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True Crime Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:01pm 13/05/10 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to visit United Front Games in Vancouver to check out their reboot of Activision's True Crime series. Read on for our full thoughts...

When you pitch your game's foundation as being influenced heavily by the likes of Infernal Affairs or The Departed, you have some pretty big shoes to fill in following the example set by those two films. United Front Games are pretty confident they've done just that though, and with their reboot of the True Crime series for Activision, they certainly look to be on track.

AusGamers had a chance to head out to their Vancouver-based studio with a full walkthrough, interview and demo on-show, and have been sitting on an embargo desperate to tell people about what's in-store ever since. If you never played the original True Crime games, then good. Because this is essentially a total revamp, with only a few minor elements coming across, but the basic idea is this is a sandbox adventure set in a seminal Hong Kong derived from the real thing, but utterly fantastical in design. This was done to facilitate good gameplay, a point the team reiterated throughout our visit to the studio - there's no point perfectly recreating a city if it's not fun to play through.

The interesting thing about this though, is the team have still gone above and beyond to craft a believable Hong Kong - so much so, if you'd never been there, you could be forgiven for thinking it really was mapped off the real thing. More than 20,000 reference photos and constant visits helped in the real-world-to-videogame consistency with compact buildings, neon-lit commercial areas, numerous peds (pedestrians) and plenty of Chinese affluence. But the choice to reboot the series in Hong Kong has a deeper meaning than just paying homage to the myriad Hongkie flicks these guys all clearly love, the fact Hong Kong was under British rule for so long gives the game an instant bridge for Western players; it's the perfect fusion of East meets West.

The gameplay demo we're being show is a "work in progress", with plenty left to do to make the product final, but it's easy to see why these guys are keen to show it off. United Front Games are a relatively new development studio, but they have a 200 + strong team with an average of around eight years experience drawn from such studios as Black Box, Relic, Rockstar, Radical and more. What's interesting about this is just how much of this is already shining through in the overall game. Driving, for example, takes the semi-realistic approach of GTA and their robust physics engine out of the equation, replacing it instead with a more arcade-delivered experience, reminiscent of "Need For Speed" we're told. After all, some of those guys are here at UFG, too. Combat is a mixture of a few different games, but I couldn't help but notice they're employing Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum most. This isn't a bad thing either, that game's combat system is arguably the most innovative system to hit videogames in a long time, and given the somewhat cinematic nature of this game (and its core source material and narrative foundation), you can see why UFG have adopted it. But they're also expanding on these, and it's all about recreating those insane action moments from the films they so love.

This is demonstrated best during an escape and chase sequence, that sees the game's protagonist - an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads - Wei Shen pursuing a car while on a motorbike (he nicked off an unsuspecting civilian). When in close enough range he leaps from the bike to the car's rooftop where for a short while he hangs on for dear life as the car caroons to and fro, smashing through boxes and generating sparks and chaos in its out-of-control destructive wake. From here we're told you can pretty much just ride it out, or reach in and pull the driver from his seat and take over. The latter is performed, and the mission a success. In all this took no more than five minutes, if that, but was bursting at the seams with intensity and action. Very cool.

The game maintains this idea of free-flowing action with running takedowns, environmental takedowns and an actual focus on free-running that seems to borrow from the likes of both Assassin's Creed and Mirror's Edge. Certain environmental objects will highlight while you're in this mode, and vaulting, wall-running or sliding underneath it properly goes towards to building up your Face Meter. This is essentially a mark of your social acceptance in the game, and is borrowed off an actual concept rife in the streets of Hong Kong. "It's an outward projection of your social standing," the game's executive producer, Stephen Van der Mescht, tells us. It can be anything from the clothes and accessories you wear, to the cars you drive or, incidentally, how well you can parkour through the streets of a semi-fictional Hong Kong, as it were.

The Face system helps in how the game-world will react to you. You can interact with a lot of the procedurally generated NPCs throughout, and this can be both rewarding or detrimental. Attackers might come at you from out of nowhere, or someone might have something to help you in your journey, and all of this is governed by your own management of the Face system. It's robust, but not so much so it'll scar people away, we're told, and given its real-world foundations, seems utterly fitting in the face of everything the team have crafted here.

In saying that though, I'd be remiss to tell you everything is hunky-dory. Animations in the build I saw were not up to scratch, and it's something I seriously hope the team broach. They're goal to focus on a more martial-arts/action movie foundation needs to be solidified with a solid animation system and an even better animation tree system. What we saw was also hands-off, but even our demoer had trouble performing certain take-downs as part of what they were showing off. This sold the system, so far, as being somewhat rigid and far less fluid than they were pitching, but it really is early days yet.

And that is arguably the purpose of situations like this - early feedback, to which I would seriously cry out to UFG to look heavily into their animation system and the fluidity of controls. Beyond that though, everything else was definitely on the right track. The game-world is by far the most impressive here, and the focus on more on-foot action is a good move when you're competing in the sandbox space, and with Hongkie action flicks as your basis for the core experience, you need to get it right to do it justice, so here's hoping they listen to the feedback at large (resonated by my peers too), so we get the most out of their impressive and ambitious vision.

Stay tuned tomorrow for an interview with the honchos at United Front Games.

Latest Comments
Posted 02:50pm 13/5/10
I still thing Dogg Patrol in the first game was the best thing the series had to offer :D
Posted 03:13pm 13/5/10
I loved both the true crime games, I always thought they got a bad rep for no good reason.

This one sounds great,although I hope for the sake of the game that the graphics will be improved quite a bit as the pathetic "gamers" of today seem to be focused on graphics way too much and it would be a shame to see this game get a bad rep like the previous two games did.
Posted 04:41pm 13/5/10
Is it so wrong of pathetic "gamers" of today to expect appealing visuals as well as gameplay?
I mean s***...It is 2010 pal.
Posted 05:00pm 13/5/10
When people say a game is s*** because the graphics arnt top notch then yes I think its wrong.
Thats not to say there arn't people who play a game for what it is, but the majority of people bash on games because the visuals arn't up to their standards.
Posted 08:33am 14/5/10
I think the driving might be a gamble i liked the feel of the driving in LA it was actually a standout feature for me...guess ill have to wait and pay for the demo :)
Posted 11:05am 14/5/10
The first True Crime on Xbox was horribly glitchy! There was a frequent bug where I think if you shot anyone inside their car they would stand up and get stuck in the car, or the car would move on but they would be stuck in that place in space... or something along those lines 'cause, honestly, I spent one hour on that game then got frustrated with the amount of bugs and glitches and never played it again!
Posted 11:51am 14/5/10
Are they just going to keep calling it TRUE CRIME with every reboot?

We get it already, all the crimes are true, at least put something like ":The dong in hong kong" afterwards or some'in.
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