Review: Crime? In NYC? No...you're kidding!
Without a new Grand Theft Auto in 2003, Activision and developer Luxoflux released True Crime: Streets of LA in hopes to fill the void and maybe even steal some of its fanbase with the emphasis on more realistic visuals, a superstar acting cast, and as the title suggests, a real city to explore, in this case Los Angeles, CA. True to the idea, Streets of LA was a success selling well over 2 million copies across all 4 platforms it released on. But then San Andreas hit and made True Crime its female dog, sending everyone back to the drawing board looking for the next 'urban' hit. For Activision, True Crime: NYC is their contribution to this already-dead fad. A new city, a new plot, some major tweaks to the gameplay from its predecessor, and Christopher Walken. The result is a good, but not great game that excels in one important area, but fails in another. But unlike GTA, the failure is in the place few might expect from this 'sandbox' game.
True Crime: NYC puts you in control of Marcus Reed, a young detective who used to play on the other side of the law, like his father Isaiah, who currently resides in prison. Marcus was taken under the wing of a detective, Terry Higgins, who did his best to fix him up and make him a fine cop ? a perfect plainclothes officer to take down all the inner-city crime due to his own shady and violent past (which you get to play out at the beginning). All goes well, and Marcus is given his detective badge (after passing the tests which acts as the in-game tutorial). Naturally, tragedy strikes as his mentor is killed in a suspicious explosion, and of course, the hero of the story seeks revenge in a plot that slowly but surely unravels over the course of 10 hours or so. It's not creative or unpredictable, but it's interesting enough to plug through. And there's no dragons, I promise.
Like its predecessor, True Crime: NYC is an open-ended, kinda-linear adventure, where you can ignore the mission at hand if you want and just cruise around and solve crimes, because there really isn't all that much to do otherwise unless you like illegal street racing or just want to see the sights of NYC. At least now there's a bit more open-endedness to things ? in Streets of LA, you were only given free time to drive around between chapters as usually you had a time limit to reach objectives, or were simply forced into driving somewhere specific. It's a bit more relaxed in NYC, so you can spend more time riding around. Actually, solving crimes goes a long way to progressing through the game, as technically that's your job ? the murder investigation is done in secret and off-the-books. The career points earned nets you much better stuff later on, though it's not required ? just the main story stuff.
The approach to handling the crime solving is largely unchanged from Streets of LA, but this time around the good cop/bad cop thing is a lot more fleshed out. When dealing with a street crime, there's multiple paths to take, depending on the 'danger level' of your perps. If he's got a yellow health bar, he's peaceful and won't fight. An orange means to show caution, but if it's a red bar, you can fire at will. Now if you take down a perp non-lethally and cuff them, there's 'good cop' points for you, but on the other hand, if you just rip out your guns and cap some asses, that earns 'bad cop' points. Even when randomly frisking pedestrians on the sidewalks (always a good time), you can pull bad cop tactics, like planting evidence on innocents or taking bribes from those you catch. If you collect evidence from crime scenes, you get a choice too ? either dump it off at the evidence department for good points, or sell it to a pawn shop. Generally if there's a good way to do things, there's a bad way too.
On-foot combat takes some getting used to, but once you do, it's pretty effective and fun. The game offers both manual and automatic aim, with a fine aim (which puts the camera behind you, RE4 style) thrown in. Manual aim is a bit weird since it's sluggish and really, why bother with it when there's an automatic aim that works well? L1 targets and R1 fires; pretty simple stuff. If you want, you can also play melee style, though that's pretty tough with 10 thugs firing AK-47's. It's easy to change between guns and melee, just a tap of either up or down on the d-pad, and the up-close combat is effective; you can knock guys to the ground and beat the hell out of them (a very useful move when chasing a criminal is to run and press Circle when you get close enough, as Marcus will tackle the bastard to the ground for a major beatdown) with a variety of moves that, like LA, can be learned through training dojos. And yeah, there's even some stealth stuff, with the good cop/bad cop thing in play ? take them out non-lethal for good, and...eh you know the rest.
While the on-foot stuff is great, anything involving the vehicles is sorely lacking. First off, the city itself, while nice and a very, very authentic take on Manhattan, is boring. Driving to many objectives can take upwards of 10 minutes (mostly due to the amazing amount of one-way streets that take you way out of your way...this might be a great game for New York residents since they'll know the roads), more if you get stuck in a crime zone, and there's really not that much to do otherwise ? solving street crimes can get really tiring after a while since the variety in them lacks. One can only break up a stolen car ring or chop shop operation so many times before it gets boring. GTA's open city has a charm; there's almost always something to do, fun things to find...you know, reasons to explore. Aside from finding the training rooms or a street race here or there, this city is barren and boring. 2nd of all, the cars handle like they're on ice all the time, which is a pain seeing how narrow the streets are in this city. This results in unnecessary wrecks and deaths of pedestrians, which of course hurts you by giving out bad cop points.
Because of this, I really think True Crime: New York City could have benefited from a bit more focus and linearity ? get rid of the open city and the repetitive crime solving, and make the game a straight-up action title following the interesting main plot, as that part of the game is functional and enjoyable, it might have been a wise idea. I know everyone's still caught up in GTA madness, especially after San Andreas went out and schooled its clones (NYC itself is another clone of San Andreas with the angry black man looking to escape his past and do good angle), but not every game needs an open city unless you really plan on doing something special with it. Nobody has figured out why GTA's cities are so memorable, aside from its own fanbase...so lets give up the facade and when the game calls for something a little more straightforward, do it. As it stands, True Crime: NYC could have been a killer action game; but instead it's damaged by mediocre driving and a big city with nothing interesting in it.
If you have a progressive-scan enabled TV, or an HDTV, you're in for a treat, as True Crime supports both widescreen and 480p output. And believe it or not...it's damn pretty, especially for a game with such a huge world. Manhattan Island is done in impeccable detail, with almost every major landmark intact, like Central Park or Madison Square Garden. Anyone whose been to the city will recognize the streets and many locations. In Streets of LA, many city blocks were repetitive and that took away from the realism (that said, LA is a boring city architecturally), but that's been fixed this time around as there's more variety in the 'lesser' buildings that aren't important. There's tons of pedestrians around, and lots of cars, though there's not much variety in either one; you'll see the same character model and vehicle type over and over. But it all looks really good, if a bit blurred to take out the jaggies and other bad artifacts that you see when not playing in progressive.
NYC features a strong voice acting cast, though there's not a whole lot of memorable names. You get Mickey Rourke & Laurence Fishburne, Traci Lords & Quinton Flynn (Raiden!)...but you also get Christopher Walken, which adds at least 3.5 million cool points, just like anything else that man touches. However some of it is wasted with hack dialog and a ridiculous overuse of the f-word, and of course the n-word. I'm no angel but even I don't curse that much. It's even more over the top than in San Andreas. The soundtrack is very star-studded and front-loaded with hip-hop/soul, with a mix of old (Rapper's Delight), classic (Scenario from Tribe Called Quest), blaxploitation hits (Across 110th Street), and modern (Black Rob). But there's plenty of noisy music too, like Biohazard, The Bravery, and most importantly, it has Thunderkiss '65 from White Zombie. Which everyone knows completely effing rocks. Well, everyone who has played it in Guitar Hero anyway.