City of Angels...with horns and a tail.
We all know that the streets of L.A. are tough. From riots to gang warfare to high-speed freeway chases, the media portrays Los Angeles as a city of chaos, where the scumbags outnumber the good samaritans about 10 to 1. And of course, the LAPD is nowhere to be found. Probably off eating at a doughnut shop or beating someone up.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but I grew up in Los Angeles, and it is far from the pit of hellfire most people think it is. Sure, there are some areas (like the Rampart district) where you wouldn't find me walking the streets without a Kevlar vest, but for the most part, L.A. is just like any other big city.
But that doesn't make for a good story.
And True Crime: Streets of LA is all about the story. You are Nick Kang (I voted for "Kodos'), a "loose cannon" on the force with his own particular style of street justice. For some unknown reason, despite your poor attitude and tendency to destroy things, the chief likes you and puts you on an elite crime-fighting squad. You have a partner, who promptly gets shot the first time you meet her. Instead of punishing you, they give her a desk job as your backup. Dirty Harry meets Lethal Weapon with a little bit of T.J. Hooker for flavor.
The story is straight out of a B-movie action film. Unfortunately, since the story is the central part of this game, that makes this a B video game, too. For all the cool attempts at upgradeable skills, hand to hand combat, free roaming capability and a branching storyline, this game is remarkably linear and follows a plot that at time makes very little sense.
As it is set in Los Angeles, True Crime includes various L.A. landmarks. Ever want to go to E3? Well, now you can at least pretend. Just head down Figueroa Street until you see the Convention Center and the Staples Center. Good luck finding parking.
They properly rendered all of downtown and some of the outlying areas in very sharp detail, with enough building differentiation that the city truly looks real, albeit empty. Anyone who's ever driven in L.A. knows that the traffic is nowhere near this mellow, especially downtown. Obviously, they reduced the traffic to make the game more playable, but they should have included a "Rush Hour" where the streets are packed with cars. Trust me, driving through L.A. traffic is a game all its own.
The graphics really help bring out the realism of the location. The draw distance is good so there's very little pop-up. Explosions are big and fancy and the cars look cool. The characters are modeled very nicely, though they all seem to suffer from the same medical problem - their middle, ring and pinky fingers are firmly connected to each other. Obviously, this was a shortcut so that all the models could use guns (the index finger is free to wrap around the trigger) but the hands do end up looking rather strange. The PS2 version also suffers from some typical anti-aliasing problems, but by and large the game looks good.
The gameplay is an amalgam of some of the most popular games from the past few years. You can run and drive around a huge, living city (Grand Theft Auto). You can fight kung-fu style and take down enemies with your superior martial arts (Dead to Rights). You can use two guns and limitless ammo to kill bad guys while jumping to the side and slowing down time (Max Payne). I suppose if you're going to steal, you might as well steal from the best.
But while having all these abilities is cool, each one has its own drawbacks and none of them feel as polished as they should be. It's the same problem that GTA had with the sniper weapon (hard to use), but magnified threefold. The camera can get wily, particularly during close-corridor combat. And while there are lots of kung-fu moves to learn, the melee fighting usually devolves into so much button-mashing.
That being said, the game is still remarkably fun. Driving around town fighting crime outside of the missions is very satisfying and you can even decide whether you want to be a good cop or a bad cop. You can solve crimes any number of ways. For instance, to stop a suspect that's running you can A.) Shoot to kill. B.) Shoot him in the leg. C.) Shoot in the air and hope he gets the message and stops. D.) Chase him down and open a can of melee whoopass. E.) Run him down with your car. All suspects can be arrested instead of killed. Both how you solve a crime and the number of random crimes you solve affects your good/bad status and the upgrades you can get. It's very slick and gives the game a really nice sense of freedom.
While most of the time we here at Game Revolution promote the use of zombies in video games, I have to say they feel a touch out of place in True Crime. I mean, I know crime can be bad in LA, but zombie crime? Exactly how is that True Crime? That's just unfair to zombie culture and, frankly, downright bizarre in this game. Imagine your favorite cop action movie, now add zombies. They'd fit just as well there as they do in this game.
The sound is also done well. The voice acting is good, but you sort of wish they used Christopher Walken, the Creepiest Man Alive, more than they did. I've had my own issues with Mr. Walken ever since I saw him in Puss-In-Boots when I was a kid. I thought Puss-In-Boots was the scariest fairy tale ever after seeing him in the title role. After The Deer Hunter and the Weapon of Choice video, I'm firmly convinced that I'd never want to meet Mr. Walken in a dark alley. But I would liked to have heard more of him in True Crime.
There are about 50 different music tracks of west coast rap and hip hop, with a dash of heavy metal thrown in. More variety would have been nice. Xbox users can create their own soundtrack, but if you don't like rap and you don't own an Xbox, you may just want to turn off the music. L.A. has such an eclectic music scene; bands like No Doubt, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hepcat, X, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy all call L.A. home. Heck, half the radio stations in L.A. are Hispanic; only featuring rap does an injustice to the culture of L.A. At least they used good rap, for the most part, even including Snoop Dog as an unlockable character.
In the end, it's the little things that hurt True Crime: Streets of LA. The game tries to be everything for everyone by offering a great variety of gameplay styles, but doesn't quite succeed at any of them. Each facet of the game has minor issues that hurt an otherwise enjoyable experience. If you have any doubts about this title, rent it first. What could have been a great game, a masterpiece even, is reduced to just a good game that's well worth checking out.