Crime Cities is a mission-based driving game set in a dark, grim future. The game's hero goes undercover for the cops to become something of a futuristic "wheelman," completing illegal objectives for his crime bosses and avoiding cover-blowing detection by the authorities on the street. The futuristic, penal colony setting in Crime Cities calls for speedy hover-cars that often must navigate through tight spaces and swirling traffic. As missions are completed, the hero is rewarded with cash, which can be spent to upgrade his vehicle, and praise from his crime lord bosses, which can lead to bigger, more challenging missions.
Flying cars, huge skyscrapers, big and floating monitors that advertise Chinese-food restaurants and geisha bars - now where have I seen that before? Ah yes, I think it was back in 1981 when Ridley Scott first came up with the idea of shooting 'Blade Runner.' As we all know, it was a very successful movie based on Philip K. Dick's novel 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.' This movie introduced a whole new approach to the science fiction genre. When it comes to Blade Runner, I think we can safely say that many movies (too many in fact) have used the same idea, and the same goes for computer games. Crime Cities will give you high pollution, dark atmosphere with constant rain, all of which make the future look rather grim.
The scenario is typical. You will be sent to a star system called Pandemia. Throughout the game you will be working as an undercover cop called Lieutenant Tiger and your assignments are going to take place on various planets and moons that represent huge prison colonies. Posing as a bounty hunter you must roam through the penal colonies and offer your services to all sorts of crime organizations; in order to gain their trust you'll need to prove yourself in a series of missions. Sometimes you're gonna be assisting the local authorities in putting a stop to the operations of certain small-time gangs. The first planet that you'll be working on is Taveroon - mostly occupied by smugglers, deviants, and financial criminals. The general purpose of all of your missions is to destroy the Mafia clans that have taken control of the prison systems. At the same time you must avoid any unnecessary conflict with the planet authorities that are recognizable everywhere as the so-called 'Starpol' organization.
The society structure of each planetary prison system was set according to the magnitude of the criminal penalties. Some have a large number of 'Starpol' present (like the planet Quarzon, which has a few police vehicles stationed while the rest of the population mostly consists of hackers and political prisoners). Other planets are totally corrupted and unsupervised (like Blakloud, which is inhabited by terrorists, war criminals, and is completely bereft of police or any kind of authorities). While making your way through the city streets, er I mean skies; you will feel like Corbin Dallas driving his little yellow cab at maximum speed desperately trying to avoid a traffic jam. Then the thrill will suddenly disappear, and you'll think: 'Something is missing, but what? I cannot put my finger on it'. Eventually you'll realize that you're not Corbin Dallas on a mission to save the world from the ultimate evil, you're just some stupid undercover agent that fights against deranged crime bosses, and forgotten villains.
I was immediately disappointed because I couldn't select the car. First you will be driving a simple hovering 60's car model. Later the vehicles are going to be more advanced and they will allow you to perform your tasks more efficiently. In order to remain undetected and unrecognizable your vehicle will also need to blend in with the atmosphere of a certain crime city. The disappointment comes when you realize that you cannot choose a preferable car - they will be given to you automatically every time when you start a different world. Each car has its own initial features: standard shield and weapon system. The cars can later be upgraded with a variety of laser and rocket launching equipment. GMC (Global Merchandise Center) will provide you with a large weaponry assortment. You will have many docking points in the city where you can purchase items and refurbish the hovercraft's energy and shield supply. Arranging these necessities is a bit complicated and will annoy you every time when you need to check them. Buying and installing new guns and missiles is rather simple, but the problem arises when you have to replace a certain item or recharge your shield in the middle of a dogfight with an opponent. Unfortunately, after accomplishing your missions you won't have enough money for powerful military hardware (and even if you do, you will still need to recharge your main shields and that also costs a lot). Heavy military weapons are extremely expensive.
Which brings us to yet another annoying feature in Crime Cities. While I was purchasing weapons during the game, I was constantly harassed by all kinds of enemy crafts. Namely, the whole approach to the mission briefings and tasks is way too complicated. It often happens that someone blasts you right out of the gloomy sky while your examining your mission list. This makes the game very hard. If you want to reduce the number of your opponents, you can choose to play on the easy level. Forget about playing the medium level, or at least I had to, 'cause it was just too damn hard. Your enemy will sometimes be impossible to defeat with the standard weapons. Do not even consider attacking anyone without rocket launching equipment and plasma rays. Even if your little flying nemesis has all possible weaponry and ammo it will have a hard time in trying to stop the enemy. Their AI is good, but in some cases too good for a sane person to handle. Encountering three enemy vehicles simultaneously and staying alive is almost impossible. This is what bothered me most during gameplay. At first, I thought the problem was in the controls, yet later I realized that most of the trouble comes from using the unpractical weapon inventory. You'll have very little time to manipulate the items you carry on board. Even when you get used to all of the controls and inventory catches you will still find the game requires too much patience for a shooter.
Throughout the game you will have to struggle with your adversaries that have virtually unlimited amount of weapons and ammo. You on the other hand, will barely have enough cash for main shield and weapon recharging. For revitalizing your vehicle you'll have to find the closest GMC shop. After that you'll need to dock your ship and wait until the equipping process passes. Which brings me to a small game glitch. At one point my humble little flying car was docked for a weapon reload, and I almost completed my recharging and then right out of the blue an enemy rocket destroyed me on the spot. How Incredibly reckless of me - you would say. Ah, but wait my friend you haven't heard the punch line yet. When you dock at the GMC shopping terminals you are mostly surrounded by walls, I have no idea how that bloody rocket passed through a solid wall to eliminate my cute little car. This happened several times, and later I figured out I can shoot the enemies right through the buildings.
Finding your targets is pretty tricky; and finding your way around the city is sometimes tremendously difficult because of the confusing radar screen. The main interface readouts do in fact show an altitude point, but that somehow doesn't go well with the radar. When you're in a sticky situation, you will hardly have time to speculate the distance to the GMC shop, so you'll just have to use your actual line of vision.
The maps and levels in Crime Cities are somewhat large, but they feature very little environmental details. There will be several parameters for you to adjust before the game starts, everything concerning resolution settings and texture detail, fog effects and so on. Charging all of these factors up to maximum will still leave you with a mediocre visual experience. The atmosphere on most of the moons doesn't vary from murky and rainy weather conditions. The only things that would possibly light up the area are the occasional colorful explosions of vehicles and the bursting of the lasers and plasmas. Car models are variable but poorly textured, but at least their numbers and the density of the futuristic city traffic somewhat improve their overall impression. Regrettably, the surrounding skyscrapers and constructions also have bad textures. So, mainly the visuals are totally substandard, giving you nausea during the entire game. But wait that's not all, as there are a lot of unpleasant sound effects to accompany the stinking graphics. The quantity of the sounds in Crime Cities is insufficient and reduced to a small sum of radio-frequency voices you can hear now and then; with exception of a one or two musical scores (that can rarely be heard) and the sounds of your cannons firing.
I can only sum up most of the negative vibes I got from Crime Cities. The lack of more light in certain areas and too much fog lead to quite a low visibility range. No lasting impressions on this one folks, so I would strongly advise that you invest your money, time, and patience into something else. After playing for quite a while I noticed that my head started throbbing and I was loosing my grip with reality. Playing games like 'Free Space 2' for days and days is bound to give you headache or similar natural side effects, but in a good way. Alas, in Crime Cities the maddening part is that the side effects crop up after some half an hour of gameplay, but in a bad way. The frustration and boredom grow critical as you realize that some of the assignments are repetitive and may require mad piloting and luck, rather than a well thought out strategy for achieving them. Maneuvering the craft amongst the tall city buildings doesn't take a long time to master, however getting used to the opponents AI is really a pain in the ass.
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