“Just another GTA game” is a line that has definitely been attributed to a lot of sandbox style games I know of. However, there is something so new and riveting about the upcoming True Crime
title based in Hong Kong that has me forgetting about the precedent that GTA set.
While United Front Games wanted to reboot the franchise, there were certainly aspects that they decided to retain. One such quality is that of the protagonist playing under the role of an undercover cop. Wei Shen, the protagonist, was born in Hong Kong but, due to a family tragedy, had to emigrate back to the States to grow up in San Francisco. When he moves back to Hong Kong later in his life, he is selected for an undercover assignment of which the primary mission is to infiltrate a known criminal organization and assist in their down fall. So, in essence they’ve got a strong moral incentive, but with enough flexibility to still present the player as a badass.
What else sets this sandbox style game apart from the others in the market? Lead designer Mike Skupa explained for us behind closed doors at E3. Travel agencies were right, apparently, because it’s all about location, location, location. After watching a series of Hong Kong cinema movies and being intrigued by the unique setting, the team at United Front Games felt compelled to integrate that quality.
The variety in the architectural range of this location also proved to be beneficial. Taking a closer look at this range in Hong Kong, the team decided to create four distinct neighborhoods. They’ve created an amalgamation of the traditional feel of alleyways that are densely populated, a stunning skyline adorned with the IFC tower and the Bank of China. Right in the middle of all these pedestrian walkways is a mass of hills that will undoubtedly change the feel of gameplay. From the city streets to a fishing village, the center of Hong Kong changes dramatically. There are winding roads around a big island, vegetation, and specific weather and ambient effects to compliment the area. You can even drive a boat around the waterways surrounding said island.
Moreover, the idea of focusing on martial arts and hand to hand combat as opposed to shooting and driving felt like another unappreciated facet of gaming that could be taken advantage of to create a fresh feeling sandbox game. There is a lot of free running in True Crime, where they’ve tried to maintain a sense of fluidity from seamlessly jumping across a platform and running to shooting. Melee combat ties into this free running system, as well. Lead designer Mike Skupa admitted that Assassin’s Creed was essentially the benchmark for moving around in an open world, but that they’ve attempted to incorporate their own style simultaneously. They’ve even taken hints from movies like Point Break and Blade Runner in terms of ground level chases, crashing through buildings, and pushing people out of the way while clamoring over things.
To keep the player connected to the city, they’ve also developed an in-depth social system that enables you to talk to literally every NPC out there. Based on a face system, your social presence in the world can fluctuate. This divides into several different levels. Who you associate with, and even what you’re wearing (a la Fable) can change people’s perspective of you. This social presence is integrated into gameplay through your ability to charm people, which comes in handy when needing to negotiate or get information out of people. As your social standing increases, you can even use your face to intimidate or charm people, giving you more freedom to choose how you would like to play the game.
Our demo begins early on in the game, where Wei Shen is at the center of the Triad criminal organization. The future mid-level boss informs him of his next task: to go to the market and collect a debt from someone seen there. After chasing him, jumping over staircases, and finally ending up in an alleyway surrounded by local goons, Wei Shen’s martial arts comes in full shine. Certain objects around the vicinity will shine, indicating that they can be used in combat. Our demo leader then proceeds to shove men into refrigerators to bash their head in with the door, and slam another guy’s head into a television set. Another criminal’s fate is to have his face slammed into the rear of a large AC unit to have the high-powered fans slice into his skin. The environment helps switch up combat, and keep things very interesting in terms of what new object can be used in what brutal way.
Our second mission shows off the driving combat with Wei Shen on his motorbike. The motorbike was agreed upon because it seemed the most optimal vehicle for navigating the densely populated areas of Hong Kong. This time, Wei is tasked with having to infiltrate a club called Top Glamor. Before we knew it, we were watching Wei shoot people from the seat of his bike.
There are a full range of side missions, jobs, and favors you can undertake all while utilizing a wide range weaponry including machine guns, sub-machine guns and melee weapons including knives, katanas and even objects that you can pick up along the way (most hilarious of which may be a shopping bag).
True Crime has been in development for almost 3 years now, and will be out on September 21st of this year.