Imitation is definitely a form of flattery. And without a doubt, True Crime: Streets of L.A. borrows more than just a few of the key elements that made Grande Theft Auto 3 such a landmark PC game. The driving, the violence, and the other well known tongue in cheek antics are all there in this console crossover title from Activision. However, True Crime might not exactly be the game that GTA3 fans are expecting. Jim McHugh hits the mean streets and lets you know why.
A console game that can actually capture my attention is a rarity. I'm not saying that I'm some sort of gaming snob. Well, OK…maybe I am. But another part of it is simply that I just don't have the time to pay attention to all of the multiple releases for the three big systems. With so many PC titles out there to waste my precious time, it's just hard to keep track of every title out there that I can't play. (NO, I don't plan on picking up a console any time soon, thank you very much). So when I first got wind of the impending port of True Crime: Streets of L.A. to the PC, I have to admit that I was a little giddy. Its base similarities to Grande Theft Auto 3 (one of our favorite games of all time) just couldn't be ignored. After playing countless hours of GTA3 as well as GTA:Vice City, a variation on the same gameplay by a different developing team might be just the right thing to alleviate the originals repetitiveness. Well, it some ways they succeeded. In other way, the game just didn't have the same effect on me as the GTA titles.
As expected, True Crime: Streets of L.A. is filled with violence, action, and generally bad things. Playing a rogue cop on the cusp of the law does change the pacing of the game a bit, as well as the overall presentation of the game. Yes, you still get into the classic GTA car chases, gun play, ass-whoopings, and other general tense situations. However, playing a cop changes things up slightly, as one would assume. Instead of stealing cars, you 'borrow' them from passerby's on the street at pretty much any given time when the moment hits you. Is your character's classic convertible Cadillac banged up from driving like madman? Stop that little old lady in the SUV and test drive her big ole beauty. Do you want to check out that hot rod you saw turning the corner at Hollywood Boulevard? Arrest the owner and you're free to roam the streets in your newly acquired ride without the GTA nuisance of the law hunting you down: you ARE the police! Whoever said being a cop in L.A. wasn't a fun thing.
The high speed car chases and automobile 'borrowing' do not make up the meat of gameplay found in True Crime, however. The game actually intertwines a 3rd person combat system that is leaps and bounds beyond what GTA had to offer. Using both gunplay and various forms of martial arts combat, players engage in a series of battles both climatic and low key as they progress through the well developed storyline that enveloped TC which is another big difference compared to the open ended gameplay style found in GTA. Our main character's combat abilities can be upgraded during intermission periods of the game as well by using a collective point system (the better you perform in the game, the more points you can use to spend on upgrading traits). This combat system also allows players to tailor their character to their own liking by allowing them to upgrade any number of combat abilities, including but not limited to, weapon proficiency, grappling techniques, driving skills, and quite a few signature martial arts moves.
Continuing on with the aspects of the game's storyline, the developers have added a little bit of a twist to the way True Crime progresses. Depending on how well players complete the various level/chapters of the game dictates how the game unfolds. If a player moves successfully through whatever trial comes his or her way they'll be treated to the best storyline the game has to offer. This can be done by defeating a horde of bad guys, sneaking into a building undetected, or taking out a sniper from a building. Not only that, but players will get more chances to pick up power-up toys that are made available during the 'intermissions' between levels, including the chance to get better weapons, cars, and fighting skills.
How you play your character in the game also has an avert effect on where the storyline will take you. This also happens to be where the good-cop/bad-cop scenario comes into play with True Crime: Streets of LA. By completing objectives such as arresting bad guys without major violence, stopping crazed drivers without killing them, and moving along through the positive storyline arch, your character again will receive badge points that can be used to advance your characters skills (as stated earlier). However, doing bad things, such as not finishing a level successfully will have adverse effects on your gameplay by not allowing you to hone in those special bonus goodies. Participating in other not so-ethical activities can also drop your rating into the bad cop. For example, killing innocent motorists by running them over can take points away from players (even if it is a little gratifying in its own sick way). Roughing up passerby's on the street, making illegal arrests, shooting randomly out your car window, etc., can all lower your score as well, putting your character into the red. Playing the 'bad' cop can be a tad bit therapeutic at times, however, letting you let your hair down while kicking the crap out of a few Los Angelenians a la GTA3…just don't get videotaped.
The developers behind True Crime: Streets of LA did a great job upping the gaming ante with a new an improved graphics engine and overall character/vehicle design. Everything is visually stunning and extremely detailed, from the building to the pedestrian characters, literally blowing away the competition. This is especially true with the multiple vehicular models found in the game. Luxocorp, Corp. used real world auto's to boost their own designs in the game, giving every car found in the game an authentic feel and look. The vehicle damage that accrues in True Crime is also extremely realistic, producing accurate hits, dents, wheel wear, and the like. As with GTA, each vehicle found in the game has its own ups and downs, dealing with handling, speed, power, etc. If you pick up the 69' Firebird, expect raw power with sponge like handling. If you choose to borrow a BMW Roadster, expect power with tight handling, but damaging that beauty is costly. If you get the station wagon, expect to get groceries with the store. Not only that, but a huge music selection made up of current real-world artist from across several genre's back up the soundtrack in a positive way.
For the most part I found True Crime: Streets of L.A. to be a decent PC game. Great graphics, fast action, and a diverse area of gaming were all major factors making it a fun game to play. Unfortunately, the experience wasn't the best I've ever played. We had some issues with the combat system, making the combo attack system more of a button mashing fest than anything else. The driving A.I. might have been a little more developed as well: on more than one occasion we'd get stuck behind a Sunday driver stuck running over a poor pedestrian. The non-linear gameplay elements were also less than robust when compared to GTA3. After awhile, driving around L.A. chasing every police alert that jumped up on the radio just didn't seem as fun as stealing cars and creating havoc. We also gave up rather quickly on the whole 'Snoop-Dog' extra game that could be unlocked after picking up the golden dog bones around the city. Half of the time, we were just too bored to drive around aimlessly for the chance to play the part of the Hip-Hop star. This might not be the groundbreaking title that GTA3 was, but then again those are some mighty big shoes to fill. It does, however, provide player's with a fun driving/action combo title that is hard to walk away from.