True Crime's plot, while perfectly serviceable, is pretty traditional stuff, so let's kick off with a relevant paradox or two instead. They may not actually be genuine paradoxes, obviously, as I'm quite thick.
Paradox one: Publishers release so many games because they know that most games won't actually make much money. Paradox two: With so many games knocking around, if you're a developer and you're playing it safe, you're probably actually taking a huge risk.
In the - possibly mythical - old days, when plenty of the games that graced the top 40 lists had a chance of making a decent return, you could play it safe: you could lurk quietly in the warm centre of a genre, doing everything that was expected of you to a reasonable standard, and take no gambles on interesting new ideas that might potentially alienate part of your audience. You didn't have to be great, you just had to be good enough.
Increasingly, that's not, er, good enough. Increasingly, you have to mark yourself out from everybody else. You still don't have to be great - what are you, a Communist? - but you do have to be a bit of a loudmouth. In a classroom full of extraverts, you have to be the one wearing clown makeup and hinting about how you may have just killed your family and buried them in the backyard.
In other words, if you're a racing game, you have to be the one where everything explodes. If you're an FPS, you have to be the one where you decide whether or not to murder little children to level up your powers. If you're a puzzle game, you have to be the one with an RPG threaded into it, and even then you can't be sure you'll succeed, so you should probably throw in the bit about murdering children again just to hedge your bets.
That's the problem with True Crime. It doesn't look bad, but it certainly doesn't look great, either. It looks - what's the phrase? - good enough.
Activision's latest open-world cops-and-robbers outing moves the action to Hong Kong, a city where wooden shacks nestle alongside glass mega-scrapers, where the roadsides are filled with glittering neon signage, and the night sky is stained a sodium orange.
It looks like a decent place to drive around - easily identifiable, but gently caricatured - and there's the expected range of vehicles to pinch in order to get your undercover cop from A to B. The trailer even has speedboats. Everybody likes them.
With a nod to Just Cause 2 - although it feels more like Pursuit Force - you can leap from one car to the next as you drive along, via a handy contextual prompt, and once you're on foot and in the middle of a mission you have a similar range of gymnastic options, too. Combat's spread across gunplay - which looks pretty serviceable as it shifts between Crackdown-styled body part targeting and a free-aim - and melee fighting.
The melee stuff is suitably brutal, filled with leg-breaks, cleavers through the spine, and showers of claret at every opportunity. When that gets dull, you can fling baddies into nasty bits of scenery too, wedging them into sparking circuit breakers where they twitch and smoulder (that's the non-George Clooney sort of smouldering, right?) or lobbing them over the edge of a gantry to pool quietly on the floor below. Lots of gantries in Hong Kong. They must use them for storing all those crates.
You can climb the scenery, too, should you wish to, with a neat little parkour system that highlights the edge of any interactive objects with an unobtrusive yellow bar. It's allowed True Crime's developers to build some pretty open arenas for brawling, with multi-level sections where you can either run and gun your way up the stairs or scamper over boxes to get the drop on people from an unexpected angle. Then there are the usual suspects like slow-mo gunplay and the table-sliding beloved of John Woo to take into account, too.
The reason you're doing all this scampering, shooting, cleavering and slow-moing is because you're an undercover cop on an ambiguous mission: your job is to infiltrate a Triad organisation and take them down from the inside. You're going have to do some unpleasant things along the way, possibly worse than sabotaging the Triad photocopier with the inside bits of a Biro, and the game is going to judge you for them too.
This is where True Crime flirts, briefly, with invention. The game's 'Face' system may not allow you to choose the ultimate direction for your character - United Front, the developer, leaves the sandbox stuff for tackling the objectives and has a linear storyline in mind for you from the start - but it still aims to change the kinds of missions open to you at any time and the way people react to you based on what you've done and how you've customised your character along the way.
Kill too many civilians (I'm guessing) and the cops will be a bit cheesed off at you. Wear a particularly evil tie (still guessing) and ladies will point at you on the street.
It's all about honour, apparently, and it might hopefully add a gentle spark to proceedings. Heaven knows, a gentle spark is what True Crime, for all its easygoing professionalism, looks to be in need of. After a quick developer playthrough and a chat with a producer, I'm left with a sense of fairly solid craftsmanship but little that makes the game truly stand out at this stage.
That seems somewhat unfair as, if you take apart the pieces - decent city, decent acrobatics, gooey finishers, light morality stuff - the game seems to be ticking a lot of people's favourite boxes. The problem is, it's headed into a crowded genre, and it has little to really make you pay attention.
It's possible that the special ingredients are still secret at this stage, and, to be honest, open-world games are notoriously hard to demo effectively, but as the game nears release, True Crime is looking unambitious at best, and possibly irrelevant. Not a bad game, necessarily, but one you might have played too many times before.
True Crime is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this autumn.