The genre of games known as sandbox titles, where players have the illusion of free-reign over anything and everything in the game, really hit a high point with the release of GTA3 and its subsequent sequels. Trying to capitalize on that free-form aspect forced a lot of games into obscurity as they tried to mimic the series while separating themselves from the pack. Activision’s first take at one of these “me too” games, True Crime: Streets of LA, included the twist of placing the protagonist on the right side of the law instead of the wrong.
Ironically, the biggest marketing point of True Crime: Streets of LA was not the fact that you got to play as an officer, nor the fact that you could play as either a good or bad cop. The real selling point of Streets of LA was the fact that the developers rendered Los Angeles in its entirety. Now with the second game in the city, Activision and developer Luxoflux have moved the title from LA to New York City, thankfully leaving that awful hero from the last game, Nick Kang, where he belongs.
With True Crime: New York City, the story involves a former gang-banger turned 5-0 named Marcus Reed. The story starts out with Marcus hunting down a gang member who left him for dead, wanting nothing but revenge. After an entertaining user-controlled firefight, Detective Terry Higgins arrives on the scene and, in a gesture that seems odd initially, tells Marcus to leave and that he’ll make it seem like Marcus was never around. Time passes, Marcus joins the police force, and the player learns that Higgins and Marcus’ father are close, even though Marcus’ father is a convicted kingpin and police informant.
While out cruising the streets, Higgins stops at a building that, moments after Higgins enters it, explodes with a fury that flips the car Marcus was waiting in. Thus begins the story of True Crime: New York City as players try to unravel the events leading to the death of a family friend.
Because the controls of the Streets of LA game were such a significant issue, Activision has improved the controls for NYC. Still, the controls are plagued by some of the same issues as the original, most notably the slow vehicle response time, muddy aiming and a general lack of response. When contrasted with the previous controls, New York City looks like a very large improvement, but as a stand-alone game, it still leaves a lot to be desired.
Similar to the first game, as you advance through the story you gain access to upgrades that in essence improve the controls and give you advanced fighting, driving and shooting skills. Some upgrades will grant you slow-motion abilities, allowing more time for evading fire and dishing out some of your own, while others will let you perform two-wheeled stunts in the car to fit through tight areas. The best upgrades, though, are the ones that assist your aiming, granting you two additional levels of zoom and allow you to select zones on your targets to hit.
Depending upon where you aim while zoomed, you will gain either good or bad cop points. The game is slightly more difficult if you wish to remain on the right side of the law, as it’s more difficult to properly apprehend a criminal than it is to simply kill him or her and move on to the next crime. Also, during your free-roaming time you can frisk random people on the street in hopes of finding contraband. If you are a good cop you’ll turn them in, but if you’re an evil cop you can plant evidence on any civilian, which will earn you points for the bust as well as some much-deserved bad cop points.
Another reason it is easier to be a bad cop is the flawed monetary system in New York City. As you make busts around town you confiscate the items, which range from drug paraphernalia to weapons. You can choose to either turn these items in at the police station for cash, or you can sell them at pawn shops scattered around the city. Sadly, much more cash can be earned by selling the items around town, allowing you to upgrade items, buy more vehicles and improve your skills because you have the necessary Benjamins.
As you work your way through the game’s four major criminal organizations (levels), you run through smaller sublevels including street racing, high energy shootouts and the seedy underworld of illegal fighting circuits. But, changing things slightly from the first game, players do not always need to drive themselves from one story-advancing location to the next. This is New York, remember? You can just take a taxi or the subway for a fee. This is a godsend for those who would rather play their way through the story than work through the game and all its tangents (clearing each precinct of crime and buying additional cars or unlocking new songs).
Taking pieces of what worked in Los Angeles, Luxoflux tweaked the game enough to make this sequel a better game than the first. The biggest and best change was moving the game from the bright locale of southern California to the cramped, busy and sometimes quite dirty streets of New York City. Compounded with that, they removed the largest issue from the first game, Nick Kang, and added a protagonist who doesn’t grate on people’s nerves. Sure, the controls still could use some enhancements, but they work well enough to get the job done. Fans of the original will find a lot more to like in this iteration, but newcomers to the series who were raised on GTA might be better advised to wait until the game hits the used rack or bargain bin
- Gameplay: 7.3
- Improved controls over the original game, but still lacks precision in aiming and controlling vehicles.
- Graphics: 8.5
- New York in its dark and gritty finest; especially at night when the rainstorms move in.
- Sound: 9
- An excellent mix of rock, hip-hop, and metal, and great voice acting by Christopher Walken and Laurence Fishburn.
- Replay: 7
- Once through is probably enough, but the ability to switch sides adds some enjoyment to another play through.
- Overall: 8
- A much better turnout for this iteration. New York is the perfect setting for a game like this.
— Jeff Paramchuk