Welcome back to the world of True Crime. For those who never played the original True Crime, I’ll sum it up that it was a gritty crime fighting game that took place in a large GPS-perfect section of downtown Los Angeles. Rather than revisiting the location, developer Luxoflux took us out to the opposite coast – welcome to True Crime: New York City.
The game kicks off as a young Marcus Reed steps out of his car, bloody and pissed off, to execute some thugs who tried to take him and his father out. Obviously they failed, and now was their ‘opportunity’ to pay for it. Marcus exacts justice and stands at the edge of madness. Thankfully, Marcus has a friend in the department, Terrence Higgins (voiced by Mickey Rourke) who helps pull him back from the brink. Marcus moves on with life and his father (voiced by Lawrence Fishburne) heads to jail. As Marcus matures he decides that life behind a badge might be a better path – this is where our story begins.
Just as before, Luxoflux worked their GPS magic on True Crime. This time we get a GPS-accurate look at the streets of Manhattan, complete with subways, tons of buildings, landmarks, and locations that anyone could recognize including Chinatown and Spanish Harlem.
There is an attention to detail in this game that is easy to overlook. In areas around landmarks there are lots of wide-eyed tourists checking things out. In more residential districts you’ll see more local people instead. When I spoke with some of the folks from Luxoflux they said that at one point they had even more pedestrians than they do in the final game, but it became so easy to kill hundreds of people with a simple car slide over the curb. That isn’t to say that the streets aren’t crowded – they absolutely are. The sidewalks are choked with business people, streetwalkers, and hoodlums. Garbage swirls the streets in less affluent areas of the city. Cars pay attention to traffic signals, and as day turns to night they turn on their headlights for the evening. If you leave the high rises and neon lights behind you, you can take a stroll through foliage-filled Central Park. The town is truly alive.
All of this detail, and at 480p to boot, comes with a price. The framerate is rough at best, with occasional dips towards abysmal. You can’t help but wonder if the grass is greener on the big green box – I’d have to imagine that the extra horsepower might smooth this out to a degree.
How can you go wrong when you have Lawrence Fishburne on your payroll? You can’t! How about if we drop in Christopher “I make…my own punctuation” Walken as the cloak-and-dagger FBI agent Gabriel Whitting? Voice acting gold! Marcus Reed is voiced by Avery Waddel, and even Lester “Beetlejuice” Green from Howard Stern fame makes an appearance. The list of voice actors in this game is staggering, and everyone gives an excellent performance. Top notch!
The music tracks in True Crime are all East Coast tracks as you might expect. There are songs from Run D.M.C., Redman, (who makes an appearance and handles two original tracks for the game) Busta Rhymes, DMX, Bad Brains, Bob Dylan, Danzig, The Ramones, Misfits, Blondie, Sonic Youth, The Damned, Helmet, Unsane, De La Soul, and a ton more. There has to be at least 100 tracks here! The nice part is that you can also sort the song choices and turn off the ones you don’t like. Given that I’m from Southern California, my music choices tend to lean more towards the West Coast, but there is certainly enough of a variety here that even I could find something to like.
I think the voice acting and music track work has just the right amount of Cowbell.
The ambient sounds in the game don’t pack quite as much of an impact as the voice acting and music, but they are certainly passable. I did run into a few instances where the music and voice work kept going but the ambient noises turned off. I could run into buildings without a sound, and pedestrians became road-pizza without so much as a peep.
Just a word of warning – this game is rated M. Pay attention…this game is not language friendly.
The controls in the original True Crime were a hit or miss affair. Luxoflux worked hard to shore up this area of the game and their efforts have paid off. No longer do you have to rely on precision aiming to take out a suspect. If you have to resort to your firearm, you simply tap the L1 to lock on to an enemy and then R1 to take your shot. At this point you simply keep firing until the enemy health bar depletes and they are ‘taken care of’. Your enemies don’t lay on the ground for long – they disappear. You can still use the precision aim to get that headshot, or to shoot a gas tank, but you don’t have to rely on it solely as you did in the original True Crime.
Markus has no trouble roughing up his suspects in a hands-on fashion. After the short tutorial mission in the beginning of the game, you’ll have the hang of the martial arts / wrestling mix of attack moves. Ultimately you’ll spend more time beating down suspects than shooting them – Marcus could work in L.A. with that attitude.
The similarity between GTA and True Crime can’t be overlooked, so let’s just embrace it for explanation purposes. As in GTA you can jack cars for you own purposes. It is a lot easier in True Crime as a flash of your badge will usually get a person out of their car. You can drive cars ranging from crappy cars that sound like they may break down at any moment, to the unwieldly fire truck. My complaint is that the vast majority of the cars you can get in the game all control the same. They tend to have too little or too much friction with the road. You end up sliding around quite a bit, or you can’t powerslide to catch a suspect when it counts. After a while you can get used to the controls and you’ll be right as rain, but I couldn’t help but feel that this has been done better. It works, but not as well as it could have.
Marcus ultimately loses his partner almost immediately in the game. He is then contacted by an FBI agent who tells him that the mob is involved. You take several dossiers and set out to find out where the trail leads, all while balancing your investigation of street crime. The door is wide open for you to make choices at this point. You can play a bad cop and plant evidence to pick up more arrests. You can log evidence at the station to raise your badge rating. You can extort money or information from shop keepers using a simple minigame process, or you can make suspects have ‘accidents’ by running them into walls and furniture. Hey, he was resisting – I swear.
Once you get into the city and begin to drive around you’ll understand just how big of a playing field you’ll see in this game. The fact is that the game is absolutely huge, so you will quickly learn to get around like a New Yorker does – the subway. The subways can take you across town instantly, but you’ll also be missing opportunities for cleaning up the 20 suburbs present in the game. Occasionally, you’ll get a call-out to a random crime such as a robbery, a domestic disturbance, a pack of angry hookers beating up a pimp, and more. Solving these crimes properly adds to your ‘good cop’ score, and can clean up that area for good. This is ultimately what you’ll be doing to get up to 100% completion in the game, but you don’t have to solve any of them to complete the primary game. Since doing a good job allows you to raise your ranking as a cop, thus increasing your paycheck, it is in your best interest not to drop your normal cop job to pursue the mob. That said, there isn’t much of a penalty to doing bad things (unless you do them en-mass) other than the fact that you won’t earn cash as quickly.
The dossier missions usually involve finding a person at a specific location, talking with them, mowing down their enemies, finding their ‘boss’, and beating information out of him. Since you’ll probably be working through a lot of side missions, you’ll probably not even notice the pattern. When you do find the boss of the mission, you typically have to use the minigame to get the information you need. You’ll smack the suspect, then a bar will appear. Getting the stress level on the suspect right in the middle will yield information – if you go over the top with your threats or let the suspect get too passive, you’ll lose your chance to get the info. Not to fear, however, you can always complete a less-desirable mission for your father to obtain the same information, but it usually involves racking up a few bad cop points. Adding to the living world, your boss will occasionally give you tips or commend your hard work. She may assign you to bust a street racing ring, or just tell you that cleaning up that area of town should keep the crime in check there.
Thankfully, True Crime: New York City is more rooted on this planet. I’m happy to report that you won’t be dealing with the bizarre occult, dragons, or anything else you might expect to find in some B-movie.
True Crime: New York City isn’t all roses though – there are some glaring flaws in the gameplay mechanic that will rear their ugly head eventually. The first is that the game could have used a little more debug time. I had two hard lockups during my testing time. I also had some strange AI behavior that I can’t readily explain. There were times that I never drew my weapon and took down a suspect, cuffed them, and got good cop points, only to be shot at by other cops on my way back to my car. Other times it seems like you have to blow up every car within shouting distance to prevent a group of suspects from escaping in 10 directions at once. Granted, that is true to life, but it can be frustrating when a chase extends forever as your suspect runs from one car to another. It’s a street bum, not O.J. Simpson for crying out loud!
Luxoflux spent a great deal of time making sure the world was alive, and that meant that you can enter many buildings. Most often, these buildings are rather linear with a single path to your suspect. Since the suspects can damage the environment, occasionally you’ll walk into a domestic dispute and both suspects will be dead before you can reach the door as somebody kicked the stove hard enough to make it explode. It’s hard to solve a crime when your suspects explode.
For as wacky as the AI can be, you are given a few more tools to deal with it. Just as before, you can upgrade your skills including new martial arts moves, double zoom weapons, etc., but thankfully you just go down to the armory and purchase them with your hard earned (or ill earned) cash rather than go through a test to earn them.
Ultimately, much like the rest of the title, the gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. The side missions are actually fun for once, and the primary storyline missions are enjoyable – even if not highly varied in nature.This game is just huge. You can’t imagine the sense of scale present in this title until you get in a car and drive across town. That is part of what ultimately adds to the 12 to 15 hours of clock time needed to beat the primary story thread of the game. If you use the subways and dodge the side missions you can plow through this game in a weekend. If you want to complete the side missions you can easily double that time estimate to reach 100% completion. The question will be whether or not the occasional bug, frame hitch, or the fact that you have completed the storyline will prevent you from coming back for more once you beat the game.