True Crime – New York City

As a movie critic, I don’t write about a film until I’ve watched the entire thing. If I am going to review a DVD, I must watch all the special features before I start my write-up. The same goes for this, my first-ever game review. That it took me nearly two months to complete the game is not a testament to my ineptness at gaming (I’ve been a gamer since the early days of the Odyssey II and the Atari 2600, the latter a machine that I kept in my possession for more than a quarter century) but squarely at the poorly constructed coding which would cause my system to crash at the strangest time. Not in some moment of heavy battling, where I could see a plethora of actions causing the game system to get confused, but the simplest action like pulling out my gun when my character was about to enter a building. The game crashes were so frequent, I would find myself obsessively saving my progress immediately after doing anything of merit, from a major shootout to diffusing a time bomb, or every five minutes if I was on my way to do something or just waiting for something to happen. While these were the most major glitches, they weren’t the only ones to cause major frustration. As someone who until very recently lived on the Upper East Side, I am somewhat aware that New Yorkers aren’t exactly the best drivers on the planet, but they are infinitely better than the digital doppelgangers that populate this Manhattan, who seem to think a police or ambulance siren in an invitation to join a demolition derby. Sadly, it is the game’s Boys in Blue who are the worst siren offenders, often aiming directly at your squad car as you attempt to clean up the city. But then, I guess it is a testament to the game that I kept with it throughout the end, even with its problems.

Since every game, even something as innocuous as a Madden game, now needs to have some kind of storyline to keep players interested, “True Crime: New York City” has you play as Marcus Reed, the son of a famed (and currently incarcerated) crime lord and a former criminal yourself who now, as an adult, works as a New York City police officer. As you patrol your way through the various neighborhoods on the island, from Washington Heights to Battery Park, you must clean up the crime in twenty different police districts, while you investigate the murder of your mentor and alternative father figure. And like most every video game today, there are a veritable cornucopia of name talent providing character voices here, including Laurence Fishburne, Mariska Hargitay, Traci Lords, Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken. Naturally, each major performer is given a character that doesn’t stretch the limits of their abilities: Fishburne is Marcus’s father Isaiah, who still runs his empire from behind bars, albeit in a large cell with wall-to-wall carpeting and furniture and many of the amenities of home; Hargitay is Marcus’s boss on the force, who keeps you informed via police radio of your performance; Lords is Madam Cassandra, who flirts and tries to seduce Marcus as he helps her out with certain unsavory business dealings; Rourke is Higgins, Marcus’s mentor on the force, whose murder is one of the twists our young hero must deal with during the course of gameplay; and Walken is Whitting, an FBI agent who recruits Marcus to assist with certain federal investigations.

As Marcus goes from street thug to police rookie to undercover detective, he goes through a series of mini-games to help him learn how to perform specific duties (shooting, fighting, driving, stealth maneuvering), until he is ready to go out on the street. Once on the beat, Marcus must not only bring the crime rate down in all twenty police districts (alone, mind you), but he must also solve four major cases (The Magdalena Cartel, the Palermo Mob, the Presidents Club and the Shadow Tong), bust an illegal street racing circuit (think “The Fast and the Furious” through the streets of Manhattan) and stop an underground fight club (think… well yeah, “Fight Club”). As Marcus works his way through all these different scenarios, he often comes into contact with select members of the criminal element who will offer up confidential information to help Marcus solve crimes, or give him opportunities to make some extra cash on the side if he doesn’t mind dancing around, and sometimes crossing deep away from, the legal line.

Which is one of the more interesting aspects of the game. Should you decide to cross over into the dark side, your actions can and will affect the crime rate in the neighborhood you’re currently in. Extort a shop owner for some cash, and it’ll take you that much longer to clean up that zone. Do too many bad deeds in a short amount of time and find yourself the subject of a police manhunt for being a rogue detective. But therein lies one of the game’s most fatal faults. As I mentioned before, the driving citizens of this version of Manhattan love to smash into you when you’re driving with your siren on, so if you’re barreling down Third Avenue at a highly accelerated rate of speed with your siren blaring, trying to make it to a crime scene, you could find yourself in a chain reaction situation where someone smashes into you, sending you spinning into a large crowd and killing enough people to get you an instant ranking as a rogue cop. Through no fault of your own, you find yourself hunted down by your brethren and taken down like a rabid dog, to end up back at police headquarters and assigned to uniformed beat patrol until you do enough good to get back on undercover detail.

The game does have many good qualities, including a somewhat realistic version of Manhattan (although the thought of a gas station on Sixth Avenue in the mid Fifties filled me with untold amounts of giggles) and a number of shops where a cop with a good amount of cash can buy you new music, many different cars and better weapons, learn new styles of fighting and upgrade your wardrobe (driving around in a junky Cadillac convertible while decked out in the finest pimp wear also filled me with untold amounts of giggles). The product placements, including the mini-game where one can get an exclusive Puma wardrobe if one finds ten pairs of Puma shoes hidden about the city, can get a bit annoying, but these distractions do not take much from the overall enjoyment of the game.

Through all the frustrations of playing, there is one spectacular payoff. After a gamer has completed 100% of the game, a special mini-game is unlocked, which finds our hero in an alternate Manhattan straight out of “Escape from New York,” which is exactly what your character has to do. Everyone is after you, for reasons never really stated, and it is up to you to get from Lower Manhattan to the Lincoln Tunnel. At first you only have three minutes on the clock to do so, but with careful strategizing, it is more than doable. (It helps that weapons and power ups pop up at random, and that each aggressor you kill adds three to five seconds to your clock.) This mini-game is the most exciting aspect of the title, and one that will likely keep players going back to the title long after they’ve completed the main game.

The gameplay would have received an A- rating from me, had it not been for all the technical glitches, which move the title down to a B-. Hopefully, if Activision and Luxoflux decide to make a sequel to this game, which is itself a sequel to 2003’s “True Crime: Streets of L.A.,” they will make sure they make the best game possible instead of doing as much as they can until they have to finish up in order to make a pre-set release date.

Rating: B-