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Game of the Week-Grand Theft Auto, But Not

Hello all! Last week’s game was an old-school adventure game based on that most classic of sci-fi franchises, and it’s one of the best representations of said franchise.

Today brings us...basically the opposite of an adventure game. Here, you mostly just shoot everything, and drive around a big free-roaming map. It’s not GTA though, it’s...


True Crime: Streets of LA is essentially the first of many so-called “GTA clones;” games that took the basic formula of the highly influential Grand Theft Auto III and...well, that’s all, they just mostly took it and reskinned it. Or so detractors would have you believe. True Crime is very similar to GTA—of course it is. But it does its own thing too, and it’s got some cool ideas that remain unique today, despite being released way back in 2003.

You play as Officer Nick Kang, an Asian-American detective who transfers to the Elite Operations Division (sigh) of the LAPD. Kang is known for excessive force, so he fits right in (apparently) and he and his partner, Det. Rosie Velasco, begin investigating bombings in Chinatown. Shenanigans and double-crosses ensue as the case becomes much grander and stranger (you fight dragons. Really). It’s standard Hollywood fare, enough to keep you at least moderately interested in the plot until you reach one of many conclusions.


That’s the main draw of True Crime, for me, anyway. I mean, it plays like GTA; you drive around approximately 300 square miles of Los Angeles (which, at the time, was massive), the shooting is wonky, but complete with Max Payne-style slow-mo, and the hand-to-hand combat is dull. There’s also the prereqisite half-baked stealth segments (boooo). But as a high school kid playing True Crime on my GameCube, I really loved the branching paths and multiple endings. Dying in a level of True Crime didn’t necessarily result in a traditional Game Over screen; rather, you could opt to take a different path to your destination. For example, a boss-type enemy could kill you, and you’ll have to seek him out later. That kind of thing.


Sometimes, failing a mission will lead the entire plot down a different path, leading to a different ending, including several where Nick dies. I thought this was awesome at the time; here’s something this game had over GTA, which was, of course, a great game too. I hesitate to even call True Crime a GTA clone like so many do, because while it took the basic framework, it changed up a great deal of it. It had a fighting engine; it was janky, but it was more fun than GTA’s handling of fist fighting (press Circle until dead). You played as a cop rather than a goon. The map was seriously gigantic; you could get lost seeking out LA landmarks (I’m a New Yorker and don’t really know that many). There was an overall tighter “feel” to how True Crime played.

This probably isn’t even a mission; just a normal True Crime day.

That feel is long gone now, when comparing it to today’s games (although, True Crime does have a cover system, something that wouldn’t be standard for a while). But I still like it now because, frankly, the game is hot garbage. The plot is, as mentioned, a Hollywood-esque cop-action story, and then it spirals gloriously out of control. You meet an unfortuante Asian stereotype named Ancient Wu who makes you fight dragons. The game is unclear whether that “really” happened or not. Nearly every level has you barging in with, by the game’s end, comically oversized pistols and wasting everyone in sight. You fight a Chinese diplomat at the end; he’s also good at Kung-Fu (sigh). Christopher Walken, Michelle Rodriguez, and Gary Oldman are in it. You can play as Snoop Dogg. Missions are accompanied by an amazing (just a hint of sarcasm, ok?) 2000's soundtrack; full of hip-hop and what some people think is metal, today it’s like being in high school again.

I loved True Crime when it came out, and I love it now, but for totally different reasons. It’s chock full of mayhem and nonsense, and that’s why it’s a riot. And True Crime would lead, a decade later, to the excellent Sleeping Dogs, and that makes it worth it, no?


As an aside, it’s cool to see an Asian American as a main character in the same year that gave us a positive Middle Eastern character in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Both came out the same week, and later that month, we’d play as one of the best female protagonists around—Jade in Beyond Good and Evil. November 2003 was a pretty good month, I guess. Months like that should happen more often.

Thanks always for reading! I have a Twitter and I like talking to people, so follow me!


Next week brings us to a junk game that’s exactly The Rocketeer if it had aliens.

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