True Crime Updated Impressions

We trade in our badge for an assault rifle and take a trip to the local markets in search of Ming.

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After a five-year hiatus, open-world police action series True Crime is making its return to the small screen. Currently in development at United Front Games--the studio behind Sony’s recent ModNation Racers karting game--the team has traded in cutesy for fast and violent, putting you in a different kind of driver’s seat as you tear up the streets of Hong Kong and rearrange the face of anyone who dares to stand in your way.

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There’s certainly no lack of games (either available now or coming soon) to help quench a fan's thirst for the open-world genre, but that is what also makes developing these games so competitive. The folks at UFG are so determined to give the True Crime franchise a second--and more successful birth--that they’re drawing on a development team stocked with pedigrees spanning industry leaders Radical Entertainment, EA Black Box, Volition, and Rockstar.

At this year’s E3, we were treated to an updated look at the game, getting both a solid insight into the design inspirations of the project and a closer inspection of the core gameplay. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of on-foot action across a combination of chases, shootouts, and melee combat of the martial arts variety. The game turns to iconic film chase sequences, such as the ones found in Seven, Blade Runner, and Point Break, as well as features its own breed of barging as you shove civilians out of the way to barrel down narrow lantern-lit alleyways and the neon assault of open streets.

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We were shown two new missions during our demo. The first saw main character, and undercover cop, Wei Shen attempting to raise his standing in the underground by agreeing to perform stand-over jobs in the local community. Tipped off to the whereabouts of street thug Dirty Ming who owed his boss Winston some cash, we set off to scrounge up some bargains at the local night markets where he was rumored to be keeping a low profile. The game promises to offer interactive environments both through speech and actions. You’ll be able to chat with non-player characters who are just hanging out and receive a mixture of banal conversation and useful information. You'll also be able to engage with physical objects to use them as weapons and as grappling points to climb.

Dirty didn’t plan on sticking around after we confronted him mid-transaction with a woman of the night, hotfooting it up some stairs and onto a rooftop landing. Taking chase, we used an electronic billboard as a springboard, monkeying our way up and over a wall in an effort to catch up. Debris can be jumped over with well-timed button presses, while bumping into strolling pedestrians slowed our pace. After a brief tussle with Ming’s goons and a showcase of some of the environmental finishing moves we’ve seen in previous looks at the game (heads slammed in freezer doors, bodies tossed into dumpsters, and faces shredded on running air-conditioner blades), we moved on to the man we wanted. Backed into a corner, brandishing a knife and unwilling to submit peacefully, we were forced to rough him up a bit with a flurry of punches before finishing the job with our victim’s own blade.

The second mission sent us deep into rival gang territory to return a motorbike to the 18K triad at the Top Glamour Imports car yard. On arrival, our cover was blown by one of the members of the crew, singling us out as a cop. Luckily for us, we knew he was a police informant. Unluckily for us, he and the rest of his posse opened fire, forcing us to take evasive action. You’re able to fire from moving vehicles, and to compensate for needing twitchy controls, the game slows down time and offers generous target locking. Ditching the bike mid-ride, we jumped off, sending it careening into a nearby fuel tank. We used the ensuing fireball to provide enough distraction to once again grab our man, Ming, who had somehow become mixed up in the whole situation. Inching our way through a torrent of automatic gunfire from the surviving members of the pack, we bundled our hostage into the trunk of a nearby parked car. Screeching out of the compound, our new task was to make our way to a nearby safe house. Of course, nothing is simple in gangland, and we were pursued at top speed by trucks and cars filled with hoodlums determined to stop us from getting where we wanted to go. We made short work of them.

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Though we didn't get to see it in action during our demo, our guides did explain the importance of "face," a statistic adjusted dynamically based on your interaction with the world, and one that determines your relationships with other characters. Designer clothes and expensive wheels maketh the man in virtual Hong Kong. You’ll want to rock some fancy duds and drive luxury cars if you want to open side quests or hope to make friends with the more desirable ladies of the city.

It’s clear that True Crime has retained the grit and charm that made the series popular with fans all those years ago. We’ll reserve judgment until we get hands-on time with the game ourselves, but so far, it’s showing promise for fans of the open-world genre when it hits the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in fall of this year.

Stay tuned for more game coverage from E3 2010.

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