True Crime: New York City Hands-On Update

Hit the sordid streets of New York City in our updated look at the latest entry in the True Crime series.

Activision's upcoming True Crime: New York City is the second entry in its fledgling third-person action franchise. Though the game has no ties to the previous entry in the series, it remains true to the free-roaming spirit of its predecessor by offering some improvements over the original. We had a chance to sit down to get a feel for what to expect from the upcoming game courtesy of a work-in-progress copy of the PlayStation 2 version.

The True Crime series is switching coasts to put you in the role of New York City cop Marcus Reed.

The game throws you into your role as Marcus Reed, the son of a local kingpin, who has joined the New York Police Department right off the bat. However, you won't be catching Marcus during an "up" moment in his life. Instead you'll be catching up with him on his last hurrah as a street thug shortly before he makes his lifestyle change. The first level of the game finds you shooting the holy hell out of a bunch of folks and hunting down the fine gentleman that tried to have you killed. Of course, right before you bust some caps into your foe, you're stopped by Terry Higgins, a family friend who's been entrusted to look after you by your father, Isiah Reed, following his arrest during your wonder years. Fast-forward a few years later and you'll catch up with Marcus the day he joins the force, which is the perfect setup for a tutorial level.

Once you've brushed up on the ins and outs of Marcus' moves, you'll head out with Terry for your first big day on the force. Unfortunately, faster than you can say "I'm too old for this s***," Terry is killed in a spectacular explosion upon entering a building for a meeting. You're spared death thanks to the timely reaching for a pack of cigarettes while waiting in the car outside. What happened? Who murdered Terry? Could the day get any worse? Finding the answers to such questions forms the basis of your time in the game. Your search will pit you against the crime cartels that run the city, as well as send you to check in on Pops, who offers some sage advice on how to deal with the situation.

Though we haven't seen any big hugs yet, we expect that Marcus and Isiah will be working through some lingering issues the pair has. The only trouble we see on the horizon is that we get the distinct impression that, time in prison notwithstanding, Isiash may not be as out of the crime game as Marcus thinks, which you just know is going to cause some trouble at some point. The story will unfold via the standard mix of computer-generated and in-game cinematics we saw in the previous game.

You'll bust plenty of heads in your quest to exact justice on the thugs who ruined your life.

As far as gameplay goes, True Crime: NYC retains the basic mission-based structure of its predecessor. You'll travel to various points throughout the city and interact with the game's colorful cast of characters, whose members will offer up info or missions for you to take on. Just as before, you can choose to stick to the core story, or you can take a little time to deal with random crimes that crop up as you go about your business. Unlike in the previous game, the crimes will have a cumulative impact on the city...and they'll affect its appearance. So, for example, if you choose to ignore crimes to stick to the main story missions, you'll find that the look of the city will start to go downhill, as graffiti will cover buildings, trash will litter the streets, and shops will keep much shorter hours.

Though the cosmetic stuff is neither here nor there, you'll want to sweat the shop hours, because once you start to get deeper into the game, you'll rely on the items you can pick up from merchants. The effort you put into looking out for the city also ties in to the game's good good/bad cop dynamic, which is affected by your actions. Dealing with crimes is one component of the equation that determines if you're good or bad. The other major factor is how you deal with crimes. During our acts of being a good cop to help put a stop to some random crime, we had the option to keep weapons and narcotics, which, while obviously not a very good thing to do, can surely be lucrative.

The action in the game will offer the same basic core system of melee, shooting, and driving from the first game. However, developer Luxoflux has done some tweaking to the system to beef it up to make for a better crime-busting experience. Melee combat will now feature a wider variety of fighting styles, including brawling, kung fu, Thai boxing, wushu, and karate. The number of weapons you'll be able to use has been beefed up to a total of 58, which breaks down to 35 firearms (which offer the obligatory dual-wielding option) and 23 melee weapons.

You'll have a lot more ways to take out the crooks than in the first True Crime, what with over 30 guns and 20 melee weapons on hand.

Just as before, anyone squeamish about applying beat downs will be able to try a few different approaches when dealing with thugs. You'll be able to fire warning shots, and you can flash your badge in the hopes of intimidating your quarry. Of course, if that doesn't work, you know what will. The driving sequences are fine and offer a good amount of options as you tear through the road. As in the previous entry in the series, if you don't happen to have a car, you'll be able to commandeer whatever's handy.

Now that we've played a ways into the game, we're basically fine with how it's shaping up. There are no dramatic surprises in terms of gameplay or structure. The tweaks perform as expected to give the game a better feel. The experience is still a touch disjointed because of the random crimes, but you get used to it once you find the ideal number of times you can safely ignore random crimes before bad things start to happen.

The visuals are shaping up reasonably well, though you'll encounter a few of the expected rough spots. Marcus and the core cast of the game are rendered out with a generous amount of polygons, and they feature a respectable amount of detail. Supporting characters don't get quite the same level of care, but they look fine. The city is, again, a large, streaming metropolis that offers a faithful re-creation of its real-world setting. This time out, we have to say the city has a lot more character than the one in the original game. No, this isn't due to any kind of LA-hating on our part; it's simply because the color shifts of night and day and the vibe of the city (based on whether you're doing a good job of keeping it safe) are quite distinctive. Our version currently has a few rough spots, a problematic camera, and occasional frame-rate issues that we hope get tightened up by the time the game ships.

Look for Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, and Mickey Rourke to color the game's dialogue.

The audio is actually one of True Crime: NYC's strong points, thanks to some good voice casting and song selection. The already-solid collection of sound effects and ambient sounds heard in the last game is complemented by a strong voice cast that includes Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, Mickey Rourke, and Traci Lords. The voice acting is solid, on the whole, with the usual assortment of good and bad eggs in the mix. One thing to note is that the game has itself a good old time with its M rating, so you can expect profanities to be a poppin' as you play. As far as the music goes, the soundtrack features a good selection of eclectic music that spans a range of genres. You'll hear tracks from artists such as Redman, Jay-Z, Fat Joe, A Tribe Called Quest, The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, My Chemical Romance, The Bravery, and Bob Dylan. From what we've heard thus far, the tunes are doing a good job of giving the game a decidedly New York vibe.

From the look of things so far, True Crime: New York City presents a smart refinement of the original True Crime's better elements, as well as spring-cleans its not-so-good ones. The gameplay has been buffed up nicely, although the visuals could stand to be tightened up some. If you were a fan of the first game, you should find plenty to dig here. And if you missed out on it, this isn't too shabby a place to start. True Crime: New York City is slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.

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