty much as the largest crime wave Los Angeles has ever seen. I would wreck my car frequently, running over lamp posts, trees, signs, and pedestrians with equal abandon, then stealing (ahem, excuse me, commandeering) another when it became too damaged to drive. Frequent gun battles in the streets made Los Angeles look like Iraq, I would often catch muggers by running them over with my car, and my solution to carjacking would be to blow up the carjacker and the car he was driving. I’ve shot up FBI vehicles and mowed down other cops. Truth be told, I’m probably a bigger threat to public safety than the crime I’m putting a stop to, and I’m ranked as a good cop. What the heck would I have to do to be a bad one?
The driving engine is a little sloppy, and driving as a whole plays only a small role in the game. Most of the missions are simply drive somewhere, without time limit, allowing you to solve as many random crimes as you would like on the way, but even the few timed missions are not exactly difficult, allowing adequate time to get where you need to. There are also some tailing missions in which you have to keep a set distance, neither too close nor too far, from another vehicle – these are easy as well thanks to the minimap in the corner. They have done an excellent job of recreating about 200 miles of Los Angeles roadways in great detail, though it’s not like I whipped out a road atlas and checked them on any of it so it could all be fiction. There are other people and cars about, so in some sense they have created a living city, only there doesn’t seem to be any traffic laws – cars smash into each other and run over people all the time. When gunfire erupts, as it often does especially when I’m around, some people run away from it, some people run towards it – complete pandemonium. You car can take an unfathomable amount of damage, smashing into other cars at full speed and knocking trees (big trees, not Charlie Brown Christmas trees) right out of the ground. Only after using your car as a battering ram for blocks and blocks do you finally see a reduction in performance, and that’s mostly speed not maneuverability. Vehicles in the game range from sports cars up to trucks (no motorcycles), and they are different to drive in terms of their performance. Trucks can take even more punishment than cars, like the semi at the beginning of Beverly Hills Cop, complete devastation.
The shooting is, uh, for the most part over very quickly. You can’t take a great number of hits, nor can your opponents. If you go to arrest someone and he pulls out a gun, you had better get yours out quickly as well or die a speedy, lead-filled death. Handguns, automatic weapons, shotguns, and rifles abound, though you only carry ammo for a pair of handguns. If you pick up a shotgun for example you only have it until its immediate load runs out, then you automatically drop it and go back to the handguns. As an upgrade you can pick up the targeted shot skill, and that allows you to shoot out car tires and whatnot, using a combination of “bullet time” and a zoom targeting reticle. I liked that a lot. In a sort of odd departure from GTA, you can shoot out the front of the car while driving and you never have to reload. It behaves like you have some sort of mounted gun system on your car, and I would never leave a car to have a shootout outdoors – it’s easier to stay in the car endlessly firing and letting it suck up the damage, and it can take far more hits than you can.
Fighting is really the best part of the game. Nick has a number of kicks, punches, and combination moves which can be increased at the training facilities. While there was probably some strategy that could be brought into hand-to-hand combat, by and large the “keep clicking buttons until the opponent dies” approach worked for me. Fighting multiple opponents is probably easier than it should be as they mostly wait their turn to get a shot at you. You can wield pipes, bats, swords, knives and the like, but I found they cramped my “mashing the buttons fighting” style and would rarely pick them up. There are a few sneaking missions thrown into the mix, but the guards spend so much time facing away from you that it felt pathetically like Manhunt.
The graphics look a lot like GTA, only with a great deal of clipping. The camera, which floats round behind you in third person mode when you’re out of the car, is very poorly done. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to notice if there is a wall between you and it, sometimes it puts you between you and your opponent blocking most of the view, and sometimes it zooms in way too close clipping off additional enemies and obstacles – they’re all unfortunate and far worse than anything I’ve seen Tomb Raider do. The graphics drawing distance also seems a little short when driving, and cars will appear suddenly in the not-so-distance leading to some unfortunate head on collisions at about 120 mph. Good thing your car is tough! There are some nice sky effects and weather, and you see a plane every so often where you are near the airport. How you can see a plane at 15,000 feet and not a car two blocks away is a mystery to me.
Voice acting is where I have to give this game some accolades. Narration by Christopher Walken – he’s just outstanding. Gary Oldman, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriquez, Ron Perlman – serious star power. Great script, good dialog, professional acting. The music is mostly rap and grunge. Unlike GTA you don’t get to pick your radio station (which was one of the greatest things about GTA) and can just listen to whatever the radio is playing, though you can skip a track any time you like. There are maybe 100 songs all told.
There’s a reason GTA did not have multiplayer – it doesn’t work well given the structure of the game. It doesn’t work here either. Online I found only a dozen games going on, most with one guy in them. I tried one in which you play a cop against other cops, the object being to make as many arrests as possible, the winner being the one who made the most. A quick glimpse of how this plays out: we’re all in our cars, a call comes in for a crime, and we speed over there. The one to get the arrest is the first one to run the victim, er, criminal over. I mean, I could try and get out of my car and actually make the arrest, but while I’m doing that all the other guys are just going to run the criminal (or probably both of us) over. You get points for running a criminal over – not as many as a clean arrest, but more than trying to make a clean arrest and getting run flat in the process. A second variant has one person be “it” and all the other people trying to catch that person. This plays like a demolition derby, nothing more. There are a couple that involve fighting, but I couldn’t find anyone playing it online so I can’t comment on it. There are also some multiplayer modes that are straight racing, but with the likes of NFS and Colin McRae around, I can’t see anyone playing them, and I didn’t.
The multiplayer games are all quite weak. I’m not sure that they could have any better (or any worse); GTA’s solution was to do nothing.
As control goes, this is clearly a console port, and would probably best be played with a gamepad that I don’t have. The keyboard is set up in a somewhat standard fashion, but I would have liked to move some of the keys around, and it’s not an option.
I gotta tell you, approaching True Crime: Streets of LA from a GTA standpoint will bring you nothing but disappointment. That’s what I did, and for the first couple of hours I had nothing but complaints about the game, a whole list of ways in which TC compared poorly to GTA next to my mouse pad. But I’m a professional, and for you, my dedicated fans at the venerable GO Network, both of you, I kept on playing, and you know what? TC isn’t really a pale GTA ripoff at all. TC is an OK fighting game with a snappy plotline, and some unfortunately crappy driving segments thrown in for good measure. It would have been much better if they had been able to get the camera under control.