True Crime: Streets of LA is a highly hyped game from Activision that has the singular and almost impossible task of outdoing and outselling Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City. This game is told from the other side of the law, the good side…although the line is very gray in this game. This is a freeflowing game, but it is also very tied town by its linear mission-based story mode. It’s tough to play this game and not compare it to Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City, but I will try my darndest because this game is special in its own right…although sometimes for bad reasons.
The graphics are good in this game, but they could be better. Your playground is the whole of the Los Angeles area. Some of the landmarks are here (or at least what I remember of them when I was there in high school), but obviously licensing issues have made it impossible to create all the shops in LA. The building graphics (outside of landmarks) as you are driving are of the marginal variety with no real “life” to them (ala Midnight Club II), but you really shouldn’t be looking at those and should concentrate more on the characters and driving/shooting/fighting graphics. Let’s look at each.
The character graphics are of the good variety for the most part. It is obvious that the protagonist, Nick Kang (Wilson), got the majority of the animation work while others didn’t fare so well. In trying to emulate the Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City look I think they lowballed themselves in a way. The characters have almost an original Max Payne quality to them (minus the prune faces). Serviceable with ok textures, but very clone-like outside of major characters. Clone-like in the sense of having the same characters with the same clothes in the area you are in. This becomes a problem when doing random frisking because with a lot of civilians looking the same it’s hard to know who you patted down and didn’t.
During the game you will be spending your time either driving, in a shoot-out or hand-to-hand fighting. The driving graphics are good with the biggest letdown being the lack of traffic. Face it, LA is a large city and the streets are usually full of cars. In this game that’s not the case and is obviously a sacrifice in order to get the game to move smoothly. For what cars there are on the road, there are a lot of clone cars with different body paint on them in areas. The cars seem a little boxy to me and although they have nice reflections and nice particle effects as you crash into things, they really aren’t that special. The shooting and fighting sections are very good looking for the most part, except when the camera gives you problems. Yep, you’ll see lots of clipping and have the camera get stuck behind an object where you can’t see Nick and/or the enemy/enemies. That sucks big time of course. The big problem here is that the camera is set too close for comfort, a problem I see in a lot of games that could use a wider or laid back camera. I can understand the need to be close to the action, but why take the chance of not being able to see characters?
This one stays in the 80s because of the sounds and the ability to use your own soundtrack or it would be lower. The music presented in True Crime is West Coast rap heavy to a fault. There are some hard rock tracks from Megadeth and Deftones for example, but the majority is made up of Snoop Dogg and the West Coast rappers. I can handle rap in spurts and not complain about it, but the rap tracks easily outnumber the other tracks by about a 95% to 5% margin. I listened to it for a while, but I ended up going into the options section and turning all the rap stuff off, entering in some of my own music and keeping the Megadeths and Deftones of the world in there. I can understand the need to make it feel like LA and I understand that Rap as a genre is huge, but come on! I just feel sorry for those that got the PS2 or GameCube version and don’t like rap…you may be stuck without any songs when you turn all of them off.
On the other hand the sounds are well done in this game. Gunshots, different weapon gunfire, punches, kicks, car sounds, etc. are all well done. For the most part the voice actors do great with their roles, but Russell Wong is stuck with extremely corny lines doing Nick Kang like “You fought the law…but the law won” after beating a mini-boss. There’s too many of the corny lines, but when Wong is working on the story through the cutscenes he does very well. This is not a Russell Wong problem, but a script problem. The biggest voice here is Christopher Walken of course. He plays a type of “father figure” for Nick, a guy that knew Nick’s dad. His dad disappeared a while ago and it’s still an open case. Walken’s character loves to say how Nick’s father was the best cop around. Obviously, as you go through the game you find out more about what happened to your dad.
Control over shooting is the major problem in this game. A couple important things revolve around the use of the R trigger (shooting and precision aiming). If you hold down the R trigger you will go into precision aiming mode where you use the left thumbstick to shoot more precisely. The R trigger is also used for shooting and in the beginning that requires you to tap the R trigger regularily to get shots off. Basically the problem is if you push in the R trigger to hard you will go into precision mode and not get any shots off, with the other problem being that your index finger will get tired as it is tapping multiple times to get tons of shots off.
This is one of those games that has different controls depending on the situation you are in. Driving is pretty easy with A being accelerate, X being brake, directions on the D-pad to do honking or turning on police lights (if the car has them) and the R trigger doing the same thing it does when Nick is running around (precision aiming/shooting). Yes, Nick can shoot from his car and with precision shooting it will slow the action down a bit so you can aim at the tires for example. The precision aiming takes a while to get used to both in the driving and walking around sections, but there are training areas available for you to refine your skills. My one problem with driving is that the controls seem a bit loose on all the cars I drove. This makes it hard not to run over an innocent civilian and get a casualty against your mark.
While on foot and in fighting mode, Nick has a different set of controls that include such things as kicking up weapons from the ground (B button while on foot), going into Max Payne-like slow mo while shooting (Y button) to beating up guys (X, Y, A buttons in fighting mode). You can also increase your skills and fighting moves by going to the 24/7 places (like your brother’s dojo) and refining your skills.
It will take a while to get used to the controls, but hopefully you will not be frustrated by how varied they are. The R trigger is of course the main button in the game, so get used to how far in to push for precision aiming and rapidly pushing the button for firing your gun at least in the beginnning. Once you get machine gun type weapons you don’t have to push multiple times.
This game is about Nick Kang, a recently suspended cop who seems to like to solve things violently. The Chief brings him back on as an agent for a new section, the Elite Operations Division (ELO). He seems to get to do what he wants in this division and not have to answer to anyone. Nick is a pretty cocky kid and dare I say he is someone I like less than the main character in Vice City.
Taking this game for its linear story mode, it can be quite short…a lot shorter than Grand Theft Auto III or Vice City. It’s the side crime stops that helps this games longevity. As sort of a crutch in the game, you have to partake in upgrading your skills and abilities in order to do better as it gets later in the game. In order to get your skills higher you have to get shields on the street. Frisking the locals at a corner and uncovering someone with drugs or weapons will net you some shields. Taking up a crime in progress outside of the main storyline and busting the guilty parties will also net you shields depending on how you went about taking them down (did you arrest them or did you kill them for instance). Each 100 points earned will earn you 1 shield that you can use at a 24/7 place such as your brother’s dojo and the firing range to get new moves while fighting and new skills while shooting. The new moves and skills help a lot, especially when you get into situations that have multiple enemies in an enclosed space.
There’s of course nothing as fun as running down a perp and choosing between arresting him, shooting out his kneecaps in precision mode or just killing him outright. This game gives you those choices, but choose well because the Good Cop karma can wear off if you do too many bad things. Unlike Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City, when the SWAT gets on your tail you are done for in this game. You have to be careful while driving. Don’t run over any civilians because a casualty will be put on your record and your karma will go more towards the Bad Cop area of things. It’s not that being a Bad Cop is horrible, it’s just obvious that you need to keep on the good side in this game.
There is a main track of missions with different branches on it. In all you will go through 8 episodes with a variety of missions in them, but depending on your karma you will branch off at certain points and the story will change. This of course makes it cool for you to try both sides of the law, much like in Knights of the Old Republic where you chose light or dark side. Getting through the main missions will take a good amount of time and I personally am not too interested in many of the side missions like I was with Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City, but your thoughts may be different.
This game gets such a high mark because the story is well told and the missions on the main track are quite varied. I don’t like the crutch of having to upgrade my abilities, but if you want to do better in the game you will have to partake in at least some of them. Nick can only become a better killing (or non-lethal) machine through practice. It also gets a high mark because there is no loading in the 260+ square miles that are represented in this game. In Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City there were loads whenever you went into a different section of town. In this game the world is bigger and there is no load times, although this may also account for the lack of cars on the road usually.If you find yourself having fun in the side missions you will find a huge number of hours in this game very much like Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City. If you want to keep on the mission path and do some upgrades to Nick you may not find as long of a game as you would hope. I can only guess since people reveled in the side missions in Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City that they will enjoy them here. Getting over the control issues may also be difficult, but after a while you will get used to it. This game is good if you give it a chance, it just isn’t great.