Since GTA first hit PS2, there's been a glut of copycat games that have tried - and failed - to capture the thrills of Rockstar's epic. Crime Life, Narc and 25 To Life should never have seen the light of day due to their criminal gameplay, but True Crime: Streets Of LA managed to carve out a niche of its own.
Sure, comparing the two is like pitting the amazing storytelling and gratuitous violence of Goodfellas against the shallow-yet-entertaining Rush Hour, but each has its own place in history. True Crime comes up trumps because it blends Jackie Chan's slapstick brand of kung-fu and humour with a fully-mapped Los Angeles, loads of random crimes to solve and shooting mechanics that put every last-gen GTA to shame.
Luxoflux might not have been able to polish True Crime to the level of GTA, but they pulled a zinger with the gunplay. Your target is automatically selected as soon as you unholster your weapon, and it sticks like glue to them until you reel off enough lead for the kill. It also switches intuitively to the biggest threat, so you don't end up shooting at someone in the distance when there's a bloke standing a few feet away unloading an Uzi into your eyebrows.
Couple this clever aiming system with the Max Payne-style ability to dive in slow motion away from gunfire, and a nifty Precision mode - which allows you to target specific body or vehicle parts in a leisurely fashion - and you're in for some seriously exciting showdowns. Sure, loads of games offer this level of responsiveness these days, but True Crime was among the first to make it possible for it to work in free-roaming 3D environment.
THE BIG KANG THEORY
Lead bloke Nick Kang is your generic action-hero - a chiselled rebel whose idea of justice is to use fists, bullets and explosions first and ask questions later, but there's a likeable arrogance to him and his loose-cannon ways. Subtle quirks, like talking to himself as he beats up a perp or the way he flicks a machine gun up into his hands with his foot, add to his overall personality.
The best thing about Nick, though, is that he's a cop - a clear departure from GTA's amoral main characters. This means you get to go down to the police shooting range to brush up your weapon handling skills, have the freedom to shake-down anyone on the street, and get a string of randomly generated crimes to solve. These can involve anything from two women having a scrap in public to a stolen ambulance being driven by a - really - vampire.
The callouts are heard through your police radio, and you don't have to respond if you don't feel like it, but the feeling of slapping on the siren and burning to the scene is great - especially since you earn good/bad points for your actions in these situations.
Yup, True Crime has a moral strand running through it, one which is more than just a cosmetic aspect. Settle a street brawl with an unarmed man by popping him with a few bullets and you'll drop to Bad Cop status, but if you duke him out and apprehend him legally you'll gain Good Cop points.
Your profile within the EOD (Elite Operations Division) will be in jeopardy if you keep killing civilians or messing up cases and you'll end up walking the beat if you get demoted, only rising again by committing good deeds. And the plot strands lead to three different endings meaning there's reason to head back for another go.
As well as said shooting mechanics, True Crime implements a solid set of fighting moves. You can visit dojos to learn new techniques - a cute trick that GTA would later use in San Andreas, three years later. The most appealing feature of combat, though, is how visceral it feels. Kick a man in the face and he'll crumple under the weight of it, and quick combos polished off with finishing moves to really make certain of a knockout.
So True Crime isn't the most beautiful looking game on PS2 and the sequel, New York City, is one of the buggiest games in PS2 history. But, for one fleeting moment, it almost became a contender to GTA.
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