Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books when you were a kid? You know, unlike regular books with static plots, these were the ones that would place you in some odd situation and present you with two or more options to continue your story, all with different outcomes. While some games have lightly touched upon this idea with multiple endings, they haven’t really touched on players dealing with the consequences of their actions or choices during their adventures until now. True Crime: Streets Of L.A. from Luxoflux and Activision presents a unique spin by actively responding to the player, changing to meet the decisions made during gameplay.
If it sounds odd, don’t worry, because we’ll go over it in a second. First, let me go over the basic plot of the game itself. Nick Kang is an L.A.P.D. officer whose use of excessive force and other questionable police methods result in numerous suspensions from the force. Complicating his dubious law enforcement approach is the fact that he is the son of a highly decorated officer who disappeared from the city under mysterious circumstances, leading fellow cops to judge Nick by the standards of his father. With this giant chip on his shoulder affecting his work, Nick gets recruited by the E.O.D., a secret branch of the police department tasked with eliminating crime from the streets. Given his badge back by the chief of the division and issued a partner (which, as everyone knows, goes against every renegade cop’s personal beliefs), Nick is sent out to clean up L.A.
Obviously, there’s much more to the plot than that, but as you know, I’m not going to spoil any of it for you. Instead, I’ll speak more generally about the gameplay itself. Nick will quickly find himself embroiled in a few conspiracies, find himself the target of both Chinese and Russian gang members, and discover what really happened to his father. To this end, his firearms, driving and martial arts skills will be put to the test as he travels across 250 square miles of accurately modeled Los Angeles streets. However, Nick won’t be restricted to continually chasing the story’s bad guys all the time; in fact, as a police officer, there will be a lot of times that he’ll simply have to perform typical law enforcement duties. At any particular time on the streets, Nick might receive an alert to a specific crime occurring in his general vicinity, such as a mugging, street racing or civil disobedience.
Although he’s not obligated to deviate from his original quest to destroy the kingpins of the criminal underworld, taking a few minutes to eliminate rabble in the streets augments the game significantly in two ways. Resolving the police call in some way earns Nick shields, which can be used to augment his skills at dojos, firing ranges and driving schools. Much more than a mini-game, these schools actually teach Nick skills needed to progress through the more difficult sections of the game, such as being able to neutralize armed suspects with well-armed shots or burnouts. It may not seem significant at first, but later on you’ll realize just how necessary it is to gain these abilities to successfully complete levels without endangering the lives of the peaceful citizens around you. When you start the game, Nick is a rather rough hero; his aim, for a policeman, is abysmal and his driving could be on par with that of a teen with a driver’s permit. To that end, you can expect quite a few unexpected casualties as you try to apprehend criminals.
This is a perfect segue into the other effect, that of the Karma system. True Crime bases a certain amount of its gameplay around the idea of actions and consequences committed by the player, ranking Nick along a good cop/bad cop definition. Saving innocent lives, stopping rampages with minimal property damage and other tactically sound measures will ensure a favorable rating and ending for the game, while shooting or running over anything that moves will quickly plunge him into trouble with the law. Not only will citizens be afraid of you, but keep up your streak of lawlessness, and you will have a SWAT team dispatched to take you out (something they are incredibly efficient at). Not counting the potential endgame ramifications of upholding or straying from the law, the Karma system also affects the plot of the game itself, changing and manipulating the story that players will go through. For instance, a player acting as a good cop might gain some information on their next mission from the E.O.D. headquarters, while a bad cop will be forced to struggle and scrounge up leads on their own.
If you have ever visited L.A. or happen to live in the city, you’ll be surprised at just how painstaking the designers were with the capturing of every square mile of the metropolis. Everything from recognizable landmarks (like Staples Center) to individual neighborhoods are captured perfectly. It was really cool to find friend’s houses and other locations that I myself have driven past in real life while I chased down some perp in a hot rod. The character models within True Crime are rather large and decently animated, although you will inevitably find that many of the civilian models are rather repetitive, so you’ll see the same man walking down the street with a slightly different shirt. Similarly, you’ll find the same with the cars racing down the street. Although these aren’t specifically licensed from car companies, you’ll notice vehicles that could pass for Porsches, Hummers or Cadillacs.
Nick is nicely drawn and well animated, especially during the martial arts duels, where his talent is showcased with an incredible amount of fluidity. While lip-synching isn’t perfectly done during cutscenes, it’s solid enough to convey what’s going on. The cutscenes, on the other hand, are very nicely done, and considering that there are a ton of them scattered between the beginning, middle and ends of missions, you can expect to see a ton of nicely animated sequences. Unfortunately, massive clipping issues with people or vehicles trapped partially in walls occur more than it should, which really degrades play when you find a criminal lodged in a building. You’ll also find a few odd occurrences where arrested felons will actually move quite a distance away from Nick during the time he slaps the cuffs on them, leaving a choppy animated sequence. This is further complicated by camera issues, which have a greater tendency to get caught on the edges of objects more frequently than the clipping problems.
The sound does manage to significantly make up for some of the graphical issues, with one of the largest licensed soundtracks ever found within a game. Primarily taking tracks from West Coast rappers, over 50 licensed songs are featured on the soundtrack. Not leaving out other genres, you’ll find songs from Parliament Funkadelic and Megadeth as well, which provides an eclectic mix of music to satisfy your playing experience. Xbox owners will be able to rip their own soundtracks as well if these songs just don’t appeal to you. Voice acting is nicely provided with an all-star cast of celebrities, including Michelle Rodriguez, Russell Wong and perhaps the most noticeable of them all, Christopher Walken as an old cop on the force.
Control within the game, while choppy at first, is designed to be that way because of Nick’s inexperience as a fighter in the early stages of the game. However, regardless of the number of dojos you attend or fights you get into, the game still seems to degenerate into a button mashing sequence whenever hand-to-hand combat breaks out. Even the simplest streetwalker turns into a trained assassin who can block and dodge Nick’s attacks at will, making the stringing together of attacks tougher than it should be. Another odd occurance that you’ll run into is the fact that some random crimes will find themselves resolved without Nick even coming close to them. For instance, criminals on foot can be run over by innocent drivers, leading to the solution of the case in Nick’s favor. What does have to be one of the biggest strikes, however, is the fact that without specifically unlocking anything, players can automatically view the intros and other missions of the branching plotlines, rendering the branching storyline almost a novelty than an innovation for action titles.
True Crime does a lot of things that distinguishes it from being another run ‘n’ gun city title or GTA-clone. The Karma system, the skill training mode and the branching storylines offered promise for what could’ve established the new standard for action titles. Unfortunately, graphical glitches, fighting issues and a breakdown with the plotline feature tarnish the game from truly being stellar.