The Ethical Spectrum
My previous review of True Crime: Streets of LA was a bit more positive than other reviews of that game. While I did not think that the game was great, I did think that it offered something new to the freeform sandbox style gameplay of other GTA clones—namely the “restraint” required by playing not a thug but a cop.
In this new installment, you are once again placed in the shoes of a cop but this time one with a shady past to suggest why you might be a less than angelic peace officer. As reformed gangsta Marcus Reed, you play through a series of investigations in hope of discovering the killer of your murdered mentor—a New York police detective. The linear plotting has been abandoned this time, and Marcus is free to roam the length and breadth of Manhattan taking on story arc length cases in whatever order he chooses as well as taking on a host of optional missions from street races to crimes picked up over the police scanner.
The overarching plotline is supported by really excellent voice acting by the likes of Lawrence Fishburne and Christopher Walken. While the plot is hardly innovative and occasionally has a tendency to get a touch goofy, it is still fairly compelling due to this good acting and fortunately is enough motivation to complete the missions.
Indeed, motivation seems to be the primary focus of this game. In the previous installment, the game kept track of your character’s behavior via a good cop/bad cop system that encouraged the player to decide when to be naughty and when to be nice. Like the previous game, True Crime: New York City, includes an evaluatory system but it seems much better wedded to the game’s mechanics.
While playing good cop is likely tougher than playing it bad—forcing you to try to incapacitate your foes rather than simply gunning them down in the street—doing so offers some tangible rewards. Doing things the “right way” makes gaining job promotions easier and offers access to skills more quickly than playing bad cop. However, options like extortion and fencing evidence gives some motivation to play bad cop as more money means more access to weapons and better cars more quickly.
Thus, Luxoflux seems to have extended their previous ethics system from a novelty where players could choose to do things the hard way for the sake of being good or the easy way for the sake of being bad to a true motivating factor for how Marcus develops as a person and a character. The good guy is better trained and better acknowledged in his job while the bad guy is better armed and has a better set of wheels.
Interestingly, this system seems fairly well balanced as both skills and money seem to be doled out reasonably well through the course of the game. In other words, even if you choose the one course over the other, you will likely see the rewards of both before the credits roll. You simply get the appropriate rewards a bit more quickly choosing the one path over the other.
Also, the game continues to remind you that being the good guy in such a rough and violent occupation is less than easy. While I made a concerted effort to be good through the course of the game, the accidental deaths of citizens—be it from a poorly aimed shot past a hostage or a poorly applied brake pedal as I plowed through a swarm of pedestrians that ended up in my way as I barreled down the road after a bad guy—caused my good cop/bad cop rating to float closer towards the grey than the pure white side of the ethical spectrum that I was trying to maintain.
Some of these problems are unfortunately due to some occasionally faulty game mechanics. The AI of fellow police officers in particular is frustrating as even drawing a Taser in front of them leads to the cops treating you like a psycho killer rather than a fellow officer. Nevertheless, the system is more interesting than last time and its reward system leads to a richer experience of trying to maintain order within the chaos of the New York underworld as well as within the warring identity of a street hustler trying to make good.
The game finally distinguishes itself from the Grand Theft Auto series in this manner—by being about the shifting role of a police officer as both peacekeeper and widow-maker, rather than simply being about a thug making mayhem.
The chief complaint that I have with the game, though, is one area that Luxoflux could learn something from Rockstar, and, frankly, so too could other games stuck with the GTA clone label. The main problem is the development team’s handling of the environment itself.
Playing and experiencing Liberty City, Vice City, or even the vast expanse of the whole state of San Andreas would be exceedingly difficult and disconcerting if not for the fact that Rockstar so wisely initially limits access to the full areas of these cities. By playing for a time on one half of the map of Vice City for example or just within the confines of Los Santos, for example, allows the player to get to know that section of the game world pretty well before advancing into a larger segment of the world. True Crime‘s instance on launching the player directly into the full expanse of Manhattan from the get go, much like The Getaway‘s similarly gargantuan London, is frustrating and unnecessary. Both games leave the player with little sense of learning the streets and byways of their worlds and thus distance the player a bit from feeling a part of them.
I was constantly aggravated driving the length of the Manhattan between missions both because the stretches were boring and because I felt more lost in this massive city than like a cop familiar with those mean streets. While I found my sense of motivation for my character in this sequel, I lost some sense of the “trueness” of the experience by being lost in New York a little too often.