my thoughts on whatever I may be thinking about and choosing to share
an enjoyable romp through a virtual Los Angeles
Published on November 30, 2007 By warreni In Action

I finished True Crime recently, and I found it to be a pretty enjoyable experience.

The game was criticized and not wholly unjustly for having a pretty simplistic combat system. It also drew a lot of inevitable and unflattering comparisons to the GTA series. However, it has one saving grace that I think actually makes it superior to the two GTA games I've played (Vice City and III): a branching storyline that doesn't grind to a halt every single time you fail to complete a story mission successfully. This approach to the GTA-clone subgenre is a breath of fresh air in my opinion, especially in light of the fact that I've personally gotten stuck in story missions and unable to advance the story in those games. That can be frustrating, particularly in light of the fact that, despite Rockstar's apparently-valiant efforts, the controls for their GTA games are not really optimized for PCs, putting the somewhat dexterity-challenged among us (namely, me) at a severe disadvantage relative to our console-loving brethren. (I got stuck in Vice City on that mission that requires you to prevent a few guys doing a drug deal from getting shot and then jump on the back of a motor scooter and chase a would-be assassin. I know, I didn't get very far.) TC, on the other hand, is pretty easy to configure pretty much any way that you want, but the default controls work pretty well with the keyboard-and-mouse combo. I found that the trick was to use my right hand with the mouse while driving and switch it to the numeric keypad when fighting.

Perhaps the other best feature about the game is your character's ability to improve his skills and abilities, in addition to acquiring better equipment through the use of driving range, shooting range, and martial combat trials. While I'm aware that GTA: San Andreas has a similar system of "self-improvement," TC did actually come out a year earlier. Every time you successfully complete a chapter of the story (finish 100% of the missions), you have a chance to get a "free" upgrade. This means that you have an unlimited number of times to try to get one of three helpful boosts: a faster car, a new martial arts move (which also upgrades your attack speed), or a better set of default guns. While playing through the regular missions, you can stop and solve random street crimes, which fall into one of several categories: 1) stopping a street fight by shooting or beating up the combatants, 2) stopping a mugging, 3) assisting fellow law officers who are engaged in a brawl or firefight, 4) chasing a suspect in a crime who is fleeing in a vehicle, 5) stopping an assault-in-progress, et cetera. You earn reward points for every crime that you solve and when you earn 100 points you get a badge. The badges are "entry fees" that you use to gain access to driving ranges, dojos, and shooting ranges located in various parts of the city that you can access during non-timed driving missions. These areas allow you to attempt specific challenges to gain various upgrades such as a laser sight or better auto-aiming for your gun, extra maneuvers for your vehicle, or extra martial-arts moves. If you fail to achieve the challenge, you lose a badge and have the option to spend another badge to try again if you have any reserves; otherwise, you can always exit and solve some more street crimes to gain more reward points and try again later.

Are these upgrades necessary to win the game? Well, maybe not, if you're really good or you have tremendous reserves of patience and time. Basically, getting the upgraded default weapons (the last upgrade is to a pair of .50 semiautomatic pistols) and upgrading your attack speed at dojos makes the shooting and fighting missions, respectively, much easier, and winning at least one street race (these are the end-chapter trials for driving) to get an upgraded car makes some of the nigh-impossible timed driving missions winnable.

To cite a few specific examples, there is a mission where you have 2:30 to race across the city from a villain's headquarters to your brother's dojo. I must have played through this race 15-20 times with the default car. I gave up, took an alternate path, won a street race and got a faster car. When I played that mission again, I succeeded on the first try. The other example that comes to mind is the firearm upgrade path. When you reach the third-to-last mission in the chapter pertaining to Ancient Wu, there are a few gun battles involving giant demon heads (see my notes on the story below) and a dragon that require either a manic ability to rapidly roll and shoot or virtually all of the available gun upgrades, especially the hollow-point ammo, which enables your weapons to deal a considerably larger amount of damage. Fortunately, I was able to complete the game with all three endings without finishing the last three missions in this chapter.

The story is rather convoluted, and at one point it gets pretty strange. You play the game as Nick Kang, a rogue LAPD officer who breaks all the rules but has his heart in the right place (or insert your favorite cop-movie cliche here). Kang is half-Oriental, half-Caucasian and he has a bad attitude; he joined the police force after his father disappeared while under investigation by Internal Affairs twenty years earlier. Kang begins following a trail of crime that involves a local Triad gang, Russian mobsters, and a Korean general (Han Yu Kim). After playing through several of the story's branches, it can be hard to keep the who's who and why straight in your head. Three-quarters of the way through the story's eight chapters, it throws you a bit of a loop as you're introduced to the Ancient Wu character, leader of the Triad and also apparently an ancient Chinese sorcerer. After you confront Wu, he appears again later in the story to exercise his mystical abilities to aid you in getting out of a few tight spots. This seems really weird in the context of a generic sort of cop-action game setup, but if you're a gamer, you're probably used to bizarre story twists of this sort. It didn't faze me much, anyway.

The game has three basic endings--a poor one where you take down General Kim in a fight atop a skyscraper without really learning what his involvement was in the rest of the story, an average one where you take down Rasputin "Rocky" Kuznetskov (an ex-KGB agent who heads the local Russian mafia), and a good one where you defeat Kim after learning his connection to the other factions in the story and the ultimate fate of Nick's father in a much tougher martial-arts battle than in the poor ending. The story is narrated (and seemingly told in flashback) by Christopher Walken, who plays an old cop buddy of Nick's father, Henry Wilson. Walken's character appears at the upgrade ranges and dojos and provides smart-ass commentary when Nick fails to achieve a challenge, along the lines of "Not the way I would've done it, but, then, you're not as good as me." The story also branches at several key points if you fail at a mission (usually the penultimate one in a chapter), starting in Chapter III. For example, at one point in the story Nick's brother Cary, who had been threatened by the Russian mafia, either is killed or survives an attack and kidnapping, depending upon your performance as Nick. If he dies, your next series of missions revolves around taking revenge on the story's villains.

Regarding the sound in the game, ambient sounds are great. Also, passing pedestrians have some funny one-liners if you bump them, shoot at them, or just walk by. Nick can be annoying, as other reviews have pointed out. He is cocky and sexist (he assumes his new partner is a secretary in a scene so cliched it literally made me cringe), and he utters occasional lines when he takes down an opponent that are just plain stupid ("Kung pow!" comes to mind). The soundtrack is a mixed bag and how you like it will be a matter of personal taste. It's mostly tracks from West Coast rappers, some recorded just for the game and some culled from albums. There is also a mix of metal and rock tracks, although hip-hop is the predominant ingredient. I liked a few of the tracks written especially for the game and some of the other songs by The Donnas and Mojo Rib grew on me too.

The graphics are fine, about what you'd expect for a console port circa 2003. I've never been very picky about graphics anyway, but there are noticeable clipping issues in just about every aspect of the game.

On the whole, I had a lot more fun playing True Crime than I did Vice City, which is either a testament to my lack of patience and ability or an indication that Luxoflux and Gray Matter did more things right than wrong when putting this title together.


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