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After a five-year hiatus, free-roaming felony franchise True Crime is set to return (sans subtitle) in Fall 2010. United Front, which is also working on the upcoming ModNation Racers and houses veterans from games such as Bully, Prototype and Scarface, is developing the new entry for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Lead producer Jeff O'Connell describes it as a "more serious" reboot -- and a story that's more closely modeled after cop films. "It's an opportunity to be an innately good guy," he said of the undercover, under-pressure role you'll assume. "That's good drama."

Inspired by films like "The Departed" (see: "Infernal Affairs"), True Crime follows undercover lawman Wei Shen as he infiltrates the triad, slow-mo kicks enemies in the chin, and completes objectives across the game's new city playground. "Is it an accurate representation of Hong Kong?" O'Connell asked. "It's not." Despite referencing over 27,000 photographs, the city has been "tuned for gameplay," eschewing a realistic, street-for-street recreation in favor of a more cinematic and moody Hong Kong.

A quick night drive through North Point -- splashed with Kowloon's urban features -- reveals a colorfully lit environment that, if not "accurate," is consistent with the grim-and-glossy Hong Kong captured in films like "Hard Boiled" (and, err, games like Stranglehold). It's difficult to get a sense of scale from a pre-alpha showing, but United Front claims that this open world is big enough to hold plenty of missions, both mandatory and optional.

There's a surprising amount of choice on display in the game's hand-to-hand combat, which ditches the original game's "Hi-Ya!" aspirations and swings for more grounded combat. Wei Shen is equipped well with numerous directional attacks and counters --- and an impressive variety in animation -- but can also brutalize enemies with the environment. You can opt for something simple, like smashing a head against a brick wall, or a more gratifying move that leaves an opponent rattling in a fuse box or rotting in a garbage bin. (Dear United Front: Resist all impulses to add a "I'm taking out the trash" one-liner.)


Shen is a nimble fellow too, capable of quickly dashing to cover in the midst of a gun fight. He's just as quick to hop over barriers or slide across tables, stylishly delivering a kick to anyone crouching on the other side. Even if it's hard to gauge the quality of the game's sandbox, it seems United Front has buried enough toys to make this, at the very least, a competent action game. There's shooting too, of course, but the sub-targeting that lets you cripple a leg or disarm opponents looks a little sluggish and stiff at this early stage.

What looks more promising is True Crime's mission structure, especially if the level (taking place about a quarter of the way through the game) demonstrated is indicative of the entire game. Starting out as brawl in a factory, it eventually explodes into a full-blown shootout, followed by a violent escape with an uncooperative hostage under arm. When he gives Shen the slip, the scene becomes a motorcycle chase through North Point's streets before culminating in a bit of stunt-jump carjacking. That's a feature-packed escalation, and hopefully one of many.

There's more to be seen of True Crime in the coming months -- including a social status system dubbed "Face" -- but even at this point it shows more promise than any of the previous games in the series. We're eager to crack down on Hong Kong crime ... and start taking out the trash.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

RUSE date a trick after all, release moved to June 8