True Crime: Streets of LA

True Crime: Streets of LA

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 11/19/2003 for PS2  
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Activision has been off the mark lately when it comes to 3rd person brawlers. X2 was average at best while Blade II and Minority Report were just downright awful. Now the company that gave us Tenchu delivers True Crime: Streets of LA, but is it the company’s return to glory? Or is Activision just continuing on its downward spiral? I’d say that the company is back on the right track and is only a few steps away from greatness.

If you’re a man who loves his action movies then you’ll immediately fall in love with True Crime. Phrases like “loose cannon,” “you’re off the force,” “who’s the suit” and “I’ll have your badge for this!” are used liberally with reckless abandon. Hell the storyline itself reads like the first chapter in the How To book for directing a Hollywood action movie. You assume the role of Nick Kang, a bad-ass who was thrown off the force for your renegade ways. Kang’s a good cop so he’s been recruited to join the EOD, a law enforcement agency that functions similarly to the LAPD. You’ll have run-ins with the Triads and the Russians as you try to figure out what happened to your father. Along the way your brother will get kidnapped, you’ll insult your female partner and spout clichés as you reel them bad boys in.

Some may comment that the storyline is pretty weak but as a full-blooded male I wholeheartedly welcome this clichéd script. It’s entertaining, it’s funny and best of all, every man out there can fully relate to Kang. Seriously, what guy hasn’t dreamt about beating the hell out of a perp and then singing “you fought the law and the law won?” as he's laying there on the ground? He’s the embodiment of every male out there and not since Arnold’s performance in Commando has the role of badass been so well played. Sure, he tends to go overboard at times, such as an instance where he chops off a sleeping butcher’s finger, but if you ask me that’s the sign of any good action hero. Just when you think he’s finished he’s like “oh you want more? Here’s more for you! That’s right, I went there!”

In addition to featuring a lighthearted script the game’s story unfolds in highly cinematic fashion as well. With the vocal talents of Christopher Walken, Michelle Rodriguez and Gary Oldman leading the way it’s not hard to see why this game has a decidedly big screen feel to it. The story is told in a set of engine rendered cutscenes which are very well done. All of the Hollywood tricks are used here and the way that the characters act, enunciate and posture makes it feel like you’re watching a movie. All of them are very entertaining to watch, not only because you get to watch Kang exude more of his badassness, but also because they tell the story in a highly enjoyable and entertaining manner.

If branching storylines are your thing then you’ll love the mission structure of True Crime. Essentially the game is divided up into eight different chapters, all of which have about eight episodes apiece. How the story unfolds depends on how well you perform in the missions. Let’s say you fail one of the missions, you can either retry the mission until you pass it or opt to bypass it and continue the story where you’ll have to partake in an alternate mission. The alternate will reveal a different facet of the storyline and at times, it’s almost worth failing a mission just to see what transpires.
What’s a bad-ass without a huge array of moves and weapons at his disposal? As the tagline implies the game combines three distinct types of gamplay in an effort to form a unique and engaging action title. There are the shooting sequences which are a combination of Max Payne and Dead to Rights, fighting sequences which play like a traditional 3D fighter and driving sequences which give us flashbacks of the Getaway. Without a doubt, the most polished of the three is the surprisingly deep hand-to-hand aspect which is the best that this genre has ever seen. You have three basic attacks from which you can use to string together combos, a set of grapples and the ability to block. After successfully landing a number of hits you’ll be able to input commands to perform some devastating maneuvers which are both fun to use and are impressive to watch.

As mentioned earlier the shooting sequences had images of Dead to Rights playing in our head, except they’re infinitely better. Think of them as Dead to Rights on crack and you begin to fathom just how exciting they are. You’re usually limited to your main weapons but you’ll always be able to pick up weapons from fallen foes or subdue enemies and hold them as human shields. You’ll also be able to lean up against walls, duck behind cover, pop-out around corners to return fire and perform slow motion dives. In all it’s a very functional shooting system that’s always really fun and intense to play. While the hand-to-hand system is the deepest I’d say that the shooting sequences are the most enjoyable, if only for the sheer cinematic feel that it exhibits.

The last of the three major gameplay elements are the driving sequences. At first I felt that the controls were very sluggish but that was before I had the opportunity to try out the game’s numerous vehicles. Unlike other similar games that we’ve played True Crime makes sure to let you know just what kind of vehicle you’re driving. Sitting behind that boat on wheels? Don’t expect to be pulling off the same maneuvers that you could in that sports car. Want to hit that corner at high speeds? Good luck making it in that mini-van. At this time it’s the only game in this genre that really lends a varied and satisfying feel to each of the vehicles.

As you progress you’ll earn badge points which can be used to heal your character, repair your vehicle and upgrade Nick’s abilities. By entering any of the 24/7 facilities that are placed around town you’ll be able to complete a test that will unlock a new ability. These range from new grapples, combo moves, shooting techniques to new driving maneuvers. Some of them are very helpful for combat, such as the quick reload function, while others such as the laser sight are just damn sweet to have. By the time you reach the end of the game you’ll be able to perform burnouts, back hand fists (for those moments when you feel like taking on an army of black ninjas) and a whole bevy of awesome maneuvers. What’s more is that the game makes you earn the abilities by using them in assorted tasks. This serves as an excellent way of getting the player to become proficient in their newfound talents.My largest problem with the gameplay is that the game usually limits you to the use of only one of these aspects. When you head indoors you can expect to engage in an old-fashioned melee with some bums or participate in a shootout with some meat packers but the different systems don’t ever mix. When I was told about this game I was under the impression that the features would mix and complement each other, not exist in isolated sequences that segment the game. When you’re outdoors and running the streets you’re given full access to all three system but the sequences that limit you are kind of a downer. It doesn’t help much that the controls are rather clunky to begin with as well.

From the start it’s very simple to become overwhelmed by the controls. To put into perspective the game decides to use the left analog stick to steer, the x to gas, the square to brake, the triangle to look back, the left arrow on the d-pad to honk the horn, the right arrow on the d-pad to start the siren, L1 to get in and out of vehicles and R1 to shoot. That’s a hell of a lot to get used to, and that’s just the driving portion of the game. At times the controls are a bit overtly complicated and instead of giving the gamer an increased level of freedom it actually makes them slaves to the ineffective control scheme. It’ll take you at least a good three or four hours just to memorize the controls and another two or three hours just to be able to use them effectively.

True Crime’s slick presentation, mood-setting soundtrack and polished visuals really set it apart from all of the other GTA-wannabes. While the Getaway did a pretty admirable job of recreating the city of London it was drab and dull to look at. Admittedly, our ties to London aren’t as close to our ties of Los Angeles, but True Crime’s geographical recreation is far more superior. Not only has the crew successfully captured the look and feel of the city it’s also given it a life of its own, one that really is entertaining to watch and behold. They didn’t just render the downtown part of LA either they went the extra mile and rendered a pretty large chunk of the surrounding area. You’ll be able to go to Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Culver City and even Brentwood. We’re not saying that every single street is represented here but a pretty significant chunk of all of these cities makes an appearance here, even the intricate freeway system. Even better is the fact that it’s all done to scale too.

When it comes to visuals this is probably as good as it gets on the PlayStation 2. There are a bevy of nice visual effects in place, many that actually give one the impression that this title is running on Xbox hardware. When lights reflect on the street you’ll see texturing that almost looks like the surfaces are bump-mapped, a neat effect that’s heavily used in the upcoming Need for Speed: Underground. Close-ups of the lead characters will reveal that they’re much more detailed than you may have initially thought. They look great and feature plenty of nice elements that make them look realistic. The fact that characters appear with bruises, scrapes and cuts appear on characters adds another layer of depth to the characters. Admittedly the secondary characters look pretty weak in comparison and look like they could be straight out of GTA VC. The animation on each of the characters is great but it’s nowhere near the level of The Getaway.

To make the game feel even more at home with action fans the artists made the environments highly destructive. Hell, even crashing head first into a brick wall will cause a small chunk of it to fall off. This is especially impressive in firefights when pillars, tables, chairs, boxes, benches, walls and objects get ripped to shreds by stray gunfire. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before and it lends the game a very impressive look that makes this one of the best looking console games of the year.
Depending on your tastes in music this is either the greatest soundtrack you’ve ever heard or the worst soundtrack that you’ve ever heard. Personally I’m a huge fan of the artists that Activision has managed to assemble although a few of my personal favorites are missing. There are plenty of nods to the old-school featuring tracks from Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony but I was really hoping for some Black Sheep, Too Short, Pharcyde or even pre-Eminem Dr. Dre. Sometimes the tracks don’t fit the mood too well either. Just when I was starting to get my groove on the game would switch to some hard rock song that really killed the flow.

The rest of the audio aspects are really well done and lend a very convincing feel to their onscreen counterparts. Firefights are highly convincing because the sound of gunfire and shell casings hitting the floor sounds just as it would in real life. To further immerse the gamer in the world Dolby Pro Logic II support has been included for players with high quality audio setups. Most games kind of half-ass their Pro Logic II support but True Crime does an excellent job of utilizing all five available channels while rocking the bass from the subwoofer.

Probably the only real debilitating aspect of True Crime lies in the horrendous camera system that turns even the most mundane mission into an amazing annoyance. The camera gets caught on buildings, objects, scenery, vehicles, you name it. It seems like it tries its best to give you the worst possible vantage point on the action, giving the perps the drop on you as they fill your helpless character with lead. It’s not really a huge problem when it comes to the indoor levels because the camera placement is generally planned beforehand, but it’s a real pain in the ass when it comes to tight situations on the streets.

My largest problem with the game is that it comes to an end far too quickly. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing though. I’ve always felt that the only games that we complain are too short are the ones that we never want to end. Case in point, everyone complained about the length of the PC shooter Call of Duty, about Max Payne 2 and about Metal Gear Solid 2. And why, because they were excellent titles that people just couldn’t get enough of. That very same philosophy applies here, had it been any other run-of-the-mill title I could have cared less that it provided me with less than ten hours of gameplay. The fact that it’s a solid B+ title means that I just couldn’t get enough of it, whetting my appetite for a sequel. If the ending of the game is any indication we should be treated to a sequel, or a prequel, in the coming years.

While it’s annoying and frustrating at times I can honestly say that it’s one of the best games that I’ve played all year. Just when I was ready to hate it something came along that made me pump more hours into the game. There’s something decidedly charming about a game that has such a detailed recreation of a real city and something even more charming about a game that does a great job of bringing it to life. To put it succinctly True Crime is everything that Dead to Rights ever hoped it could be, and more. It has its fill of problems, that’s for sure, but the end result is an irresistible adventure that really shouldn’t be missed by anyone who is a fan of action movies or just action in general.
While it's not without its share of problems, we gotta admit that True Crime is one amusing ride. It has some troubles blending in the three gameplay styles but once you've got the hang of it, hold on, you're in for one hell of a good time.

Rating: 8.7 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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