previews\ Oct 17, 2003 at 8:00 pm

True Crime: Streets Of L.A. - PS2 - Preview

Let’s see… yep, it’s two years after the release of Grand Theft Auto III, and it’s time for all the re-hashes trying to capitalize on the genre. Right on time comes Activision’s spin on one of the greatest (and most violent) games ever made in the form of True Crime: Streets of LA.  Activision invited GameZone down to The Dragon Bar in San Francisco for a preview of the game, some grub, and plenty of drinks. 


The story of the game is your basic renegade-cop-needs-to-clean-up-the-city-by-any-means-necessary, and the hero is one Nick Kang, a member of the Elite Operations Division, or EOD.  Due to excess violence and a few cases of bending the rules too far, Kang was an ideal choice for the EOD, a classified division of the LAPD that works undercover and is allowed a loose leash.  Kang’s main objective in True Crime is to clean up the Russian and Chinese crime syndicates that plague the city with fists, feet, guns, and cars.


Anyone who has ever seen screenshots or game footage of True Crime will instantly group it into the same genre as Grand Theft Auto III.  Its true place, however, should be with titles that spun-off from GTA such as Max Payne, Dead to Rights, and most accurately, The Getaway.  All these titles (save for Max Payne), had a tough time in the market and with the critics.  True Crime follows suit, but does have several elements going for it that should make it more successful among gamers. 


Like GTA, True Crime combines driving around a large map (in this case, 250 accurate square miles of Los Angeles) with on-foot shooting and fighting.  But because the story is more mission-based instead of free-roaming like GTA, the gameplay is much more similar to mission-based point A to point B style of The Getaway, the PS2 game based in London. 


The driving portion of the game is a blast, just as driving in The Getaway or GTA is.  There’s nothing like speeding down Wilshire Blvd. at 100 mph in a ride that’s not yours (you can commandeer, Activision’s euphemism for ‘carjack’, vehicles).  In addition to driving around like a maniac, Kang can shoot weapons from the driver’s seat much more accurately than in GTA, can perform 180 and 360 degree turns on a dime, and pitch the car up on two wheels Dukes of Hazard style.  The cars handle remarkably easily, and most of them have a bit of giddy-up under the hood for arcade style racing. 


The fighting missions are very reminiscent of Dead to Rights.  There are often 4 or 5 goons to contend with at one time, and Kang can target them individually.  The fighting is much more complex than simply punching and kicking, with combo moves, grapples, and takedown moves all within Kang’s arsenal.  Kang can also visit dojos to improve his repertoire, adding round house kicks, enemy-launching foot thrusts, and rib-cage crushing fists from the air type things.  Kang can also pick up various weapons from enemies (usually by flipping the weapon in the air with his foot and catching it) such as guns and knives, and can even put a knife straight through an enemy’s head. 


Some missions are highly weapons-based.  Kang can wield two weapons at once, even an AK and a glock simultaneously, and unload lead into everyone in sight.  The standard shooting style is an easy auto-targeting system represented by simple yellow crosshairs that can be changed to the next victim with the right analog stick. Kang will also want to go to precision targeting, a first-person view that gives the user total control over the crosshairs, when facing enemies holding prisoners hostage.  While it’s fun to see Kang drop bad guys by putting a few clips in them, the controls suffer in these instances, just as they do in most games of this genre.  Kang can use the Max Payne slow-mo dive when things get hairy, and he can disarm opponents when he finds himself sans weapons. 


One of the interesting choices Activision made was the branching storyline.  There are often a few ways each mission can be approached.  For instance, if a mission asks for Kang to stealthily infiltrate a building, Kang can either sneak around unnoticed, or can get caught by guards.  If Kang gets in unnoticed, he may be able to fight the boss one-on-one, get some information, and then move on.  If Kang gets caught by the guards, he may have to tussle with them, and pursue the same boss as he escapes by car.  It’s unclear how many missions have these options, and it’s also unclear whether these alternate stories can be played again within the same game.  It’s a good effort at a feature that some other games have tried, and could be the blueprints for this ambitious feature for other games, so that each gamer has a unique experience when playing the same game.  


The graphics and cinematics in the game were fairly impressive on the Xbox and GameCube, but the PS2 version was noticeably weaker.  There is a generous amount of detail on the streets and indoors, and many objects are somewhat interactive (although thick trees merely breakaway when hit with a car). 


Several actors have lent their talent to the game to make the cinematics and storyline have a real Hollywood feel.  Among the stars are Chinese heartthrob Russell Wong, Christopher Walken, and my favorite, Gary Oldman. 


Another highly touted feature of True Crime is the soundtrack.  The entire soundtrack features West Coast hip hop artists and has more bumps than a fat kid at a mosquito-infested summer camp.  Among the artists are E-40, Westside Connection, and an exclusive track Snoop Dogg. 


From the early looks I got, it appears as though True Crime has a very good shot to be much better than The Getaway and Dead to Rights.  There are a lot of moves that can be done in the game, which is great, but ultimately needs good controls to pull off.  Unfortunately, the game’s greatest weaknesses are in the controls.  However, if they can be overlooked or mastered, True Crime looks as though it has the potential to be very entertaining and very violent.


True Crime is scheduled for a November 4th release.  True Crime: Streets of LA is rated M for Mature for themes of Blood and Gore, Mature Sexual Themes, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, and lots of Violence. 


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