Before I get started, let's get one thing out of the way—Thom has said pretty much everything there is to say about this game. Still, there are a few things I'd like to comment on when it comes to the adventures of Nick Kang.
First off, the most interesting component of Thom's review (at least in my opinion) revolves around his personal feelings about being a cop with the ability to stray from the straight and narrow. When I first read this, I found it sort of odd, only because I've sat on the couch playing Grand Theft Auto (GTA) with Thom, and he cackles like a madman while committing atrocities that pale in comparison to those found in True Crime. However, after thinking about it more, I suddenly realized that while I may not have consciously recognized it while playing the game, I felt the same way. Now, I don't mean I felt the same way in that I had an almost physical reaction to doing negative things, but in the fact that I finished the game with a huge surplus of good cop karma. When I started the game, I never made a conscious decision to be good or bad—I simply figured my playing style would dictate where I'd wind up—and it did. I wound up a good cop (despite the fact that there was a fair amount of "collateral damage" in my game).
I think the thing that really sets True Crime apart from GTA in this regard is that GTA exists in a relatively amoral world, where True Crime gives the player a far greater amount of latitude in determining what the moral code of the streets of L.A. is. Despite the hoary old cliché, everyone knows there's really no honor amongst thieves—and since players are criminals first and foremost in GTA, taking that ruthless approach gnaws less at one's conscience.
Of course, there's always the fact that most people are good people (despite what the cynics would have the masses believe), and it's in our natural tendencies to do the right thing—this is why the early stages of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) were so daunting for me—choosing to be a dark Jedi went against all the natural ingrained tendencies of my inner gamer. I'm supposed to help people, not manipulate them for my own selfish gains
It's my feeling that games like KOTOR and GTA are less bothersome morally because they're so escapist. KOTOR is a space opera wherein the bad guys are just as intriguing as the good, and GTA is the ultimate fantasy—be a criminal without those pesky prison terms. True Crime is different because the main character is supposed to be morally upstanding. Seeing that the game allows players to take that morally upstanding character and make him into something more akin to the scum he's hunting is bound to make almost anyone with a conscience a little uncomfortable.
Interestingly enough, though, I think the fact that True Crime has the potential to make players a little uncomfortable is perhaps its greatest asset. I'm not sure if this was an intentional game design decision or not (and I'm leaning toward not), but it's the one element about this game that's truly interesting. For all the political hot topic discussion about how games are encouraging players to commit violent acts in real life, I find that the fact that both Thom and I (albeit, on different levels in terms of perception) were made uncomfortable by the ability to make Nick Kang the ultimate "rogue cop" says something just as important about gaming and gamers as the news stories that occasionally crop up about someone committing a crime after being inspired by GTA. Of course, I've little doubt that Senator Lieberman, et al. have any interest in hearing about my own personal experiences since they don't coincide with their agenda.
Ultimately, though, the one thing to always remember is that True Crime is still just a game (and only a slightly better than mediocre one at that). Players who go the distance and make Nick into a killer with a badge aren't inherently evil—they're just better role-players, or have a slightly different moral perception of things than I do.
The shame of it is that such an intriguing philosophical discussion springs from such an uninspired game. True Crime is an action film parody at best, and one that's not all that interesting. This whole discussion would have so much more weight if it sprang from a series like Max Payne or even GTA, but when it comes to gaming and the ability to talk about the medium in something beyond the level of polygon counts, graphics engines, and gameplay mechanics, you take your opportunities whenever they present themselves. True Crime: Streets of LA isn't a great game, but it's one of the few that made me think about my own life and philosophy outside of the game's world—and that's a rare bird, indeed.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.
Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.
In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.