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M (Mature)



Q4 2003



- A well-designed action title where the story line branches based on your performance, leading to three divergent sets of missions and outcomes.

- Good balance between driving, shooting and hand-to-hand combat

- All-star voice acting shores up a simple but well written story, giving substance to the game's action.

- Amazing use of 240 square miles of L.A. as a backdrop--in all of its GPS rendered glory.



- Character upgrades involving driving, shooting and fighting skills are too front-loaded. Later upgrades don't seem to be as necessary to progress in the game.

- The developers aren't aggressive enough with their execution of the game's innovative branching story line. Allowing good players to view all potential outcomes detracts from what they were trying to accomplish.



True Crimes: Streets of LA (Xbox)

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (Gamecube)

Hunter: The Reckoning (Gamecube)



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True Crime: Streets of L.A.

Score: 8.6 / 10

For GameCube Only owners 9.2


For GameCube owners who have never had a chance to explore Liberty or Vice City in the comfort of their own La-Z-Boy, Activision's True Crime: Streets of L.A. is a Shangri-La of open-ended gaming. As renegade cop Nick Kang, you're free, at several points in the game, to "commandeer" any civilian's car and explore more than 240 square miles of a detailed, satellite modeled Los Angeles, where you can shoot, run over or kung-fu perps and pedestrians alike.


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Those similarities to the Grand Theft Auto franchise have led a handful of respected game industry publications and hundreds of bulletin board fanboys to pan True Crime as a "GTA lite" or even as a cynical attempt by Activision to cash in on the GTA phenomenon while it's still hot. Personally, I enjoyed True Crime more than Vice City.


Before you e-mail Omni or Mr. Nash to tell them that I lack taste, couth and horse-sense, I've got to add that the GTA series has revolutionized gaming, the titles deserve every bit of the hype, and if you like your digital destruction with a healthy dose of flame-thrower, True Crime suffers by direct comparison. But I never got the impression that the developers at Luxoflux were gunning for a rip off.





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In True Crime, the missions are much more tightly paced and linked, resulting in a more cohesive plot. Also, the penalty for excessive, random violence--killing pedestrians or even some accomplices when you don't absolutely have to--is that some missions will remain locked. The game's "good cop/bad cop" rating system judges how you handle each new situation, and poor performance can force you down alternate branches in a story that concludes with three entirely different outcomes.



In your role as Nick Kang, you begin by trying to figure out what's behind escalating gang activity in L.A. and quickly discover that it is linked to local Russian and Chinese crime syndicates. As the story evolves, you find that some of the players involved may have had something to do with your father's untimely and disgraceful demise.  It's a fairly straightforward 1980's cop movie kind of script, but it's performed to perfection by an all-star voice acting cast that includes Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Michael Madsen, Russell Wong, Michelle Rodriguez and Ron Perlman.


Missions alternate between driving, shooting, and hand-to-hand fighting. Considering the scope of the game, all three are well done. The default controls on the GameCube are a little awkward--for the first 45 minutes, I had Nick leaping from his moving car into oncoming traffic every time I tried to hit the brakes. But there's an excellent customization feature that highlights conflicts and instantly tailors all in-game tips, hints and combos to your preferences.


"Badge points," accrued by successfully completing missions, are the currency of the game, and can be spent repairing your car at local garages, repairing yourself at local drugstores or training for new fighting combos, driving maneuvers/upgrades and new weapons skills. Failing any of the game's primary missions also costs badge points.


In the driving missions, you're either tailing someone, gunning them down, fleeing for your life, trying to get somewhere within a time limit, or just cruising from Point A to Point B.  I enjoyed fleeing for my life the best--particularly when I had to do it in a beat up truck with a bunch of bouncing salmon in the back.  But, the way the game integrated on-the-fly missions with the police scanner during the cruising missions is a solid innovation. When you're not in a particular hurry to get somewhere, your radio informs you of everything from hostage situations and domestic disturbances (taking place on local sidewalks) to illegal drag-races and shootouts between gangs and local cops. 


Taking down criminals on these side missions can earn you badge points and, depending on how you handle them, add to your good cop/bad cop rating, but most of the time, the outcome seems fairly neutral. Maybe I suck, but it seemed like every time I chased down runaway buses and ambulances, I ran over or shot at least a couple of pedestrians (bad cop karma, that). And every time I tried to bust up a shootout, I ended up on the receiving end of a grenade launcher or whatever WMDs those guys always seem to be packing. Fortunately, for me at least, those missions are all optional and generally just deepen the sense that you're fighting against the local pollution in the living, breathing, crime-ridden shit-hole that is L.A. (Sorry, had to fit that in somehow. NYC represent, yo.)


The fighting action in the game is fairly simple punch, kick, and grapple fare, but the fights are a lot of fun, since every stripper and hobo in L.A. has multiple black belts, and, in many cases, the local scenery explodes or flies apart on contact.  One gripe, though, is that the most useful "badge point" upgrades taught at Kang's brother's franchised chain of karate shops seem to be variations on the body slam--allowing you to WWF a perp while he's down.  The later combos are primarily finishing moves--which look great, but allow you to do a lot of damage only if your opponent is dazed and, preferably, near something combustible. You can earn several additional grapples during "bonus cruisin'" episodes at the end of each chapter, but I'm more of a button masher when it comes to fighting games, and I never could seem to get close enough to opponents to use those without getting my face beaten in.


Similarly, the most useful upgrades taught by the police department's network of firing ranges are front-loaded as well--fast reload and dual targeting are two of the first and most useful skills you can learn, but this later gives way to more challenging upgrades involving "neutralizing shots."  Instead of simply blasting away at criminals, shooting them in the knee, arm or, more emphatically, the crotch, adds to your good cop rating. But unless you're very adept at shooting games, it takes a ton of practice to pinpoint someone's knee during a shootout without getting filled with holes yourself.


The game’s soundtrack includes shredders by Dave Mustaine (of Metallica and Megadeth fame) and Parliament's funk-bomb "Flashlight," but it's grounded in West Coast rap. More than 50 tracks are performed by artists such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G, KAM, Boo Yaa Tribe, Easy-E, Westside Connection and Jayo Felony. Snoop Dogg, in fact, makes an appearance as a playable character, if you can find all 30 Dogg bones hidden around town. If Luxoflux makes a New York City sequel, I hope they can enlist 50 Cent, who, like many video game characters, can get shot half a dozen times at point blank range and still pull himself together enough to go and punch an assailant in da face.


Without the talk radio stations, mall shootings and prostitutes of GTA, True Crime's Los Angeles does lack a bit of the salty personality of Vice or Liberty cities. And with more stark consequences for random violence, it doesn't have the same signature open-ended, chaotic feel of those games. The city here is more of an expansive, detailed backdrop where you'll spend most of your time getting from Point A to Point B, generally taking care of business. And, with a more tightly woven plot, it also ends up being a much shorter game.


But overall, True Crime unfolds like an interactive action flick where you're in command of the guns, the cars, the kung-fu and, cheesy one-liners aside, the attitude. The team at Luxoflux hasn't yet gotten enough credit for the game's distinctive use of a branching story line, which seems almost certain to give other action title developers a lot of great ideas in the future.  Maybe if they'd been a little bit more aggressive with its use--better concealing where the story branches off instead of highlighting it on loading screens, forcing hard-core players to work through the game multiple times (or at least work through a couple of Google searches)--the feature's innovative use would have gotten more press. As it is, players on the game's best path can still choose to play the "bad cop" missions, and carry upgrades and badge points earned during those missions back to their original story line. Unlocking the best story also allows you to view all "alternate" mission openings and endings. Unless you happen to be a big fan of Marcel Proust, which I don't happen to be, delving into that glitch significantly erodes the impact that the branching story line could have had.


Regardless, disregard the GTA fanboy grousing. This is a fun, well-designed, innovative title, and if you've got a long, uninterrupted stretch of weekend in front of you, it's worth at least a rental.


- M. Enis

(January 12, 2003)


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