GTA ripoffs are slowly and steadily creeping into the game market, trying to cash in on the “sand box” gameplay dynamic of go anywhere, do anything. The title to come the closest in style and presentation was Luxoflux’s True Crime: Streets of LA. The third-person shooter boasted a fairly faithful recreation of Los Angeles and a large stock of things to do, but it was a little too big for its own good and lacked significant polish. With two years to improve the experience, Luxoflux has tried again, this time in the Big Rotten Apple. The sequel to LA, True Crime: New York City, fixes a lot of the old problems but unfortunately not nearly enough.
Considering the set abilities of current consoles, the graphical presentation is impressive. It isn’t noticeably better than LA, but with the massive environment and sheer number of NPCs on the screen at once, the visual atmosphere is sufficient. Many of the textures are downright smeary when examined up close, but again, it’s all for the sake of the whole. The gritty, crime-ridden world of Manhattan is believable, excessively detailed and very big. It takes several minutes to drive from one edge of the island to the other, and you really get a sense of scale as you pass building after building.
This moderate-but-lackluster environment would be passable, if not for one huge detriment: the framerate. In some places, it is truly unforgivable. Just racing down the streets you’ll encounter nauseating chop, and in the action-filled missions it gets almost unplayable. The inaccuracy of skipping frames caused me to wreck on several occasions or make a mistake that I could normally avoid.
In a shootout or fistfight, framerate can mean the difference between life and death, and it’s just as finicky in combat as it is everywhere else. With massive games like GTA San Andreas running on the antiquated PS2 hardware, this kind of slowdown on the more powerful GameCube (in a smaller world, no less) is inexcusable.
After becoming accustomed to a framerate in the 15 fps area, I expected to find some solid play mechanics. After all, Perfect Dark on the N64 had its chop issues, but it delivered the goods. Disappointingly, True crime stumbles here as well, but not because the gameplay is broken in any way—it just trips over an ample supply of bugs. Doors refuse to open; the camera gets stuck everywhere, even in the character’s head; rooms go black for no reason; collision detection is hit-or-miss; and quite often, the game crashes arbitrarily. Just to make sure, I took a hard look at my GameCube and determined that no, I was not playing on a Mac.
Certainly not the two-year cleanup I expected from a sequel. Luxoflux did tweak a few things, such as the directional attacks in hand-to-hand combat, but the bad far outweighs the good here. It’s a wonder that True Crime: New York City escaped play testing to sneak onto store shelves.
For the first hour of playing this game, I began to mutter scores like “2.3 out of 10,” but luckily I stuck around. For players who brave the bugs and stutters, there is a meaty experience waiting with a solid story and likeable gameplay. The main protagonist, Marcus Reed, definitely has more depth than LA’s wooden hero, Nick Kang. The initial impression I got from Reed was a stereotypical African American gang-banger, and I found this disheartening and disappointing, but as the story progresses Marcus is revealed as a real person. He isn’t anti-hero #457; he has his own unique attitude and style, and his checkered past really filters down into his personality.
His father (voiced by Lawrence Fishburne) is an ex-crime boss, locked away in a federal prison for over fifteen years. Marcus has dealt with the fallout and repercussions of being a crime prince his whole lift, and his harder edge is reflected in how he handles crime. He works for the good guys, but he isn’t nice about it. In fact, the player gets to decide exactly how nice, as the good cop/bad cop system returns from True Crime: Streets of LA. Although the light/dark dynamic isn’t as prominent or integral as it was in the first game, it still factors into the ending to the story, so replaying True Crime: New York City is a feasible possibility.The story itself is divided into chapters, as Marcus seeks out disparate elements of a larger conspiracy, scattered throughout four major crime rings in Manhattan. They’re all pretty cliché (Chinese Mafia, Italian Mob, Latino drug cartel) but the characters within these organizations come off as real and not totally cookie-cutter. Completing a story event reveals another lead, if you successfully interrogate the key suspect, but failing the incredibly easy interrogations doesn’t halt the story. A number of underworld sources can clue you in on the next lead, not the least of which is Marcus’ old man in prison. Information doesn’t come cheap; you usually must perform an elicit task for these criminals, and even if you don’t need the info they make it worth your while in cash.
Less critical missions are also available. As a plainclothes street detective, Marcus can infiltrate fight clubs and drag-racing circuits, working his way up the ranks to bust the promoter. Everyday crimes appear frequently, and offer an opportunity to gain career points, higher skill levels and ear an honest paycheck. The system works much like the free-roaming Spider Man games, but with more variety and challenge.
But Marcus isn’t your friendly-neighborhood hero, if you don’t want him to be. His already cynical attitude is evident in how he cuffs perps (for some reason, he has an infinite supply of handcuffs in his pocket), and if you want him to be even meaner that’s up to you. Playing the corrupt cop is quite possible, police brutality and all. Killing unarmed suspects, extorting store clerks for protection money, planting evidence on innocent civilians or getting rich on confiscated drugs will fill up your bad cop meter, if you want to play that way.
Being the law doesn’t mean you’re above the law, however; plow through a crowd of pedestrians in your shiny V8 Coupe and your fellow officers will take you down. Being bad has to be kept on the low and dirty, to avoid the suspicions of the real good guys.
The sheer amount of things to do is impressive, as are the ways to do them. Gunplay can be overkill or precise; there is a loose lock on mode and a precision aiming mode, that even lets you take non-lethal disabling shots. Grabbing a downed enemy’s gun or other weapon in a firefight gives the game a very adaptive feel—running through a building, emptying guns and discarding them for new ones Matrix style. Marcus can purchase a hefty arsenal of melee and projectile weapons, including a beanbag shotgun, tazer, sledgehammer, commando rifle and even caltrops. A wide array of police and civilian vehicles are available at local dealerships, which can be repaired, upgraded and painted at garages. For a final element of customizability, Marcus can deck himself out with clothes from numerous shops around Manhattan.
The gameplay of True Crime: New York City is truly its saving grace, but the audio element could have crippled the overall package had it not been good as well. Voice acting is spot-on, with accents and proper inflections. Some high profile talent was hired for TC NY, and the quality shines through in the final product. Marcus Reed in particular does an excellent job, and comes off with a pessimistic disposition and real-world weariness. Sound effects are mostly rehashed from other sources, but some original content has been snuck in to liven things up. The music collection is substantial, with hip-hop, metal, rock and alternative styles, and any track can be selected from the main menu and played on the game’s car stereos. Of course, additional songs can be bought from music shops in the city.
I have but one warning: this game has some of the thickest swearing I’ve encountered in a video game, to date. You can’t go thirty seconds without hearing the F-word. Three times. In a row. En short, not for kids, but it helps the realism factor a degree.
True Crime: New York City is one of those games that you grudgingly love, and wonder how much better if could’ve been, had the developers taken time to buff it up. The crashes and choppiness will turn off the casual player, but a determined gamer will really get into this one if they take the time. There’s considerable depth just below the rough, jagged exterior, and putting up with the many glitches yields a worthwhile experience. It’s kind of like eating crab; it’s a lot of effort to crack the shell and dig out the meat, but the end result is undeniably delicious.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile