If you're the type of person who enjoys video games as a form of escapism, then you may have found the first entry in Activision's True Crime series a bit of a head-scratcher. Of all places, the game was set in Los Angeles--otherwise known as the most frequent butt of jokes about traffic jams and endless urban sprawl. While the game itself proved to be a fairly entertaining action romp, it's hard to deny that the setting could have been a tad more exotic. It's a different situation, however, for the upcoming True Crime reboot from United Front Games. Set in the vibrant metropolis of Hong Kong, the next True Crime--this one free of subtitles--has you taking on the role of an undercover cop attempting to infiltrate the notorious Triads that plague this dense and colorful city.
When it comes to open-world action games like this one, the city itself can be just as important as any member of the cast. While we weren't able to play the game and thus explore the city at our own leisure, it seems that based purely on the visuals True Crime's version of Hong Kong has got character to spare. The outdoor nighttime environments are flush with color, with paper lanterns strewn between buildings and a rainbow of neon lights on every building. Other environments in the game include windy hills leading up to scenic overlooks and large stretches of water connecting the city's various islands.
True Crime will offer up the familiar trio of driving, gun combat, and melee fighting that other games in the sandbox action genre are built around. What looks to set True Crime apart from others, though, is the stylish way those actions are carried across on the screen. United Front is aiming to make True Crime feel a lot like a slick Hong Kong action movie, as the 2002 thriller Infernal Affairs was a frequent point of comparison when we spoke with the development staff.
The melee stuff is what grabbed us the most. The game's main character, Wei Shen, is clearly a man who knows a few things about martial arts. As he went about his mission trying to infiltrate a warehouse in the industrial area of town, the hand-to-hand skills he used to dispatch enemies were the highlight of the show. There was a lot going on, including grapples, counters, and reversals. All those rapid-fire movements were animated fairly well and the combat moved at a fast clip. With sweeping leg attacks, as well as the ability to quickly run and vault over objects, Shen was able to keep blazing through the mission without having to get his hands too dirty.
The way environments fit into melee combat grabbed our attention as well. These location-contextual attacks are pretty brutal, including the ability to slam someone's head in a refrigerator door and throw a guy into a dumpster mid-grapple then push him into an electrified circuit breaker. Handheld weapons are vicious, too. At one point, we saw Shen snatch a meat cleaver from an enemy's hands and deftly wield it like a dagger before plunging it into someone's chest. A moment later, he stole the gun from another enemy and quickly spun him around to shoot the back of his knee in one quick motion.
Once you transition into full-blown gun combat, True Crime begins to look a bit more ordinary. Everything is in there that you'd expect: a cover system, explosive barrels, and a good selection of black-market weaponry. But compared to the melee fighting, there doesn't seem to be anything terribly unique about the shooting aspects of the game. Then again, we didn't get to see a whole lot of gun play, and according to United Front, there's a somewhat unique nonlethal targeting system that lets you aim for limbs in order to take out enemies without killing them. While we didn't get to see that part, the promise of this seems like an interesting way to explore Shen's status as an undercover cop stuck in a morally ambiguous situation.
Finally, there's an entire city's worth of vehicles for the taking. Among other options, you can plow through cramped markets in SUVs or zip around the crowded streets and alleys on nimble motorcycles. But it doesn't seem like the selection of vehicles is the eye-catching part so much as what you can do with them. Our demo ended with a bizarre and improbable motorcycle feat: Shen sped up behind a quickly moving car then effortlessly leapt from the motorcycle to the fast-moving sedan as if it were nothing. When you combine that with the slick melee system, you've got a pretty good idea of the stylized gameplay that United Front is aiming to deliver. How it all comes together is something we should have a better idea about as we get closer to True Crime's fall 2010 release date.