True Crime: New York City Review
If I haven't driven you away from the game yet, though, let's get back to basics. The game opens up with your token anti-hero gangster, Marcus Reed, unloading some hot lead on those who betrayed him and his father. The detective on the scene, who also happens to be pals with Marcus (a godfather of sorts), let's him walk away from the crime with his dignity in tact, instead of arresting him. Fast forward a few years and Marcus is somehow a rookie cop with the NYPD. He's apparently reformed himself and is scheduled for a promotion to the Organized Crime Unit when, on his first mission, his detective buddy is immolated in a huge explosion.
Without the guidance of his friend and mentor, the higher-ups send him back to his old boss (read: he's a regular, old street cop again). Denied his promotion and saddened by his loss, Marcus sets out to figure out who killed the only man who'd ever really cared about him. It isn't long before he comes in contact with a mysterious fed who sets him in the right direction, which initiate the core of the game. The story could've been something good, but the writing and lack of character personality really kills the buzz. Marcus is just another hard-ass, his father is a manipulative jerk, and the voice actors who lend their talent don't really seem to care. It's also far too serious and hammy, as opposed to the GTA series, which tends to inject humor into the proceedings to break things up. The rest of the story missions have Marcus investigating the detective's death and bringing down several organized crime families throughout 4 different cases. Each ones basically entails the same thing: beat up enemies, interrogate their boss, which leads you to more henchmen, and another boss, et al. There's very little deviation from this pattern and it makes the game feel tedious and boring.
It's clear that the developers were trying to one-up the GTA series with some improved graphics and physics, but even if you have the tools, you've got to know how to use them. Environments are tepid and lifeless and New York, even if convincingly real in structure, comes off as a gigantic gray blob. Despite what you may think, this version of the Big Apple doesn't lend any fun to crime-stopping. Random events will happen as you're on your way to the next story mission. They're optional, but they are far too frequent and break the flow of the game. You almost feel obligated to at least pursue these side missions (arresting perps can decrease the crime rate in different parts of the city and lead to promotions), but they pop up so frequently that you'll eventually just start to ignore them. This is especially true if you are dead set on pursuing the story missions. New York isn't fun to drive around in. In real life, it's probably a lot more engaging, but in True Crime it just feels like an endless grid of rectangular blocks. There is little opportunity to just let loose with a car or navigate interesting terrain. Once again, the selective attempt at realism just seems to get in the way.
Which is funny, because so much of the game feels completely unrealistic. For a game called True Crime, you'd expect things to progress in similar fashion, but nothing in the plot or actions of the characters ever seems to make sense. In essence, New York lacks realism where it needs it, and is far too rigid where things could be relaxed. The basics of the gameplay aren't really bad per se, but bugs, hit detection issues, and other problems squash any merits it might've had. For instance, Marcus is privy to a nice range of abilities. He can climb fences, go up ladders, access an array of indoor areas, tackle perps, beat them up with various melee moves, push them to the ground, frisk people, etc. You can even pull dirty cop moves like planting evidence on innocent people (or rather, find evidence on random citizens just walking around, which can then be turned in at the police depot for cash), if you so please. Even though you get points for doing good cop (arresting perps and solving crimes) and bad cop (killing less-threatening perps and pedestrians)things, this hardly ever matters except when you reach an extreme on the spectrum, which affects your promotions. Still, unlike GTA, you aren't going to have different factions targeting you on the streets or anything if you do them wrong. Because you never really seem to affect the world around you, it only lends to the feeling of a New York devoid of life. There just aren't any consequences for your actions. I wouldn't say the map is huge, but it is big enough to make driving from one end to the other excruciatingly boring, since there is nothing going on in-between. Instead of "borrowing" a car from a citizen or another cop, Marcus does have the option of taking a cab or riding the subway to different parts of the map. This instant transfer saves some time and headache, but doesn't alleviate the many other problems with the game.
Aesthetically, the game isn't the worst, but it doesn't earn any brownie points, either. Character models look alright and the environment seems to have better textures/more geometry than Grand Theft Auto (which makes up for it with creative environments, despite the trapping of using the Renderware engine). However, there is near constant stuttering and, as has been stated repeatedly, the environments are just mind-numbing to slog through. The aforementioned physics work well for smaller objects, which makes one wonder why the car physics just feel so wrong. Vehicles either seem to float too much or move too easily. Like many other aspects of the game, it's just utterly unrealistic in a bad way. I suppose the licensed audio tracks are pretty good, but there are no radio stations to categorize them by. You can rate each song with a number of stars, so ones with fewer will rarely or never pop up in the random playlist. The fact remains, though, that the music is handled like a game of roulette. The lack of direct control over genres or songs during gameplay is a little disheartening. Laurence Fishburne and Christopher Walken lend their voice talents to the game, but, once again, nobody really seems into it and the iffy writing doesn't give them much to work with.
So, True Crime: New York really is a menagerie of all the elements of bad game design. It takes many more steps backwards than it does forwards, and awkward (even game-stopping) bugs will frustrate you if the embedded elements don't. Every attempt it seems to make at emulating the good games in the free-roaming genre (side missions like fighting arenas or underground racing leagues) just seem totally inconsequential to its core (albeit a rotten one). True Crime: New York is neither compelling nor fun and even its $30 price tag doesn't make it worth your money.
1/31/2006 Cavin Smith