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Grand Theft Auto invented the open-world crime epic and, even after a decade filled with countless imitators, Grand Theft Auto is clearly still the king of the genre. So how can you observe any new contender and not notice the differences or similarities? How can you write about any new contender without making the most obvious and interesting comparison?
Answer – you can't. Or at least I can't. So that's exactly what I did during my recent demo with True Crime, the upcoming reboot of the undercover cop sandbox series. Encouragingly, after only an hour watching the game, I was already able to spot three potential improvements on GTA's familiar formula.
GTA's vehicles handle realistically enough – a sports car goes fast and a minivan goes slow – but they're not always that fun to drive. Especially when you're forced to push through clogged freeway traffic, stop at a toll booth or navigate a network of one-way streets based on actual American metropolises. New York City's iconic, but not known for satisfying speeding.
True Crime is based on a real city as well – modern Hong Kong – but the developers are willing to take some liberties in exchange for a more fluid, arcade feel. Many of the team members at newly founded United Front Games came from a Need for Speed background, and instinctively understand how to lay out roads, hills, ramps and turns for racing… not just for sandboxing.
The biggest difference, however, may be the bikes – like Asian culture, True Crime is focused heavily on motorcycles, with many different models for you to ride, shoot from and jump off. When on a bike, you can trigger a focus mode in which time slows and you are suddenly able to target specific parts of enemy vehicles, like tires or gas tanks. I watched a developer obliterate an entire police blockade with one well-aimed bullet. Later, I watched the same player stand up on the seat of his cycle and jump onto the roof of a nearby car, struggle to hold on and then dive through the passenger window to hijack said vehicle.
Take away Niko Bellic's weapons and all he's left with is a single, multi-purpose attack button and a single, clumsy dodge button. True Crime's combat appears far, far more ambitious. The protagonist, Detective Wei Shen, is a student of martial arts and a master of improvisation. He can punch and kick, of course, but he can also combine moves and take advantage of his environment.
In the first fight I witnessed, for example, he struggled with his enemy for control of a butcher's cleaver, then put the unfortunate man in a grab hold, broke his arm and tossed him into a nearby dumpster. Cue the next room, where he snapped a guy's leg, repeatedly smashed another guy's head with a refrigerator door and electrocuted a third guy with a sparking circuit breaker. After that was a factory warehouse full of tables, which Wei Shen could slide over, transitioning seamlessly into kicks, grapples or disarming moves. GTA, meet Arkham Asylum and Stranglehold.
The final enemy in this area was one the player couldn't kill without losing the mission. So what did the developer in control do? Snatched the boss, forces his head down and pushed him back through the level as a battering ram / shield.
When you change clothes in GTA, a few random pedestrians might notice, but the outfit switch is mostly superficial. When you drive a fancier car, your date might say something nice, but better handling is your only other reward. In True Crime, however, these kinds of upgrades are crucial… and necessary if you want to experience the entire game.
The developers call the system "face." Hong Kong culture, they say, is very focused on materialism and social status. If you wear an expensive watch, drive an expensive car and command respect through your actions, you've got "good face." Stick with a casual outfit, get caught driving a delivery bike or run over too many pedestrians and your reputation will lower until you're cursed with "bad face." Suddenly, you can't get into the same clubs or massage parlors unless you bribe the bouncer… you can't access the same missions… you can't take advantage of the same favors and services… you can't talk to the same NPCs… you can't date the same beautiful girls.
How much of this extra content you want to see is up to you… and up to your actions in the game.
Mar 10, 2010