Review: True Crime: Streets Of LA (PS2)

True Crime: Streets of LA
Genre: Mission Based Action Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Mature Sexual Themes, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Violence)
Developer: Luxoflux
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 11/03/03
Official Home Page: True Crime LA

Comparisons. To some developers, it is the bane of creating games. To others, it is a blessing. Since there is so little true originality out there these days, almost every game made in the past few years has played a lot like some other game. In many cases, it is the best designers that are able to break the mold and create something truly fresh and invigorating as far as gameplay goes. Take-Two Interactive did just that with the creation of Grand Theft Auto back in 1998, and they took the experience into the Third Dimension (and to the mainstream) in 2001 with the release of Grand Theft Auto III. The mission based freeform model was something that no one had ever done before, and with the exploration of an entire city with people and places that felt real, it showed that an entire world could be contained in a game. And surprisingly, few companies have tried to duplicate or improve upon the formula that made GTA so popular. Until now, that is.

True Crime was not necessarily created as a copy of Grand Theft Auto, but it does have many similar aspects, and just as many differences. Despite that, it is obvious that the creators realized that they are going up against GTA, and as such, felt the need to include billboards of a Rockstar-ish logo for something called Jockstrap.

Before writing this review, I had the intention of making it very light on the comparisons, but now I realize that is folly. The game asks to be compared, BEGS to be compared to the game that many hold among their favorites. I will hold the game on its own merits, but I will also include a line for every category that does the comparing. So we’ll see how well the game stands on its own, as well as how it fares against Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Story
Crime is getting worse in Los Angeles. It’s so bad that they’ve resorted to making a new task force to help stop crime. Called E.O.D., or Elite Operations Division, these are the cops that are better than the rest, and are given more power than regular cops to do what they need to do. Enter Nick Kang. He’s a very good cop, but he’s also very rough on criminals, which is why he was suspended. But he’s one of the best, so he is given the opportunity to join the E.O.D.

From there, it starts off as any other cop movie. Loner cop gets saddled with a partner, they don’t get along, eventually they like each other more, and something happens that starts a chain of events going that culminates in a big bang. While it is all pretty cliché, that’s EXACTLY the point. See, whether it’s apparent or not, this game is one big spoof. It’s a parody of cop movies and games, it’s a parody of Grand Theft Auto, and it’s a parody of itself. How many games have you played where a character says, “That line sounded like it came out of a cheesy cop game.” Poking fun at everything, and doing it well, is amusing.

Take for example, some of the side missions you can do (more on those later). Some have you going after “celebrities”. One is about the suspected kidnapping of Patricia Durst (a take on Patty Hurst), and another is about crazed pop star Jacko Miquel (Michael Jackson) who is going around injecting people with Buttox.

The actual story itself, though cliché to a point, is very well executed. The dialogue is excellent, and you can tell whoever wrote the whole thing was good. The story takes twists and turns to keep you interested, and it progresses at a brisk pace. And there are even branching story paths you can take. Each one has a different ending, and only one is the “good” ending.

TC vs. GTA (Story/Dialogue): TC
TC vs. GTA (Humor): Tie
Rating: 8.0

Graphics
Sometimes, I really, REALLY hate 3D. Sometimes, I wish it would just die and go away. This is starting to be one of those times. To be honest, the graphics in this game are excellent. The models are detailed and look very lifelike. They all have moving eyes and mouths. The character designs are good as well, because they look, well, like people. The only problem here is that there tends to be a lot of repetition of NPC models when you’re out and about. It appears that there are quite a few different NPCs, but the memory can only hold 2 or 3 at a time, so they reoccur often.

Next is the city itself. How can I put this best? See, in this game, you are actually IN LA. Not a fake LA. This is the real Los Angeles here. Luxoflux actually used EVERY possible means at their disposal to make the game as accurate as possible. The streets, suburbs, everything is like the real LA. Well, the actual layout is anyway. I tend to doubt they went to the minutest detail and put a house that looks like this here, and a store that looks like this here, but despite that, this game features the most accurate 3D model of LA available. So it’s really helpful that they included the street names.

And here’s where we get not so nice. Why is it that games of this sort have so many issues? What’s the deal here? I mean, yes, the city is ENORMOUS. It literally takes about 30 mins or more of game time to go from one end to the other, and that’s hauling ass. But why is it that games of this type seem to have the worst collision detection possible? And this game is the worst of the worst for collision detection. See that wall there? Chances are, if you punch or kick when you’re next to the wall, you’ll go through it. And Nick Kang does not have any relation to Kitty Pryde. Despite that, it happens just as often with NPCs. I’ve seen Nick shove a civilian at a fence, and the civie just went right through it. The worst, by far, is when I jumped in the air and when I landed, I FELL THROUGH THE WORLD. Seriously. I fell through the street I was on, and landed in the background of the entire world. I could see only the sky. Fortunately, I jumped or something, and was back in the right place. I haven’t had any MAJOR problems because of the collision detection, but it happens ALL THE TIME and there is no good excuse for it. So it’s taking several points off their score there.

TC vs. GTA (Characters/City): TC
TC vs. GTA (Collision): GTA
Rating: 7.5

Sound
Of the two aspects of sound we have here, I’ll take a look at the soundtrack first. For the most part, it’s somewhat dull. Granted, it’s GOOD, it’s just not that great. It’s got tracks from Snoop Dogg, Deftones, Megadeth, Ice T, and a bunch of others I’ve never heard of. All the tracks are good, but as I said, none are great. On top of that, the way they handled it was fairly poor, especially after seeing all the work that went in to the radio stations on the GTA games. They spent so much effort on the city itself, and if you’re going to be spending God knows how much time driving around, they could have made 2 or 3 radio stations. Unfortunately, all you get are straight tracks. It starts right when you get in the car, and stops when you exit. Get back in the car, and a new track starts up from the beginning. Sure, he COULD have a CD player and put it on shuffle, but I think they were just lazy.

What the game SHINES at is the voice acting. Normally, I frown upon games that hire big name voice actors just because they’re famous. Typically, Hollywood actors don’t make for the best voice actors for games and anime (look at Princess Mononoke), and it makes the game look bad as a whole. But this game not only has good actors, but also good performances. Nick Kang is played by Russell Wong, who isn’t a really big name, but he’s been in movies like Romeo Must Die and New Jack City. Michelle Rodriguez (Resident Evil, S.W.A.T.) plays Rosie Velasco, Nick’s partner, and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) plays another cop by the name of Rafferty. Can it get better? Oh yes, it can. Playing one of the main villains and an annoying FBI agent (two different characters) is the king of the villain, GARY OLDMAN! He’s been the bad guy in just about every film he’s been in, and has starred in great movies like The Fifth Element, True Romance, The Professional, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. But he’s not the best person in the game. No, that honor belongs to Christopher Walken. CHRISOPHER FUCKING WALKEN. He plays a lowly fat cop who is in charge of your target practice sessions, and is also the narrator. His classic delivery is PERFECT in the game, and he really makes the game special. I played the game JUST to listen to him. So without him, the game wouldn’t be as fun and humorous.

TC vs. GTA (Music): GTA
TC vs. GTA (Voice Acting): TC
Rating: 9.0

Control
The controls in this game are pretty easy to pick up, but can be pretty annoying sometimes. There are a lot of different buttons that do different things, but you can customize all of them to your liking. I’ll start out by explaining the different modes.

The three modes when on foot in the game are normal, fighting, and shooting. Normal is just walking around and doing nothing in particular. In this mode, you can’t do much other than frisk pedestrians for contraband and brandish your badge at people. Fighting is when you want to get down to fisticuffs, and you can punch and kick. Rather than jumping, you can also jump kick someone. And you can also grapple, which will allow you to do several moves on an enemy, but I never used it much because it was hard to actually get someone to not break the hold. After you hit an enemy several times in fighting mode, they will become stunned, at which point you can perform a combo move on them. Lastly, shooting mode is pretty self-explanatory. You can shoot people, reload, and go into precision aim mode, which will slow down time briefly so you can get a better shot. If you don’t use precision, the game will automatically lock on to the closest hostile person. You can upgrade your guns throughout the game, and there is unlimited ammo, unless you pick up an enemies gun (which are always better), and those will run out very quickly.

Driving is pretty simple too, because it’s just like any other game. You have your acceleration, brake and handbrake. You can also fire your gun out the window at hostile cars and people. The actual act of driving can get old very quickly though, considering how long it takes to get from point A to point B. The driving physics are pretty realistic, but it’s VERY difficult to tip your car. As you progress, you get new driving skills which add to the cop realism, like a quick spin around or downshifting for acceleration.

The missions are what encompass the guts of the game. The game is broken up into Episodes, and each Episode has several missions. There are several types of mission, which range from the Easy (go somewhere, no time limit) to Moderate (go somewhere, time limit) to Annoying (follow someone, don’t get too close or too far). There are also fighting and shooting missions, which both turn out to be button mashing fests, especially the fighting. They even threw in stealth missions, which are pretty fun, but can be annoying as well.

But if you don’t want to continue with the story, you can go around the city and solve street crimes. These start whenever a dispatcher signals you and can be many things like breaking up a street fight or tracking down a mugger. There is a lot of variety to these missions, but they get old as well. I found it odd that I arrested a hooker named VD Debbie twice, and killed her once, but she still kept coming up as a street crime.

Lastly, I’ll talk about the experience system. There are two things that you’re graded on: Good/Bad Cop (or Karma, as I referred to it) and actual Experience. I didn’t find much purpose in the Good/Bad cop, but basically, whenever you actually arrest a person or find contraband on a person walking the streets, your rating will go up. If you shoot someone before they actually shoot at you, and you kill them, your rating will go down. So that means if you’re supposed stop a fight, you have to take down everyone hand to hand, and even then, you won’t get any Karma, unless someone gives up, which is rare. One thing that helps is flashing your badge, or sometimes shooting in to the air will convince them to be cuffed, but this is not a good way to gain Karma. The best way is by frisking people or knocking people out in stealth missions. You can dart them, or even kill them, but knocking them out is just as easy and you get a point for each person. So be careful when firing on an enemy, because if you hit a civilian, you’ll lose a point. The experience points are accumulated for doing regular missions, as well as street crimes. If you get 100 points, you get a badge, which can be used to go to a 24/7 training center to upgrade your guns, learn a new combo for fighting, or learn a new driving technique. The thing that sucks is that it takes a badge for every time you try, so if you fail the test, you have to waste another badge, but it becomes worth it when you trick out your guns with a laser sight, scope, flashlight, and hollow tipped bullets.

So as you can see, there’s a lot to the control aspects of the game, and it is very daunting. As I said before, you can configure the buttons, and they even have a preset for GTA fans, but not all the regular functions work on it, so it’s better to get used to the default configuration.

TC vs. GTA (Ease of Use): GTA
TC vs. GTA (Amount of Options): TC
Rating: 8.5

Replayability
Really, to be honest, there’s not a whole lot of reason to keep playing the game once it’s completed. The game has three endings, but they are nice and allow you to get all three in one game without having to completely restart. Getting all three also unlocks a special movie. And I’ve also heard that if you collect 30 dog bones scattered throughout the huge city, you can play as Snoop Dogg, but I never found a single bone, so that’s not a big selling point to me. And once you’ve won, there really is no point to playing or doing the street crimes, unless you want to kill people, but I’d rather do that with a minigun or a helicopter (neither of which are in this game), rather than my tricked out Desert Eagles.

TC vs. GTA: GTA
Rating: 5.0

Balance
What balance? Seriously, this game never gets hard. Some missions are more difficult than others, but not many. The driving missions are either cakewalk or annoying, but there’s no hard to them. The fighting missions are, as I said before, simply mashing buttons and pulling off combos. And the shooting missions are somewhat difficult prior to tricking out the guns, but not really hard. Many missions will need to be attempted more than once, but once you have the layout, it’s all the same.

TC vs. GTA: GTA
Rating: 5.0

Originality
Though the game does have aspects taken from GTA, it is separate game in almost every aspect. They really tried to take the freeform elements from GTA, and use them in a totally new way. The different fighting modes are completely unique as well, and driving is a totally different experience. They weren’t going for a full out copy, because otherwise the game would have been boring. I think they made it different enough to make it unique and enjoyable.

TC vs. GTA: GTA
Rating: 7.0

Addictiveness
This game is fun. It’s good fun. But it’s not great fun. It’s not as whoop-hollering fun as GTA. But I think that sets it apart, because it’s not trying to be so over the top as GTA is. It’s much more realistic, which may be a detriment in this case, but it makes it more interesting as well. Yes, it gets old to drive all the way across Los Angeles, but when you think about it, you’re actually driving across LA. But despite all that, it’s just missing SOMETHING. I don’t know what, but it just doesn’t give me the urge to go back and play it again.

TC vs. GTA: GTA
Rating: 6.0

Appeal Factor
This game will definitely have appeal to many people, maybe even more so than GTA. For one thing, you’re playing a good guy, instead of a bad guy. And because of that, there are consequences for your actions. In addition, it’s got a lot of big names behind it, including Snoop Dogg and the voice actors. This is a game that Activision should have hyped more, because it’s a great game. But still, it’s only for adults, and most people would prefer to be the bad guy (me included, because I AM the Bad Guy).

TC vs. GTA: GTA
Rating: 7.0

Miscellaneous
I’m going to talk a little bit more about the training facilities in the game. They’re honestly the best part about it, so I figure I should go into more detail. As I said before, there are 3 different types of facilities: driving, shooting and fighting. There are 9 different regular upgrades for each, and 3 special upgrades. The regular upgrades all involve making you earn the skill by using it in real situations before you can have it for good. The shooting upgrades are given by actually using the upgrade on the shooting range, usually aiming for certain parts of the targets. Driving ones put you on a driving course, and make you use the skill, as well as avoiding obstacles. And the fighting upgrades require you to use the skill on dummies a certain number of times. The special upgrades occur only after each episode is completed 100%. You can get new cars (like a Dodge Viper copy), new handguns (like my beloved Desert Eagles), and new grapples. These are a little easier to pull off. The driving missions are really a street race, but you race against time more than the other racers. The shooting missions are simply you shooting dummies and surviving, which is easy. And the fighting missions have you fight against one big guy and his goons.

The only problem I have with the upgrades is that once you visit a facility, it is closed off, and all you can do is practice there. You have to hunt down another facility to learn a new upgrade. But that’s a minor detail, because I’m sure there are plenty more places than there are upgrades.
Rating: 8.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 8.0
Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 9.0
Control: 8.5
Replayability: 5.0
Balance: 5.0
Originality: 7.0
Addictiveness: 6.0
Appeal Factor: 7.0
Miscellaneous: 8.0

Average: 7.1

Short Attention Span Summary
This game is a very high quality game, and deserves a lot of praise for taking on the king of mature games, and not only standing its ground, but also make a completely different playing experience. The game is great, and I for one hope they continue the series, probably with a different town and a different character (but keeping CHRISTOPHER FUCKING WALKIN), because it really set the ground for a fantastic future. The game is definitely worth a rent, at the very least.