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Creaking True Crime

January 14, 2006 ・ Blog

Activision sent me a copy of True Crime: New York City for review the other day. Im only an hour or so in, but one thing is already apparent: it’s another game that makes it feel as if my PS2 is about to fall over and die.

The creaking framerate, the extended load times, the sluggish controls – they’ve become standard features of blockbuster mainstream games for the (cliche ahoy) aging system. Splinter Cell 3, The Warriors, Midnight Club 3, The Matrix: Path of Neo – they’re all loved by the masses, they’re all released on other systems, they’re all horrendous to play on the PS2. Yet it’s on the super-popular PS2 that they’ll get most of their sales.

It’s not that the PS2 is underpowered. Not for making games that are a pleasure to play. The generational changeover that we’re witnessing at the moment from PS2/Xbox/GC to 360/PS3/Revolution is, in creative terms, unnecessary. The move from 16-bit SNES and Megadrive to the 32-bit PS1 and Saturn was in this sense necessary: new games became possible. The move from 32-bit to the current generation allowed important refinement of the many rough 32-bit features. But I think the current generation still has an enormous amount to give. After all, let’s not forget that Katamari Damacy has yet to be released in Europe.

The problem lies in the ambitions of developers and publishers. They want to recreate the reality of cinema, serving up teeming cities, like the New York of True Crime, realistic facial expressions, epic and gritty storylines, in vogue graphical effects like gleaming sheens of water on tarmac and light blooms. They want a feature list on the back of the gamebox that impresses for that crucial moment it takes to get a sale.

And in the process they’re exceeding both the power of existing systems, and, it seems, their own creative talents. Because, so far, True Crime hasn’t had a single moment of fun. I can see the enormous amount of work that has gone into its making. The characters are well rendered, bridging the gap between realism and character. And, quite a lot of the time, New York looks good. At least in single frames. But these technicalities don’t make a game.

True Crime just doesn’t seem to have been designed for what the great majority of people will be playing it on. If the PS2 just isn’t powerful enough for all its features then they should be thrown out. Why should I be made to wait for several minutes for the initial menu to load just because the developer decided it would be flashy to have a fly-through of the city, and then make me wait all over again when actually start my game? Why have a lovingly rendered semi-shiny road surface if it contributes to the juddering framerate? Why should I be reminded of True Crime’s technical shortcomings when I’m trying to be entertained?

I’ll follow up with a proper review of True Crime in a couple of weeks.