True Crime: Streets of L.A., Activision's take on the blockbuster hit Grand Theft Auto III, casts players in the role of a Los Angeles detective bent on revenge. As Nick Kang, players will comb the streets from inside a variety of vehicles as they embark on a series of 20 missions in a storyline inspired by Hong Kong cinema. Unlike Grand Theft Auto III, however, players are working for the law rather than against it. Missions range from stopping robbery attempts to arresting perps based on tips gleaned from informants, and players are free to leave their vehicles at any time to continue the mission on foot.
Players will also be able to complete 100 sub-missions outside of the main story to earn extra cash and to further one's ranking and reputation. Various stops, such as gun ranges, dojos, and auto simulators, allow players to improve their character's skills in hand-to-hand combat, the use of firearms, and driving. Developed by the team responsible for the Vigilante 8 series of vehicular combat titles, True Crime: Streets of L.A. features an estimated 240 square miles of Los Angeles terrain. Each mission can be completed in a number of ways, with consequences for each action.
True Crime hurls you into the detective shoes of Nick Kang, a hard-boiled cocky cop whose questionable methods got him suspended by the Los Angeles Police Department. It's his violent tendencies that make him perfect for the new Elite Operations Division (EOD), which is a lot like, well, a police department. As Kang, you'll play through a story arc broken into several acts, each of which consists of at least four missions.
Kang is a generally likeable hero, although his cocky nature might turn off some gamers. Fans of action flicks starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, and Segal will feel right at home. Kang is prone to solving crimes with maximum force, he's quick with one-liners, and his reputation alienates everyone who works with him (including his new partner, whom, upon meeting her, he mistakes for a secretary and asks to fetch him a cup of coffee). He's already an accomplished marksman and martial artist, and you can upgrade his powers further in 24-hour training facilities.
True Crime's plot-driven missions can be split into four primary types: driving, fighting, shooting, and free-form. Driving missions might challenge you to reach a certain destination within a time limit, or tail a suspect without losing him or getting too close and spooking him. Fighting missions pit Kang in a kung-fu match against one or more bad guys. Rare shooting missions tend to throw a dozen or more crooks into Kang's line of fire, during which sets get broken up like the bank lobby in The Matrix. Free-form missions allow you to cruise the streets of LA to your heart's content, and the map is remarkably realistic. As far as real cities represented in computer games go, True Crime puts the Midtown Madness series to shame.
Depending on how you solve crimes and confront suspects, a meter in the HUD will swing between "good cop" and "bad cop" ratings. Killing suspects, running down pedestrians, and generally being violent earns you bad-cop points, while taking suspects alive swings the meter the other way. The story branches depending on your rating. In a nifty twist, you can continue playing through the story arc even if you fail a mission; you'll simply see a different cutscene before your next challenge.
The freedom to handle crime busting your way, and the fact that it contributes to the branches of the story arc, make for seriously compelling and unique gameplay. True Crime brings a dimension to gaming only touched upon by the light side/dark side Jedi Knight series. The missions are varied and enjoyable coercing you to move along from one to the next, and gaming sessions often end up lasting longer that you had planned. That said, the game suffers from some unfortunate gaffs that keep me from recommending it as strongly as I could have.
At its heart, True Crime is a console game, and while the basic game is fun, my experience with the Xbox version of the game was far more positive than with the PC version. While True Crime employs the standard keyboard-and-mouse model used in many action games, it backfires in certain modes in which Kang runs to the left or right rather than strafing. The controls as a whole are unresponsive and clunky; Kang doesn't react with smooth, fluidic motion as you might be used to. Driving isn't much better; there's very little difference in the way one car handles compared to another -- they all handle with the swift responsiveness of aircraft carriers.
PC gamers will miss the ability to save whenever they please; the game auto-saves between missions, and like the recent Grand Theft Auto games, if you cease playing in the middle of a mission you'll lose all of your progress. Most of the missions are short, sans a select few -- for example, if you're assigned to tackle 12 random street crimes before proceeding to the next mission, it can take the better part of an hour. Heaven forbid you get called away to dinner in the middle of walking your beat.
The highly touted addition of multiplayer gaming, which could have been a redeeming factor, backfires completely. The game offers several modes, including "The Beat," which challenges players to solve street crimes; "Police Chase," in which one player is the suspect trying to escape the other players who are cops; street racing with various rules and courses, and more. However, joining a game through the in-game server browser is an exercise in futility: the browser doesn't always show the ping or mode of the few (if any) listed servers, and actually connecting to a game is a hit-or-miss affair. If you finally do connect, you'll be met with horrifying latency problems and frequent drop-outs. Multiplayer True Crime is about as reliable as Pacific Gas and Electric.
So what's better about the PC version of True Crime compared to the console versions? The soundtrack offers 32 new songs, mostly from alt-rockers like Alice in Chains. With the infusion of new tunes, you're not pigeonholed into listening to hip-hop track after hip-hop track like you are while playing the console versions; the added variety is nice. If nothing else, True Crime for PC has one of the best licensed soundtracks in gaming history.
While the yin and yang of treading the fabled thin blue line is intriguing, the gameplay of True Crime is hampered by a host of negatives. It's a fun game, but it's hard to recommend to hardcore PC gamers -- you'll need a strong appreciation of console gaming to embrace it. And that's the true crime here, as this was a game that should have translated to a truly sublime PC gaming experience.
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