Shortly after Grand Theft Auto III set the gaming world ablaze in 2001, one of the first games to attempt to emulate that game's gritty style and open-ended gameplay was True Crime: Streets of L.A. The game left a lot of room for improvement, but it at least laid a foundation that could be built upon in future installments in the series. Somehow, though, with the follow-up, True Crime: New York City, the series has taken a huge step backward. True Crime: New York City is so riddled with problems that it feels like it was rushed to make it to store shelves in time for the holidays or was just a lost cause that got shoved to retailers in the hopes of recuperating some of the development costs. Even if you forgive the flimsy story, cliché characters, and derivative gameplay, it's impossible to look past the myriad of game-stopping bugs, frustrating glitches, and glaring technical problems that plague this game.
Before we get to the laundry list of problems with this game, here's the basic setup. You play as Marcus Reed, a young gangster-turned-cop who is out to clean up the streets of New York City with his own brand of off-the-books justice. Reed is the newest member of the Organized Crime Division in the NYPD, and he's eager to make a name for himself by taking down the biggest crime syndicates in the city. There are four major cases to solve, and each one involves taking down the same kind of stereotypical thugs and mob bosses you've seen in countless cop movies. Each case is broken down into several smaller missions that follow the same basic pattern. You get a tip about a bad guy, locate that bad guy, waste all his henchmen, and then interrogate him until he tells you about yet another bad guy that you have to bust. You then head off to do the same thing all over again in a slightly different location. The missions are extremely easy, and it doesn't take too long to complete each one. Since there are only four cases, you can easily beat the story part of the game in just a few hours.
If for some reason you feel like spending more time with this game, there are some side missions to keep you busy. You can meet up with informants who give you tips on various crimes going down around the city or who ask you to do a bit of dirty work for them. These missions are pretty quick and easy, but completing them is a good way to make a little extra cash. There's a madam who sends you on errands to take care of her girls, a cabbie who needs an extra driver from time to time, and more. Aside from the informant missions, you can join an illegal street racing circuit or put your fists to work in an underground fighting tournament. As you cruise around the city, police dispatch will inform you of random crimes that are happening in your vicinity. If you want to, you can go arrest or kill the perps. If that's too much work, you can simply walk up to people on the street and frisk them for contraband. Sometimes you'll find things like gun parts, stolen license plates, obscene photos, or drug paraphernalia. When you collar a criminal, you earn career points, and you can turn in collected evidence to the precinct or sell it to a pawn shop for cash.
Career points are rewarded every time you solve a crime. Once you have enough career points, you'll be promoted within the police department. There are five ranks to achieve, and at each rank you can earn a couple of new driving or shooting skills. If you play by the rules, you'll earn good-cop points. If you use unnecessary force and terrorize the public, you'll earn bad-cop points. These good-cop and bad-cop points don't have much effect on the game unless you reach the extreme on the bad-cop side of the scale, which will cost you a rank within the department.
The basic gameplay mechanics are pretty simple in True Crime: New York City. You can run around, climb on obstacles, shoot enemies, commandeer and drive cars, trucks, and motorcycles, and use a few different styles of melee combat. Each of the three console versions of the game play similarly, but the GameCube version definitely suffers from not having enough buttons. As a result, on the GameCube you have to push two buttons to perform various actions like opening doors and climbing fences, which isn't at all intuitive.
Once you play this game you'll realize why nobody in New York drives. It's just not worth the hassle. You can flash your badge or fire your gun into the air to get a driver to hand over a car, and you can also purchase various cars if you're so inclined. The cars are all based on real-world vehicles, and you'll recognize them as such even though none of them are licensed. The vehicle physics aren't realistic at all. Cars seem to float around at times, and they don't ever feel like they have any weight to them. You can perform some fancy moves, like driving on two wheels and performing a pit maneuver to spin out a fleeing suspect, but these tricks look and feel awkward. The pit maneuver is especially goofy, because all you have to do is lightly tap the rear quarter-panel of any car and it will instantly spin out, regardless of what type of vehicle it is.
The gunplay is extremely basic. You can lock on to an enemy and just pull the trigger until the enemy is dead, which usually takes only a couple of shots regardless of which gun you're using. You can perform a gun dive and aim manually for more precise shots, but those tricks are rarely useful. You can pick up any guns your enemies drop, and while there are quite a few different types of guns, they aren't varied enough to be interesting, and usually you'll end up picking up new guns just to get the ammo. Melee combat is a bit more fun, just because it looks and feels so ridiculous. You can punch and kick your enemies in a variety of styles--which you can learn at dojos located throughout the city--and you can also grapple and dive-tackle your enemies. When grappling enemies, you can slam their head against a wall, sock them in the kidneys, or, if you're stealthy enough, break their neck. You can grab anyone, whether it's a thug you're facing during a mission or some random person on the streets.
When you grab a random pedestrian, you can slam his or her head into a car until you wear yourself out, usually without much consequence. It's oddly entertaining to dent the hood of a cab with an old lady's head, only to have her curse you out and then walk off nonchalantly.
That's just one of the many completely illogical sights you'll see in this game. The developer did a good job of capturing the physical geography of the city, but the life within the city feels completely unnatural. There are only a few different character models for non-story characters, and you'll often see whole crowds of the same exact character walking down a street. You'll also notice that there are about 10 Crown Victoria-type cars to every one of any other type. It's also a bit strange to see the same character model used as a prostitute and also a delivery driver cruising around in a big box truck. The sound is way off too, and sometimes you'll hear a person on the street talk in two or three accents while spouting off random--and usually very profane--phrases.
Those types of odd glitches are everywhere in this game, along with some seriously crippling bugs. There are bugs that will make you randomly fall through the ground into a bunch of nothingness where you'll eventually die, bugs that make textures change when you get in and out of a car, bugs that cause you to inadvertently break a scripted sequence, thus making it impossible to complete a mission, and one huge bug in a later mission in the Xbox version of the game that makes it impossible to beat the game. Though considering how unpleasant everything else in the game is, maybe this version's relative brevity is a blessing in disguise. There are also collision-detection issues that require you to try several times to grapple a person, and edge-detection problems that cause you to get stuck on the edge of a platform and just tweak out for a while. That's not all--the game will actually freeze up entirely from time to time, which can be especially aggravating if you don't save your game often.
The graphics look about the same in each of the three console versions of the game. That is, they all look real bad. It isn't a matter of dull textures or blocky character models (which this game has plenty of); it's a matter of a frame rate that constantly hitches and snags. When we say constantly, we mean that the game will seize up for a fraction of a second every three or four seconds, especially while driving. If you're driving and you're about to hit something, the game will stop for a moment just before impact. To draw your attention to this problem, the sound also cuts out as the game hits these snags. The on-foot missions in indoor areas fare a little better in terms of the frame rate, but they don't look especially good. There are also some pretty ugly clipping issues here too. Sometimes Marcus' feet will melt right into the ground, and you can buy a cowboy hat that looks bizarre because Marcus' cornrows will often clip right through the brim of the hat, if the hat isn't already floating several inches off his head.
The sound is actually not bad when it isn't skipping and cutting out while you're driving around. The soundtrack includes licensed music from Redman, Blue Oyster Cult, The Misfits, Danzig, GrandMaster Flash, and more. You can rank each song according to your preference, so if you hate one song you can give it zero stars, and it won't come up in the random playlist that you hear as you drive around. There's some good voice talent on hand, but it feels wasted on this mess of a game. Christopher Walken and Laurence Fishburne both have prominent roles here, but it seems as though they were included for the sake of including some celebrity voice talent, not because they actually bring anything to the game. The dialogue in the game is composed almost entirely of the "F" word and variations thereof. The profanity is used to the extent that it sounds foolish rather than edgy or tough. The sound effects are all standard gunshots and explosions, and none of them are particularly remarkable. The vehicle sounds are somewhat varied, and it does sound cool when you commandeer some elderly woman's exotic sports car and roar off down the street.
True Crime: New York City should be avoided regardless of whether or not you enjoyed the first True Crime. The gameplay has a few almost-decent spots, but the technical problems far outweigh any faint hope this game ever had of being enjoyable. If you're curious about what a video game looks like before it goes through adequate testing and quality assurance, then by all means give this one a try. Otherwise, stay away, because it's a waste of your time and money.