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True Crime: Streets of LA

Kristan takes the demo version of Luxoflux's 'GTA beater' for a spin.

It's odd for a demo to hit the streets two months before a game release (given the lead times involved in doing so), especially when playable code isn't actually in circulation yet - so we thought we'd bring you our impressions of what Activision is banking on being one of this year's blockbuster games.

Part of the reason for this unexpected bonus is the fact that developer Luxoflux had originally planned to have its 'GTA beater' ready by now, but a couple of months back Activision did the decent thing and delayed it for some last minute polishing - and deserves respect for that.

Unfinished sympathy?

So what we have on the latest OPSM2 coverdisk is essentially a three level pre-spit and polish version which sports a few technical glitches but gives a decent idea of the variety of the finished article, covering the driving, hand-to-hand combat and shooting elements across the demo.

The first level, 'Red Lantern Rush' is a the third part of episode two, and is simple driving mission which tasks lead character Nick Kang with the objective of making it to his destination in under a minute.

This strangely short burst of gameplay barely gives you a chance to work out the controls, never mind adjust to the rather over responsive vehicle handling, but after repeated attempts we got enough of a feel for the basic city driving experience to suss out it's not a million miles away from GTA - as we suspected all along.

Stick to what you know, yo

Indeed, you're allowed to jump in and out of you car (assigned to L1, to our annoyance - why not stick to what people know and expect?), or anyone else's car for that matter. Being a copper, most people will do what you say and get out, although we got into an amusing fisticuffs scenario with an old codger.

Visually, it's aiming for a halfway house between the cartoony look of GTA and the gritty realism of The Getaway, although its US style and palette makes it look instantly more like Rockstar North's effort, albeit with a refined game engine which can render everything at a greater level of detail than GTA3/VC managed with its now ageing Renderware-based tech.

You only get a minute to drive around, but it all seems pleasantly varied, with a diverse selection of vehicles populating the city. Quite how you'll be able to commit to memory 240 accurately mapped square miles of Los Angeles is anyone's guess, however - it's almost ten times the size of The Getaway if that gives you an idea of how vast the play area is.

As has just been recently announced, there's over 50 licensed tunes in the game, mainly drawing from Hip Hop and R&B. Just the one typically aggressive Hip Hop track makes it into the demo, sadly rendering us unable to report on how the soundtrack system works.

Fighting farce?

If you fail the first demo level, you're quickly dispatched to the Bar Brawl mission, which has Kang going toe to toe with a Triad gang member, giving us the chance to assess how a weaponless scenario would play out. The moves available to you are decidedly limited, with just four main attacks, and a trio of two-button combo finishing moves, which give you the opportunity to smash your opponent to a bloodied pulp rather satisfyingly if you manage to stun them first.

Of the basic moves, triangle performs a high jump kick, circle grapples; X performs a low kick, while square punches. Movement and camera controls are assigned to the left and right sticks respectively, which can be problematic when you're attempting to use your right hand to perform a move just at the point that you need to tweak the viewpoint.

The combat certainly feels solid enough, the AI is strong, and is far more of a solid feature of the game than it ever was in GTA. Better still, the detail level in the bar is pretty much unprecedented, with an intricate, convincing feel to the environments, helped immensely by the destructibility of just about everything you can see, including a whole array of tables, chairs, barstools and even videogame machines for you to smash. It's just a shame you can't wield any of them as a weapon.

And now for some other ideas we pinched...

The final component of the game centres around Max Payne style shootouts, which show off the various dives, rolls and bullet time manoeuvres at your disposal. Culled from mission seven of episode three, Partners In Crime has Kang "kickin' ass and takin' names" with pistols in each hand. With a quick stab of R1 you easily take out the first couple of baddies, only to be flanked by a whole posse of goons. Hitting circle lets our hero pick up any dropped firepower (of which there is plenty), although it seems most weapons only last few shots before you're left scrabbling around for the various other machine guns or shotguns that litter the floor.

Tapping triangle allows Kang to roll in true cop style, holding it down performs the bullet time slow motion dive so you can tackle those particularly tricky sections, and X lets Kang do a wall hug in true Solid Snake style, or a crouch if you're out in the open.

If True Crime sounds like an amalgamation of every good game made over the last few years, then you'd be right. So far, every element of the demo has everything in the right place, but we'd have to play the full game in context to really be satisfied that this is not just an exercise in pillaging other people's ideas for profit. From the little we've seen, Kang doesn't come across as an especially likeable hero, and the West Coast soundtrack might not necessarily appeal to everyone's tastes. It appears to have all the ingredients of a great game, but we wait with interest to find out how the finished article gels as an overall package.