reviews\ Dec 7, 2005 at 7:00 pm

True Crime: New York City - PS2 - Review

We don't like crime. We don't like hearing about the horrific stories on local news stations, or enjoy reading about how a criminal got off on a technicality in the Sunday paper.

In video games it's a whole other story. Crime is cool. It's tough, it's exciting, and it gives developers the freedom to design games that let the player decide how they want to live their life. (Hey, that's just like real life! Minus the risk of doing time in the slammer.)

One of the biggest titles gunning for crime game supremacy is True Crime: New York City. Set in a world with potentially more scum than the LA version, the new True Crime aims to be grittier and more violent than the first.


Story Time

The game begins in blood and bruises. Drenched in remnants of dead criminals, Marcus Reed heads for an apartment building. The player is unaware that, within less than three minutes, he will bust into a dangerous situation, whip out his weapons and expect the one holding the controller to save the day. This is not a game of heroic actions and happy endings -- only one man will leave the building alive. The rest will leave in body bags. The one still standing might as well be Marcus.

Another surprise comes five years down the line when it's revealed that Marcus has become a cop. The mess he made before was the culmination of years as a gang member. Former friends, people he thought he could trust, ordered a hit on him and his father. Marcus made it out alive. Engraged by what happened he ran straight to the source to take down the ones responsible. The reason Marcus leaves this dangerous life behind is because of an old friend of his father, a man who will one day become his mentor.

Escaping your past forever - now that's impossible. Some time passes, a few more perps die, and Marcus finds himself in a horrible situation: his mentor is dead. He was no saint, but no one deserves to be blown up like that. Marcus was once a major criminal himself (as opposed to what he is now, a half-criminal) and would have likely taken out a cop that stood in his way. Things are different now, he's got a new life. He's not about to be a saint and start doing things by the book, but can he walk away and let the guys that did this go? Not a chance. Marcus was determined to track down the one who blew up his mentor even if it takes him the entire game to do it…



Massive environment: check. Multiple fighting styles: check. Ability to steal cars without repercussions: check. There's no mistaking that this is True Crime. Long load times: check. Wait, I didn't order that. Sticky controls: check. Hold on a sec! Poor frame rate: check. This is not what I wanted my NYC crime experience to be like. I wanted it to be smooth and seamless. Lack of seamless gameplay: check. Darn you italicized background voice!

A lot of the hype surrounding True Crime: NYC had to do with how large and how structurally realistic the environments were. The game is based on the city not only in name but in factual data as well. Thousands on top of thousands of square feet were photographed, mapped out and manipulated to create a realistic video game version of one of the most important cities in the world.

I didn't grow up in New York so I have no way of testing the accuracy of the game world, but based on what I know about the city and what I've seen on TV it seems to be pretty accurate. You'll get a good sense of just how big the city is if you step outside and angle the camera to look up at all the buildings. Camera movement is limited so you won't be able to see the tops of the buildings, but that almost makes the city feel even bigger. It's as if the game is saying that the world is so big we can't possibly cram every ounce of it onto the screen.


Too Much Or Too Little?

New York is jam-packed with cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, ambulances, fire trucks, and any other common motor vehicle. None of the vehicles are licensed from a real manufacturer (I don't think Ford or GM would like seeing Marcus use their cop cars to run over sprinting hoodlums). But if you like destruction get that badge ready and steal the next car you see. Police vehicles are provided, only the basic V8 sedan is available at first.

To get the rest you must earn cash and increase your rank. To do that you'll need to arrest perps successfully. No killing unless absolutely necessary! Arrested perps give more points than those that are no longer breathing. Points are converted into cash at the police station payroll booth. Ten points are deducted for every innocent bystander that's killed. In other words, no joyriding.

I understand and agree with the game for doing that. What I don't get is why avoiding pedestrians (or anything else in New York) is so difficult. The controls aren't the worst I've ever experienced, but they could be added to my top 100 list for certain. On foot Marcus is slow and boring. He runs but it doesn't feel like he's going anywhere. There aren't too many degrees of movement, and hardly any depth to the way he's controlled.

He gets more moves and multiple fighting styles: Fighting, Shooting, Stealth and Melee. None of them, however, are explored with enough depth to justify their implementation. Even if they were the player would still have to overcome the fact that none of them achieved the minimum standard in game control. I can lock on and kill perps with the press of two buttons, but if I want to do something more involved, like aim and shoot a specific part of the body, I have to deal with the nightmare of sluggishness. When I'm sluggish I go to sleep. When a game is sluggish I want to quit.


The same can be said for the way the vehicles handle. I like the motorcycle controls, they're pretty quick. But none of the vehicles -- not cars, trucks, taxis, etc. – control with enough precision to allow for the kind of traffic maneuvering that's required to be enjoy and be successful at this game. You can't not hit pedestrians. You can't not hit other cars. You can't not run into street lights and screw up the entire city. It's a nice spectacle, and shows how much work the developers put into making the city as realistic and as interactive as possible. But traffic and pedestrians are everywhere! That'd be great if I could avoid them. If, if, if. Too many of those in one game is never good.

During the journey to finding his mentor's killer(s), Marcus will receive requests to step in and lay down the law to some local slime. Most of 'em should sound familiar: domestic disturbances, disorderly street bums, hookers who can't get along, rockstars destroying hotel rooms, etc. Even a celebrity murder suspect driving an SUV. Gee, I wonder who they were trying to parody there.


Busting Hookers, Still Not Hooked

I flashed my badge to let 'em know that a boy in blue had arrived, and as usual one of the perps ran. I chased after her, knowing that if I arrested the other hookers now this one would escape. I caught up to her, reached out my hand and walked right under her. She was 10 feet tall! That's how it appeared.

In reality she was the same size as always. The difference was that in this scenario she had the power to float. Make no mistake, this was a mistake. True Crime: NYC is intended to be a semi-realistic crime game about the streets of New York City. No one has special powers or can fly, nor was there any form of explanation given to make me understand why she was floating.

In other instances I noticed real-time shadows that bounced from my car to another part of the map. When hookers weren't floating there were pedestrians disappearing in the streets. Slam on the breaks right before hitting a group of pedestrians and they'll jump back in unison, letting the player know that each and every character they encounter is a clone.

The buildings sure look nice when everything runs smoothly, but you should see how the game looks when the frame rate drops. It's a sad, sad moment. While chugging along so slowly you begin to see the rest of the game's graphical flaws. Grass and trees, one of which is a texture, the other being an object, have been modeled and rendered very realistically in PS2 games since 2001. Not in True Crime. It's more than disappointing because there's so much all around potential (and so much time spent on developing this sequel) that you can't begin to comprehend what went wrong.

Review Scoring Details for True Crime: New York City

Gameplay: 6.9
Too many flaws to appreciate the good that’s there. I doubt many gamers will see it or bother taking the time to get to it. As much freedom as you have, it’s not always enough. The side missions aren’t always clear either. How am I supposed to deal with a group of battling thugs when my badge doesn’t scare them? What do I do if a shot in the air doesn’t get their attention either? I guess it’s at that point the game expects you to resort to violence. Marcus is a cop though, and in reality cops go out of their way to avoid putting people’s lives in danger.

A disclaimer card has been tossed in the box that reads: “This game is not approved, endorsed, or connected in any way to the NYC Police Department (“NYPD”). The game is fictional and does not represent the views, policies, or practices of the NYPD.” When a disclaimer like that becomes necessary, maybe it’s time to really think about the kind of game you’re developing.

Graphics: 6.0
At first glance this game was an 8. Further inspection indicated that it could be a 9 – then out of nowhere came a series of glitches that should’ve been ironed out before the game ever made it to store shelves.

Sound: 7.0
For the most part the music selection sucks. Multiple genres are present but rap is the most prevalent. The rock and alternative collections are dull, and combining metal and punk couldn’t have been dumber.

The voice acting is good but I couldn’t care less. I’ll rag on a great game for having crappy voice acting, but there is no way on Earth that True Crime deserves praise for this. This is the one thing it got right and it has nothing to do with the gameplay!

Difficulty: Medium
The gun-toting, thug-fighting, car-chasing gameplay makes for moderately challenging entertainment. Nothing too extreme, but nothing that’s particularly easy either. An overall a good balance of difficulties.

Concept: 7.0
Grand Theft Auto with sticky controls, fewer cars, and more glitches. The story would’ve been cool if they hadn’t felt the need to make everyone a curse-happy thug. Even the good guys don’t seem all that good. I like the freedom of choice – good cop/bad cop, sell drugs or turn ‘em in as evidence, etc. – but a good feature can’t save a cumbersome game from the rest of its flaws.

Overall: 6.9
Before I leave you to ponder about the world of True Crime: New York City, I must list a few more of its flaws: frequent (and lengthy) load times, car models are repetitious and do not control very differently from each other, and finally, a note to aspiring developers: DO NOT give players the freedom to do what they want if you’re going to punish them for it later!

Above Average

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