Just Say No.
When a company like Midway remakes a classic like NARC, the hope is that they'll preserve the perverse and bizarre essence of the original while giving it a more expansive vision. On the other hand, the fear is that Midway will simply create a budget Grand Theft Auto clone in an effort to pimp said classic for some cash.
Well, it turns out there is little hope and much to fear. Even though it only costs twenty bucks, a night with NARC is barely worth two bits. The game is a quick-and-dirty sketch of what the GTA games would look like if their development teams were replaced by high-school stoners...and I don't mean that in the cool way.
The story follows a generic good-cop/bad-cop duo named Jack Forzenski and Marcus Hill. Jack's a rough and tumble cop and Marcus is a DEA man on the straight and narrow. Together, they explore the crime-ridden city of Rockland, bust an assortment of thugs, dealers and hookers and ultimately track down the source of a mysterious new drug called Liquid Soul.
The game plays like GTA minus the car-jacking. You run around an open, crowded city going from mission to mission or busting random criminals. The game attempts to play with morality by allowing you to be as good or bad as you want, but good deeds are few and boring, and bad deeds are never repaid with any karmic reckoning. Instead of entrenching moral choices within missions and scripted events, most of your wrongdoing, like running over pedestrians and selling drugs, can be done freely in the street.
If you walk the path of the bad lieutenant, your badge rating will suffer and eventually you'll be kicked off the force. This simply means that if you want to continue the storyline, you'll have to get your badge back. But don't worry " you won't have to undergo any deep or interesting missions to prove your worth. If you bust a random criminal on the street and bring his contraband into the station instead of using or selling it, you'll be reinstated. The game has the memory of a fly.
The mechanics aren't any more exciting. Busting a criminal entails grappling with them and button-mashing until the arrest meter is full. Then, the meter resets and you've got to hit the right button when the meter rises into the arrest range, sort of like kicking a field-goal in a football game. It's odd and awkward, completely intruding on the simple pleasure of kicking someone's ass.
In an ironic twist, your cops can use drugs as powerups. While you are not required to partake, you'll often be packing more pills than a Rite Aid and huffing more lines than a 70's rock star. For example, speed makes you move faster, crack gives you one-shot kills, and pot puts you in bullet-time. See mom? I told you they weren't all bad for me!
The downside to such freeewheelin' freebasin' is that too much use will result in addiction, although the habit can be kicked via a simple mini-game or a magic Protodone pill. Even if you don't happen to have the magic pill or fail to complete the mini game three times, you'll automatically quit cold turkey since "you have gone through enough."
So in NARC, you can kill pedestrians like Richard Ramirez and smoke more crack than James Brown without having to deal with any significant consequences. This may sound like a lot of fun, but crime without punishment gets really boring.
NARC's control problems are a real buzz-kill, too. The inventory system is seriously unwieldy, forcing you to stop what you're doing and scroll through lots of drugs and items to find what you're looking for. The game just can't keep things simple or intuitive.
For example, chasing down and tackling a pimp is a mess. You run up, press the tackle button and nine times out of ten miss the pimp and tackle a regular pedestrian. Instead of letting the innocent go, you continue to mistake him for the pimp and arrest the poor guy anyway. Such random abuse of power might have sounded cool in meeting, but watching my cop waste several seconds arresting a nobody while the perp makes a getaway is one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a video game.
Continuing NARC's abysmal performance are its performance issues. Standard clipping issues are common and pedestrians often get stuck on objects in the environment. Even worse is the fact that NARC simply looks dated on both the PS2 and Xbox. The textures are bland, the environments lack detail " nothing about this game pops, aside from the framerate.
NARC features Bill Bellamy and Michael Madsen voicing the main characters, but even these actors can't save the game from itself. Notable drug tunes like the hip-hop classic "White Lines" and Cypress Hill's "Hits from the Bong" grace the game's audio lineup, although you might as well listen to them through iTunes instead of through this weak game.
The only thing NARC really has going for it is the ability to unlock the original 80's arcade game. You do so through another vain attempt to emulate the GTA series: finding hidden "stashes" throughout the city. Nab them all and you've unlocked yourself a much better game.
But that's really not very hard to do, because this one flat-out sucks. Terrible control, lame features and an overall lack of excitement make this law enforcement experience worse than an episode of Cop Rock.