NARC Hands-On

We get our hands dirty with Midway's street-tough crime story.

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NARC was recently shown at a Midway press event in Las Vegas, and we were able to get our hands on it to give it a shot. It certainly seems to pack a punch, looks quite cool, and in a decidedly M-rated twist, the game takes on a subject that really hasn't been covered very often in console games--drug culture.

There are two playable characters in NARC, and you'll switch back and forth between the two as the storyline warrants it. While the characters originally shared the names used for the cops in the original NARC, a 1988 arcade game, Midway has decided to move away from that, and instead, the characters are Jack Forzenski and Marcus Hill. Marcus is a DEA agent with a troubled past and an axe to grind with the drug pushers of the world. Jack is a recovering addict who is taking life as a police officer one day at a time. The storyline has these two going after the Asia-based manufacturers of a new addictive drug known as liquid soul. But liquid soul isn't the only drug you'll come across in the game.

In a somewhat shocking twist, you'll actually be able to use the illegal drugs you confiscate throughout the game. In fact, they'll actually give you short-term benefits. Smoking marijuana causes the player to go into what the developers call "weed time," which is functionally identical to Max Payne's bullet time in that everything slows down, thus giving you more time to react to a crowd of enemies. Speed, as you might expect, makes you move quickly. Dropping acid fills the screen with crazy colors, but it also gives innocent citizens large jester heads while giving criminals large devil heads--for easy identification. Smoking crack causes the controller to vibrate as though you have a heavy, pounding heartbeat and pumps up the damage you can do. Finally, taking liquid soul turns everyone onscreen into an enemy, but it also lets you kill everyone with one hit (pardon the pun). The developers of the game are quick to point out that while there may be a short-term benefit to using drugs, there's a negative side to it as well.

For starters, you'll take hits to your health meter when coming down from some drugs. You can also become addicted to drugs if you depend on them too much. This will manifest itself as an onscreen meter. For example, if you're addicted to crack and pick up some crack off of a perp, the meter pops up and slowly drains. You can button-mash to fight off the meter drain, but if it empties, you'll use the drugs. Using also has an impact on your reputation by swaying your good cop/bad cop meter. If your meter drops too low, you'll be suspended or busted down to beat cop, and you'll be unable to take missions that progress the main story until you've proved yourself to be an asset to the force.

NARC is, at its core, a mission-based third-person action game in the same vein as the Grand Theft Auto games. In addition to the game's 17 or so missions, you can also roam the streets and can interact with citizens. The game runs on a modified version of the State of Emergency engine, so it is capable of rendering a lot of people at the same time, thus giving the streets a living look. However, the streets are anything but clean. When you're out and about, you'll come across vandals, shoplifters, gangs, prostitutes, drug dealers, street fights, and plenty more. You can, of course, choose to do something about these crimes, and you'll often pick up evidence--like drugs, money, or weapons--as a result. Playing the good cop role means you'll be taking these drugs into the station as evidence and will generally be an upstanding sort of guy. However, being a bad cop means taking these drugs to resell them, handcuffing random civilians and kicking them in the face while they're subdued, and all other sorts of brutality-related activity.

When pressed about ties to the original NARC game, the developers did mention that there would be a few things that made it over to the new release. Junkies will be able to toss hypodermic needles at you as an attack. And there may be a reference or two to Mr. Big, the wheelchair-bound boss from the original who, as you may remember, turned into a gigantic floating head at the end of the game. Sadly, though, the game doesn't appear to contain our personal favorite NARC enemy, the jacked-up PCP junkie who would toss big garbage dumpsters in your direction.

The game will support surround sound setups, though additional video features, such as widescreen and HDTV support, are still up in the air. Additionally, the developers are tossing around the idea of releasing a soundtrack with the game's music on it. The music roster will likely include a lot of drug-themed songs from artists like Cypress Hill ("Hits From the Bong"), Curtis Mayfield ("I'm Your Pusher"), Grandmaster Flash ("White Lines"), Lynyrd Skynyrd ("That Smell"), DMX, and a host of up-and-coming rap acts. The original version of NARC may also be included as a hidden bonus. NARC is currently scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter of this year for both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox.

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