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True Crime: Hong Kong E3 Preview

True Crime: Streets of LA and its successor, New York City were two successful and generally well received open-world titles. However, being released at a time when Grand Theft Auto dominated all sandbox titles, they were largely overshadowed and ultimately forgotten by most gamers. After lying dormant since 2005, the franchise has been brought back with a completely different setting, a host of new characters and the ambition to move out of its rival franchise's shadow.

True Crime Screenshots 

Developers United Front Games have a promising pedigree, with team members who have worked with Rockstar and on EA's Need for Speed games. Aiming to deliver a range of varied gameplay involving driving, shooting and hand-to-hand combat, True Crime is already looking to be familiar, yet different, from genre titan Grand Theft Auto IV. With three years of work already put into the title, we were given the chance to see three missions which each showcased a different element of the game.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of True Crime is its setting, with Hong Kong acting as the basis for the game's cinematic plot. The story follows Wei Shen, an undercover police officer who is tasked with infiltrating the Triads and working his way up through the ranks. Inspired by a range of classic Hong Kong action films, as well as taut thrillers like Infernal Affairs, the plot is designed to be more engaging than previous entries into the series. The development team were keen to highlight that Wei would be forced to make moral decisions and walk the fine line between becoming a criminal and enforcing the law. Although, to what extent this will occur remains to be seen, as during the preview Wei seemed more than happy to murder his way through the numerous enemies he was faced with.

True Crime Screenshots

Hong Kong looks very impressive with the neon night markets and the seedier back streets all having a unique feel to them. This environment offers something a bit more exotic than the more familiar streets of the United States and the four distinct areas of the city should provide even more variety. The plot promises to take into account all these unique locations from the fishing villages on the coast to the bustling commercial centre of the island. Vehicles will be an important means of getting around Hong Kong with the usual range of cars available alongside boats and motorbikes, which will be more important than ever for weaving in and out of the busy traffic.

True Crime Screenshots

The first mission that we were shown highlighted True Crime's on-foot gameplay, with Wei Shen being asked to track down a stall holder who hadn't been paying for protection. The market area was bustling with people and it wasn't long before your target spotted you and made a break. An on-foot chase ensued with Wei using some free running to keep up with the fleeing man, vaulting over objects and clambering up walls. This was much grittier and more realistic than the outlandish parkour from Assassin's Creed, bringing to mind chase sequences from Blade Runner and Se7en. It wasn't long before the combat and free-running were linked together, with Wei kicking people as he vaulted boxes.

True Crime Screenshots

Soon, Wei found himself surrounded by enemies and here the game's martial art fighting was demonstrated nicely. Enemies' attacks could be blocked and countered with some nasty takedowns, including a particularly brutal arm break. The rest of the attacks rely on carefully choosing when to go on the offensive and defensive, with Wei showcasing a range of elaborate moves. Environmental takedowns can also be used by grabbing hold of enemies and throwing them into highlighted areas, where it is possible to slam someone's head into a fridge, smash them into a television or even mince their face in a rooftop fan. While this is undoubtedly useful for getting rid of enemies quickly, it doesn't really seem to reflect the "careful, moral line" Wei must tread in the story. The fight finished with a showdown against the stall holder, who attacked with a knife. Weapons cannot be blocked and must be avoided with careful timing and it wasn't long before Wei had disarmed him and beaten him into submission.

True Crime Screenshots

With the mission over, the action swapped to another portion of the game where Wei was tasked to investigate a warehouse. It wasn't long before action broke out, with the camera positioned in a third-person over-the-shoulder style familiar from Gears of War. Using a similar cover-based system, Wei worked his way through the warehouse using various tables and walls while picking off enemies using a handgun. The targeting system selects certain areas of the body, such as the head or legs, with a further tweak of the reticule allowing for more individual aiming within this. However, to keep the gunplay more varied you have access to some more over-the-top moves, including the ability to pick up propane tanks and throw them into a group of enemies before shooting it. These small touches should help to spice things up and emulate the action films of John Woo starring Chow Yun-Fat.

True Crime Screenshots

The final mission we were shown involved Wei delivering a bike to a dockside compound, however things took a turn for the worse when he was recognised as an undercover agent by a police informant within the triads. A furious chase followed through the dock's containers as Wei tried to catch up with the snitch before he could escape and blow his cover. The action was very fast paced, with gun combat available while on the motorbike using a similar targeting system to the on-foot segments. Finally catching up with the informant, Wei used him as a human shield to mop up any witnesses, before moving him to a nearby car and stashing him into the boot. From here, it was an intense chase to a safe house through various police and Triad groups until Wei could loose them and get to safety. The driving looked fluid and each vehicle is promised to handle differently, with ex-Need for Speed team members working hard to bring their experience to the title.

True Crime Screenshots

Important to the missions will be Wei's "Face" level, a system of respect which will be influenced by his clothes, his car and more. This will dictate how he is received by people, so wearing a sharp suit and arriving in a fast car will more likely grant you access to a nightclub. This social system will change how people around the city will talk to you, with every person on the street able to react with you in some ways. A host of side-missions and collectibles are also promised, in traditional sandbox style which will allow you to upgrade your character and his abilities. In a move which seems very Grand Theft Auto you will be able to date women within the city, though don't expect any "Hot Coffee" style controversy. Perhaps most interestingly, anything you can do during the missions you'll be able to do within the city. So, unhappy with how that old lady is looking at you? Grab her, stash her in the trunk of you car and, well, the choice is yours.

True Crime Screenshots 

If True Crime can integrate the different styles of gameplay effectively into the title, instead of simply dividing it into "shooting", "fighting" and "driving" missions then it could well be one of the most promising crime sandbox games for some time. With the last mission we saw showing each of the elements being used at different points, it looks that there will be a degree of variety to each task. The different environments and range of locations within Hong Kong is also exciting and could help to deliver something a little unusual. However, there is the constant danger of the title simply being pigeonholed into the "GTA-clone" group and for it to follow the genre conventions too closely. Yet, on this early showing, there is certainly a lot of promise and there is plenty of time to see what else the developers have in store for us.

True Crime Screenshots    True Crime Screenshots

evilgiraffeman | 23rd June, 2010
TimmyShire's picture
Very good preview Giraffe. Very interesting read.

With the True Crime series, it's good that they're changing this direction. The previous ones, though entertaining, simply weren't up to scratch and a little too, I dunno what the word is... but they felt they were missing something.

I like that this seems pretty gritty, but worry, like yourself, that it might be just a facade. So often you hear developers say you'll have to make 'moral decisions' except when it comes to it, the hundreds/thousands of bad guys you kill is ridiculous. For once I'd like a developer to really take the reigns of a 'real life' representation of what undercover cops are like.

One question though. How do you control combat? I find martial arts games are rarely done properly and usually become a case of either tapping a single button or entering unlikey combos that just don't match the artristry of martial arts.

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