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Rockstar Games took the gaming world by storm in 2001 when they released Grand Theft Auto III, a game that would go down in history as the progenitor of a new genre. Like all things genre defining, GTA III inspired developers all over the world to try their luck in this new moneymaker formula. GTA series has lots of brothers, but some from different mothers. Saint’s Row, Just Cause, Mercenaries, Driver– all these franchises took inspiration from Rockstar‘s seminal franchise one way or another. The term GTA Clone has been defined and redefined since their early days. Among these, one particular series tried to do something different, and surprisingly it’s the one that’s often overlooked, and to a degree, forgotten. True Crime was Activision’s attempt to jump in on the open world bandwagon. Haven’t heard about it? I wouldn’t blame you. The series was met with premature demise a long time ago. Join me on today’s Retro Saturdays as I take a brief look at the first game in the True Crime series, Streets of L.A

First Date

True Crime: Streets of L.A is an open world action adventure game developed by Luxoflux  and published by Activision for PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube and the PC. I first came to know of the game by the blessing of RNJesus. Long ago my younger self was on his weekly thrifting spree. I remember being somewhat disappointed seeing the lackluster game collection in my usual spots. As a last resort I went to the nearby duty paid shop that was known to sell imported games once every blue moon. There I saw True Crime: Streets of L.A for the first time amidst a pile of PS2 titles. It was the only PC game they had. I paid 80 rupees and took the game home. Let’s get something straight. I didn’t exactly fall in love with the game. It struck me as serviceable in a lot of ways. The hypothetical bar in my mind had been set too far high by Vice City and San Andreas. But Streets of L.A was no mere GTA clone. It did have a couple of neat ideas, I’ll give’em that.

Toe to Toe With a Giant

Activision knew that in order to capitalize on the open world genre, simply copying GTA formula wouldn’t be enough. They had to have their own spin on it (I wish the modern Activision would think like this). So what’s different in Streets of L.A? The general gameplay is similar to Grand Theft Auto such as the player being able to travel across the city freely, steer vehicles, causing mayhem, and progress through the storyline at their own leisure.  The similarities sort of end there.

First of all the game put you in the shoes of a Los Angeles detective, the polar opposite of GTA’s trademark protagonists with a criminal background. You play as Nick Kang, an L.A hothead detective with a penchant for unorthodox methods. The game is set in a partial recreation of real life Los Angeles made using satellite imagery and photographs. Being in control of an officer of the law brings some perks as well as some drawbacks. Nick isn’t a common criminal to run around the city blowing up pedestrians with a rocket launcher. You are sworn to protect the people of L.A. Hence it’s up to you to stop crimes, assist officers of the law and frisk senior citizens just because they might be carrying dangerous items in their pockets (Asthma inhalers?). Streets of L.A has a good and bad cop meter which keeps tabs on the things you do. If the player arrests criminals and does what a cop is supposed to do, they’ll receive good cop points. But if they cause chaos in the city, taking out anyone who gets in their way. the player will receive bad cop points. You can even get suspended from the force if you try to be Vic Mackey from The Shield. This mechanic brings me to my next point; the branching storyline.

Your cop meter as well as the outcome of certain missions can result in the story taking a turn for the worse (or the best if you’re  Guy Pierce from L.A Confidential). This was a fresh change of pace at the time and rarely seen in action games. Then there is the focus on hand to hand combat. Throughout the game, Nick can learn new moves and tricks to help him decimate his foes in combat. This was a far cry from GTA III‘s basic one-two hit pugilism. I remember the game punishing you severely at later parts of the story if you decided to stick with the basic combat maneuvers. The moves are well animated for the most part too and flows through with one another. This does not mean that the game doesn’t have any gunplay. Quite the contrary. There are a basic, yet fair selection of guns for you to choose from. What’s crazy is that you have the ability to dual wield pretty much all of the guns. There’s also a shoot dodge and a bullet time-ish aiming mode added just for kicks. Ever wanted to lunge at criminals holding two SP12 shotguns in each hand in slow motion? Well now you can.

The game also boasts a robust lineup of voice actors including  Russell Wong, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken (that man could try selling me tampons in his voice and I’d buy it in a jiffy), C. C. H. Pounder, James Hong, Mako, Ron Perlman and Keone Young. The soundtrack is pretty neat too. Overall the game aimed for a Hollywood feel. For the most part it does come off as a pretty neat police drama, but the game is far from perfect. The abysmal control scheme (for the PC), clunky shooting mechanics, bad camera angle, bland graphics and a general lack of polish drags the game down. Still despite its flaws one can have a pretty good time with True Crime: Streets of L.A.

The Legacy

Apparently the rivalry between True Crime and GTA series was so fierce that both developers started mocking each other via easter eggs and such. When driving around in Streets of L.A, you may see a billboard with the name of a company called Jockstar. This is a parody of Rockstar games. Rockstar gave them an epic reply though. If you type in the words TRUE GRIME in GTA: San Andreas, the game will spawn a garbage truck (the implication here is self explanatory).

True Crime: Streets of L.A was generally well received. If online sources are to be trusted then it sold over 3 million copies and won several awards. A sequel titled True Crime: New York City was released in 2005, but failed to gain the popularity and reception of the original. A second sequel, True Crime: Hong Kong was in development over at United Front before getting cancelled by Activision. However Square Enix bought the publishing rights to the game (not the True Crime IP though) and released it as Sleeping Dogs in 2012. Sleeping Dogs went on to become a critical and commercial success. Activision abandoned the True Crime trademark completely by 2014, and now sits among other dead IPs in a pit of failed ideas and broken dreams.

That’s pretty much it for today folks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go chuck down a few painkillers for this splitting headache the monsoon season has given me. Our undisputed leader Ayush is taking over next week’s Retro Saturdays for a special piece. Til then enjoy the weekend and happy gaming.

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