Sunday, April 01, 2012

True Crime - New York City

Take to the streets once again, not just on the PC.
Review By Mekalken.
The original True Crime: Streets of L.A. was something of an ambitious game. It managed to pull off some of this ambition quite well, like almost perfectly mapping the layout of the entirety of Los Angeles for you to drive through, but some other aspects that may have sounded good on paper didn't quite come through in the end. The gunplay was a little wonky to use, the hand-to-hand combat was decent but didn't control all that well, the move upgrades were cool but rather annoying to obtain, and the game's characters honestly weren't nearly as intriguing as others in competing titles.

 For the follow-up, True Crime: New York City, Luxoflux went back to the drawing board. While it kept some of the previous title's gameplay elements intact, it pushed those into the background and made them easier and more responsive to use. It also went back to the storyboard for the setting and characters, essentially making NYC a chapter of sorts in the True Crime universe rather than a true sequel (pun intended), hence the lack of a 2 in the title.

While Luxoflux did manage to put together a strong sequel for the PS2 and Xbox, the PC porting duties were left to Aspyr. Unfortunately, it seems the company did little more than get the game up and running on the PC and didn't bother to fine-tune a few of the controls for the system, or even simply change out some more console-oriented text. In other words, the backbone to the game is just as strong as the console versions, but the PC port unfortunately feels thrown together. 

The game revolves around your character Marcus, whose father, Isaiah, was a major crime lord. Disgruntled thugs put a hit on Marcus and his father, attempting to kill them and take over the empire. The only problem is that both of them live and Marcus wants instant revenge. This sets up the start of the game, where you overtake their hideout and slaughter everyone in sight. Immediately cut to five years later, where you've been saved and cleared of implications by a family friend, you've joined the police force and your father is behind bars. After the mysteriously suspicious death of the same man that turned you straight and set you up with a job on the straight side of the law, you aim to find out exactly what happened to him, and along the way bust up a few drug rings, money laundering schemes and more. And hey, what New York crime story doesn't involve the mob?

The game's storyline and presentation is much better and more involving this time around than last. The characters are much more realistic, with very believable reasons behind all of their actions, good or bad. The cutscene presentation is generally pretty good, and the voice acting ranges anywhere from good to excellent. With a cast that includes Laurence Fishburne, Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken (whose short segments are exceptionally good) and more, how could they go wrong?

At times, it can be a little confusing as to why you might have to go find an insane asylum or meet up with an Asian drug cartel in the middle of dealing with an entirely different group, but this could have just been me missing a quick reference to something. Aside from a few small "why?" missions, everything is tied together well, presented well and is generally intriguing for the most part. 

One of the best parts of True Crime: New York City is how well your general duties as a cop are tied into the game, working very well alongside your own personal investigations. There are a ton of random crime scenes that happen throughout the city, like somebody going crazy on a bus or a group of bums fighting over a piece of bread or something, and all of those work well enough. The coolest parts are the more involving and major side missions, though.

You'll be given orders to look into a couple major underground criminal activities, like illegal street racing or fight arenas. For each one of these, you'll need to get yourself introduced into the scene and then work through a series of fights or races. While these generally work as expected, and are reasonable fun in their own right, the way that your boss presents them to you and commends you on your constant progress through them makes it feel like you're actually doing your job as a policeman, rather than just busting random street crimes because they're there. It helps tie in your general job duties really well in a way that doesn't feel contrived or forced. 

The main story missions themselves generally revolve around busting into a building of some sort, mowing down a whole lot of thugs and then usually interrogating a major witness. There isn't as much variety in them as, say, the missions in a GTA game, but you generally don't notice. In fact, the only reason I even really thought about it was because I'd been dissecting the game for review purposes. By the end of the game you may have picked up on it, but given as many random side missions as you'll probably get sidetracked with, you probably won't really notice. There are a few main missions that change things up a bit, like one where you're standing out of the top of a limo and have to gun down bikers, cars and armored trucks in order to protect the folks inside the limo, but most are of the "break and enter, then kill everyone" variety.

At the end of almost every mission in the game, you'll wind up interrogating the lead you were after. You'll see a meter on the screen with a hotspot in the center. A couple moves, like shoving your gun to their head or smacking them with the butt of your pistol, will raise their stress level (the meter), while asking them to work with you will lower it. You need to use combinations of the two types of moves in order to center your bar in the meter three times, which will get the suspect to give up the info. 

This is a decent concept, but it's actually super simple to win. In fact, I never even came close to failing this once in the game. Since it's very easy to see how tense or not the suspect is, and the meter moves slow enough for you to react with plenty of leftover time, you'd have a hard time not getting the info you need from them. It's a shame that it wasn't quite a bit harder, making the interrogations much more of a challenge and forcing you to find alternate paths to information.

If you do happen to screw up and fail one of these interrogations though, you can turn to one of the game's informants, including your father. You basically go and run a side mission for them, and in return they'll provide you with the info that you were after in the first place, putting you back on track and allowing you to continue the game's main missions. You can go and perform other side missions for the informants for cash as well if want, but since the interrogation stuff is so easy none of these missions are really ever required. They're cool though, and worth checking out, but they're basically optional. 

One of the major ways that Luxoflux improved upon the original True Crime is in its basic gameplay mechanics. Rather than relying on the precision aiming for much of the game's firefights, the game now uses a combination of a freelook aiming system (think Max Payne) and a lock-on system (think GTA). You'll have constant freelook control over Marcus, allowing you to move with ease and take down foes this way. If you'd rather lock onto an enemy, all you need to do is hold down the lock-on key; release it, and you're back to freelook. And if you want, you can still go into the Precision Aiming mode in order to pinpoint shots, but it's almost entirely unnecessary.

The aiming system is a whole lot better off this time around, and the way it's set up allows players to play the game the way they want to play it. If you want to play it like a third-person action shooter, go right ahead and always freelook. If you want to play it like GTA, hold down a key or a button on your joypad. It's a great combination of the two systems, and one that feels entirely cohesive but doesn't force you into using either one. Likewise, switching it up between the two is second nature with a gamepad, though sticking to freelook with a mouse is ideal without one. 

Just as Luxoflux fixed and nearly perfected the aiming system, it also greatly improved the melee combat quite a bit. The biggest improvement is that there's now a smart lock-on system in place, where you'll punch, kick or whatever at the guy you're pointing nearest to. While this sounds obvious, the last True Crime had problems with its hand-to-hand system in that you punched exactly in the direction you were pointing, meaning if you were aiming slightly off an opponent, you'd miss. Where the last game was frustrating, this game feels much more like you'd expect a third-person game to feel. While we shouldn't really credit them for getting something right the second time that they should have the first, it's still a big improvement regardless.

Another area that Luxoflux improved upon the original is in the game's upgrade system. Like last time out, you can earn new fighting styles, new driving moves, enhanced shooting abilities and so forth. This time around though, obtaining them is as simple as earning a requisite police ranking or heading to the right store and buying them with cash. You don't need to work through any tests or some such like last time out, making the whole upgrade scheme much easier to deal with and much less of a pain in the ass. 

One thing that's changed a bit this time around is that the game downplays the good cop/bad cop point rankings. While your overall good/bad ratio and mission performance dictated which branch of the storyline you took last time out, True Crime: New York City follows a much straighter path, making sure the story makes a whole lot more sense, and giving you a little more freedom with your actions, allowing you to be bad while continuing down the same path as everyone else.

What this generally means is that the only points you receive that matter are career points, which earn you higher rankings and paychecks. It doesn't really matter towards your overall enjoyment of the game, but as often as the game points out your good and bad actions, it doesn't seem to mean a whole lot. Of course, if you run over a slew of pedestrians, the cops will come after you, but there's no harm in planting "evidence" on honest civilians every now and then just to earn a little extra dough. For better or worse, that's just how it is. 

True Crime: New York City is obviously a game based around an open city and the freedom within, and let's just say that the city is massive. It's hard to compare its size to the San Andreas, Streets of L.A. or any of the larger games out there, but the game recreates the entirety of Manhattan, if that gives you an idea of how big it is. It'll easily take you 10 minutes or more to drive from one side of the city to the other, even in the fastest cars. Luckily you can hop the subway or catch a cab to quickly get anywhere you need, which you will rely on as you can spend hours just getting from place to place. It's awesome how big the city is, but you'll soon learn that it can make driving it a daunting task. The availability of cabs is great, though.

There aren't a whole lot of standout or memorable spots in the city, though. As you cruise down the streets, you'll just fly past random building after random building. This may be how Manhattan actually is, I've only ever been there once, years ago, but the environmental variety isn't all that great. 

Regardless of how boring the city is however, navigating the PC version of True Crime: NYC is rather frustrating simply because of the graphical glitches that happen. Pop-up is a major problem here, not only because it exists at a fairly short range, but because objects appear at random lengths. You might see a van a ways down the road from you, when all of a sudden a car will appear between it and you. Characters will sometimes simply fade out from view when they're walking right in front of you.

LOD on characters is also pretty screwy, with entirely mis-matched low-res models filling in for some characters. For instance, a lady wearing a tan top and a grey skirt will look fine up close, but back away a bit and she'll transform into a man wearing a brown suit. It's jarring, to say the least. This isn't nearly the only graphical glitch we found either, as shadows and such would pop in and out of view, camera movement during cutscenes would cut at odd times or display the wrong angle for a split second, etc. etc. It simply feels unpolished. 

Though it's fun the whole way through, there's still a feeling of "been there, done that" in practically every aspect of the game. This approach makes sense, since the last game had very high ambitions but failed to implement a whole lot of that in ways that worked as well as they sounded on paper. The main point here is that though most every aspect of the game has been seen and done before, True Crime's strengths lie in the solid ways that everything is put together. Still though, while the console title was a solid game, and the same can still be said in some ways about the PC variant, this port is really rather disappointing. Graphical glitches like tons of pop-up, problems with shadows and so forth mar its visuals quite a bit, and there lacks a certain amount of tweaking that should have taken place in its PC transition. True Crime: New York City does a whole lot of things right, but it doesn't take very many risks. What this means is that it's a solid title through and through, but you won't find a whole lot of water cooler moments in there. Fans of the genre will dig it, and fans of violence and plenty of swearing will certainly like it. If you're tired of the whole GTA thing and want more substance, this may not be the game for you. For everyone else though, TC: NYC is definitely worth checking out... On the consoles, at least. The PC port feels very sloppy overall, almost as if Aspyr simply got it working and then left it at that. If you're interested in this game, check out either of the console versions.
NAME: TRUE CRIME - NEW YORK CITY
SYSTEM: PlayStation 2, XBOX, PC, Nintendo Game Cube

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