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True Crime: Streets Of LA

True Classic or True Copycat?

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

"True Crime is every bit of a landmark as Driver was in '99, Crazy Taxi in 2000, GTA 3 in 2001, and The Getaway last year," was Activision's Tim Woodley's characteristically upbeat assessment of its big Christmas hope. But is it just a cynical exercise in bandwagon jumping or an exquisite fusion of all of the best bits of everyone's favourite action games?

As one of the few games at last week's Edinburgh-based Activate event to be shown off on demo pods, it was tempting to think that it was no coincidence that a game so heavily inspired by Rockstar North's behemoth franchise was being pimped in their manor.

No doubt Activision would laugh off such suggestions, but comparisons were inevitable (and with Max Payne for that matter, also a Rockstar-published title) with what's gone before and the firm had some serious work to do to convince a notoriously cynical and demanding industry posse that this really is going to fill the void left by the absence of GTA from this Christmas' schedule.

Original. Uh huh.

So why should we be interested? If you wanted a lazy assessment, you could probably surmise that it's GTA having a bullet time showdown with Max Payne in LA, but Activision talked the talk: "True Crime offers the gamer a lot of original experiences," offers Woodley. "Where else can you drive from Downtown to Santa Monica in real time?"

Indeed, an almost unfeasible 240 square miles of urban sprawl has been faithfully recreated for your gaming pleasure, all painstakingly compiled from satellite data, height maps, and photos, to accurately convey every undulation and major building in the city - and all streamed off the disc with no loading pauses interrupting the action.

Graphically, Activision wasn't making any outlandish claims in this department, nor should it. A half hour session on the demo pods revealed a solid but unspectacular game engine that sits somewhere between the cartoon glitz of GTA and the more intricate and realistic The Getaway.

Déjà vu?

The character models showed a pleasing level of detail and animation, the city shifts a great deal of detail at a consistent pace and the vehicles glistened in all the right places, but the absence of a certain wow factor arguably makes it a harder sell when you're pimping a title that often bellows "me too" at every opportunity.

Perhaps wisely, executive producer on the project, Chris Archer, concentrated on the non-linear narrative structure, pushing the fact that the choices the gamer makes dictates the way the game plays out.

Taking the role of "rogue Elite Operations Division operative" Nick Kang, a "no-holds barred badass", his "brutal reputation" and "lethal skills" mean it's his (i.e. your) job to take out those terribly nasty Triad fellows, along with the Russian Mafia who have turned filthy crime ridden cess pool LA into a, well, a seething maggot-infested stench-ridden hell hole. Probably.

Woodley was keen, once again, to emphasise the fact that Activision was building a new property: "There is a reliance on Hollywood licenses, but True Crime is a new IP, an original property... maybe one day Hollywood will turn it into a movie." We wonder who would play the lead?

Shoot people in the face

Shockingly you get to use guns and everything, but stay with us, because Luxoflux (try saying that when you're pished) has promised a multi-tentacled 100 mission long story with three unique endings that plays out depending on numerous cunning factors.

"Everything in the game has a consequence," asserts Archer. "There's no need to repeat missions over and over... how you take down guys has an effect on storyline." We must admit that this all sounds superbly innovative in principle, but quite how this works in reality will be something we're massively intrigued to find out. Sure, branching storylines are nothing new, but anyone frustrated by The Getaway's steadfastly rigid structure, and GTA's ultimately linear progression will welcome such a feature.

One area True Crime should comprehensibly kick arse is in the combat area, with a beat 'em up style depth allowing players to pull off two, three and four button combos, with a selection of grapples, stomps, running attacks and plethora of finishing moves that you apparently have to learn as the game goes on at various Dojos dotted around the town. There are even stealth manoeuvres in there for gawd's sake. We didn't get a hands-on in this area, but it all looked pretty peachy, no doubt aided by the motion capture of 10 different martial arts experts.

Enough of the unfair comparisons already

Once you stop comparing True Crime unfairly, it's more than apparent that there are some very cool combat features that stand it apart from its illustrious forefathers. For a start Mr Kang can carry a different weapon in each hand, and carry out the inordinately cool Precision Targeting feature which allows him to zone in on specific areas of whatever bad guy or vehicle you're aiming at. We don't know about you, but the idea of being able to spin your car 180 degrees, carry on driving, zoom in on your pursuers' tyres or petrol tank, pop a cap in it and watch them spin into a ball of flaming death strikes us as very special indeed.

To make it easier, you're allowed to enter slow mo (think bullet time) mode as much as you like, as well as pick up melee weapons and carry out one shot throws. If this all comes together in reality, we're potentially looking at one hell of a game. The proof, as ever is in the playing, not the hype, but we're far more excited about True Crime than we were before.

Although it went as far as to say that it's "scored like a movie" and will feature a "West Coast flavoured double CD soundtrack" in the game, (which will in presumably play out whenever you enter your car), only West Side Connection - Ice Cube, Mac 10, WC - E40, EZ E Jr., KAM and 187 (Above the Law) have been confirmed so far. Expect the addition of some traditional R&B, and even some Rock for the homeboys not quite down with the hip hop massive.

Voiceover wise, we're treated to some A list Hollywood names, including Gary Oldman and Christopher Walken, as well as some we can't place such as Michael Madsen [Reservoir Dogs], Russell Wong [Romero Must Die], Michelle Rodriguez [Resident Evil, Fast and the Furious], Ron Perlman [I liked him as Johner in Alien Resurrection. Do you even watch movies? -Ed], CCH Pounder, James Hong and, um, Mako. Help us out here readers. This trend of actually hiring professionals to do the voice work is a trend we can only applaud after a decade of awful attempts.

Fun Lovin' Criminal

And thus ended our brief encounter with True Crime, and we left far more impressed with the game than we ever hoped we would be. It's been put back a couple of months (to November) for some evidently needed polishing, so we won't get our hands on a finished build for some time yet. Until then, keep an eye on developments, because it's got the potential to be one of the essential titles this Christmas. And not a license in sight.

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