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 LA. 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. Even if you forgive the flimsy story, cliché characters, and derivative gameplay, it's impossible to look past the myriad frustrating technical problems that plague this game. While the PC version manages to address some of the more egregious glitches that appeared in the console versions of the game, it still doesn't feel like a finished product.
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 New York Police Department, 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 anyone on the street and frisk the person 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. The default PC controls are just about unusable, so you'll definitely want to map the controls to an analog gamepad.
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 drivers to hand over their cars, 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. Sometimes you'll hit a small curb and be launched 20 feet straight up into the air. 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 just 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 shoot 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 heads against a wall, sock them in the kidneys, or, if you're stealthy enough, break their necks.
The developer did a good job of capturing the physical geography of New York 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. It's also a bit strange to see the same character model used as a prostitute and as a delivery driver cruising around in a big box truck, or to see a police officer driving a fire truck. The sound is way off too, and sometimes you'll hear a person on the street talk in two or three accents as he or she spouts off random--and usually very profane--phrases.
Those types of odd glitches are everywhere in this game. Some of the major bugs have been worked out for the PC version, but there are still plenty of bizarre and annoying moments in the game. There are serious collision-detection issues where you'll have to try several times to grapple a person, and edge-detection problems where you'll get stuck on the edge of a platform and just tweak out for a while. Sometimes you'll see a character disappear, and if you're inside a building, you'll often see people running for the door only to stop and tweak out as they reach the door.
The graphics are rough as well. It isn't a matter of dull textures or blocky character models (which this game has plenty of); it's a matter of an unstable frame rate, flickering textures, and copious amounts of jarring draw-in. Sometimes when you're driving, a car will suddenly appear right in front of you, which makes high-speed chases particularly frustrating. The frame rate is unstable no matter what you're doing, even on a PC that far exceeds the recommended system requirements. Sometimes when you enter a business, the game will slow to a crawl and stay that way until you go back out onto the street.
The sound is fairly decent overall. The soundtrack includes licensed music from Redman, Blue Oyster Cult, The Misfits, Danzig, Grandmaster Flash, and many 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 feels like they were used for the sake of including some celebrity voice talent, not because their dialogue brings 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 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 is just a mess of a game that should be avoided regardless of whether or not you enjoyed the first True Crime game. 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 look. And if you do happen to give in to that morbid curiosity, the PC version is the best version to get--although that's not saying much.