What We Already Know
True Crime is the third game in Activision's GTA-inspired open-world sandbox series, but the first made specifically for the current generation of consoles. As always you'll play an undercover cop trying to make inroads into the urban underworld, but this time the action's set in Hong Kong.
What We're Seeing Now
As you might've guessed from the suffix-free title, True Crime is essentially a reboot of the series. It's no biggie, though, because the two prior games didn't have a lot of continuity to begin with. The developers seem to be taking the opportunity to assess every area of the game, and hopefully their efforts will translate into a higher-quality open-world adventure.
Your avatar this time out is Detective Wei Shen, born in Hong Kong but raised in San Francisco. As the game begins he's back in Asia and working to infiltrate a powerful triad. Car chases, free-running and kung-fu ensue, though not always in that order.
Wei Shen might turn out to be a capable hero but so far the true star of the game looks to be the city of Hong Kong and its surrounding environs, which the developers are attempting to render in impressive detail. So far the city's looking pretty good, with the colorful nighttime market scenes being an early highlight. A quick location demo reel showed off a variety of non-urban environments too, which should add some welcome visual variety.
The devs are also putting a lot of effort into the on-foot gameplay, which is traditionally a little soft in this sort of game. Wei Shen has a pretty impressive kung-fu arsenal, including grapples, throws, weapon disarms and my personal favorite, reversals. True Crime's combat looks a far cry more sophisticated than any given GTA's.
Wei Shen is also light on his feet, opening up a variety of free-running possibilities. One demo mission Activision showed tasked Shen with chasing down a thug called Dirty Ming, with "chase" being the key word. Ming was pretty fast himself, leading the player on a whirlwind tour of the aforementioned nighttime marketplace. Quick button-press prompts popped up as Shen approached obstacles, and proper timing let him gain a little ground on his target. Mistiming a button press or running into a pedestrian caused him to stumble, and also lose a little "face."
Face is basically True Crime's take on reputation—it's how other people regard your character. Your face standing can be affected by stuff like how you dress, how smoothly you move while free-running, and how you handle yourself in fights. Shooting an unarmed foe, for example, won't do much for your local standing. This matters because many characters will only help you—or sometimes even speak to you—if your reputation is sufficiently high. Many of the game's side missions and character upgrades will be offered through these rather judgmental folk, so you'd best keep Shen above the board and lookin' totally sweet.
True Crime looks like a solid sandbox experience in a nifty locale. It's still early going, though, so it remains to be seen if it'll truly be able to rise above its many similar-feeling contemporaries.