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The streets of neo-L.A.

In True Crime, the hunt for bad guys unfolds in a subtly off-kilter City of Angels.

March 04, 2004|Pete Metzger | Times Staff Writer

You're driving down the Santa Monica Freeway, heading east into downtown. In your rear-view mirror, the late-afternoon sun is setting. Your foot firmly down on the accelerator, you speed past the exit signs for Vermont Avenue. Only two other cars dot the lanes ahead of you. Smooth sailing.

A commuter dream? Not exactly. You're playing True Crime Streets of L.A., a new game that's taken on the daunting task of trying to accurately re-create 240 square miles of our sprawling burg.

In the game, you play as Nick Kang, a bad-apple cop who does things his own way. The City of Angels has been overrun by the Chinese Triad and the Russian Mafia, and it's up to Nick to stop them. Naturally, he has to drive from one side of the city to the other to find clues, rough up thugs and fight crime.

This is where things get vaguely familiar.

Cruising down Hollywood Boulevard? There's a perfectly rendered Grauman's Chinese Theatre on your left. Shooting down Spring Street? Look, there's City Hall, right where it should be. Journey out to the Westside, and there's the Third Street Promenade, complete with fountains.

But wait a minute. Now we're driving north on the 110 near Dodger Stadium, but we can't get out of L.A. The freeway turns into surface streets that circle back into downtown. Where's the 3rd Street tunnel under Bunker Hill? And what's with the beautiful trees and dearth of swap meets on Broadway? For those of us who live here -- not just play games here -- True Crime Streets of L.A. seems eerily unfamiliar, like a movie set in L.A. but filmed in Vancouver.

Micah Linton, one of the game's creators at Santa Monica-based Activision, says they intended to be as precise as possible. "It was a big undertaking," he says. "We went to major streets in L.A. and took photos of each intersection."

But because of the memory limitations on video game consoles, they could only fit 220 unique buildings into the program. They faced tough choices. "Do we build a tunnel or the Bonaventure [hotel]?" The Bonaventure won; the 3rd Street tunnel became a hill.

Some poetic license is to be expected. "We tried to make the rough areas of L.A. a little rougher and the nice a little nicer," he says. That explains the pleasant landscaping of trees at the historic intersection of Hollywood and Vine.

And what about Linton's house? Did he spruce it up for its electronic close-up? "My house is exactly the same and the landscaping is the same. It makes it interesting when you're showing it to friends and relatives."

Now if we could just find that ramp from the 10 east onto the 110 north ...

*

The lowdown

You have to admire True Crime's ambitions: They've tried to make a better version of Grand Theft Auto. Unfortunately, playing Crime makes you long for a Vice City road trip.

Sure, L.A.'s streets are your playground, and you can even play as his dizzleness, Snoop Dogg. The game tries to reinvent the wheel that is GTA by adding advanced shooting controls, arcade-style fighting moves and character upgrades. But what results is three mediocre games in one package. The bottom line: Wait for the new GTA, out later this year.

Details: All platforms, $49.99. Rating: mature (blood and gore, mature sexual themes, strong language, violence).

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