VG247 recently caught up with Activision’s George Ngo, associate producer on True Crime: Hong Kong, to chat about the latest outing in the open-world action series.
The game has been in development for three years and is clearly inspired by Hong Kong action movies. It is incredibly fast-paced, hugely violent, and contains lots of truly fantastic swearing.
Our first impression of the game, based on the demo shown to us at a pre-E3 event in London, was that it was definitely one to watch out for when it releases later in the year.
The developer, United Front Games, has spent a lot of time trawling the streets of Hong Kong, both for research and reference photo reasons, and to seek out true stories of Triad crimes.
In the game, you play as undercover detective Wei Shen, faced with plenty of moral dilemmas as the storyline unfolds.
Activision and UFG have enlisted voice-over skills from some of Hong Kong cinema’s finest, to add to the authenticity of the experience.
[Interview by Adam Hartley]
VG247: So it has been five years since the last True Crime. What is new this time around and what does this game do with the next gen consoles?
George Ngo: So our thought with this one was to re-boot the franchise. To create something completely different from the other True Crime games. We are sticking with the undercover cop theme, because that has kind of been a hallmark of the series and something that I think the fans are expecting.
But we have a completely different setting this time around in Hong Kong. And we have a completely different story this time around, which is very much like Hong Kong action flicks such as Infernal Affairs, which was remade by Hollywood into The Departed.
And we also have a new main character in Wei Shen. Overall, you have this Hong Kong movie action cinematic feel – with the martial arts and free-running and the fast driving and shooting – so I think we have a lot to offer.
VG247: A lot of the moves we’ve seen of the game are kind of contextual – smashing people’s heads into bridges and stuff! – How much of this is automatic? And how much of it is specific button combination on the controller?
George Ngo: Well, there will be a lot of different ‘environmental attacks’ in the game – you saw some in the demo. There are some that you haven’t seen, and there are some in the trailer, such as when you hold the guy’s head into the fan. And kicking him into the speaker and the TV and stuff. So those environmental attacks are one aspect.
There is also the deep hand-to-hand combat and the counters. We didn’t show off too many of the counters in the demo, but they are there, and there’s many different variations. There is the option to tap lightly for lighter attacks, there are directional attacks (in which you can switch direction, if the guy is coming at you from behind and so on).
Of course, there are the leg-locks, tackles and grapples and you can unlock more moves as you play the game as well. So, it is a pretty deep hand-to-hand combat fighting system.
The city is very stylised. Are you going for realism or are you focusing on the action?
Ngo: Well, the developers are very passionate about Hong Kong action movies. So they are very interested in Hong Kong and they went there and shot tens of thousands of reference photos of the city. They did a lot of research, talking to the police, talking to people about the Triads and things like that. So they are very interested in the city.
You guys have put a lot of effort into the main storyline. Are there any side quests or things like that in the game?
Ngo: We do have a lot of different side quests and optional missions in the game. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to talk about at this point, and I don’t want to give anything away, but we do have things like dating and other side quests that you would expect in any open world game.
Lots of things which someone can explore if they don’t just want to do the story missions.
What did you think of the new Yakuza game that came out recently? Which is in a similar kind of realm to True Crime – in terms of the cinematic style and Hong Kong action movie references and lots of quests in an open world – were you fans of that game? And how do you seek to differentiate yourself?
Ngo: Well, I hope that because it is a very different game and because it focused on the Japanese story more… and there is a lot of fighting in Yakuza of course… but I think that between the flow of the fighting and the freerunning and parkour and gunplay, it feels that there is more action to me in a game like True Crime.
Where it feels like there is a lot of talking and cinematic scenes in Yakuza, whereas our game is more action-focused, which will resonate more with a lot of gamers.
Can you tell us more about the main character Wei Shen? What is his back story?
Ngo: He is an undercover cop. I don’t know how much of the story I want to reveal, because at this point we haven’t gone too deeply into it, but basically he is an undercover cop sent to undercover a Triad organization. So, he is building their trust in order to take them down.
Throughout the story, you are going to have to deal with the moral dilemmas associated with the fact that you are a cop, a good guy, doing bad things, and as a player, you have to figure out how deeply you want to go into the Triad lifestyle. How much you want to stay true to yourself as being the good guy, who only has to do bad things whenever really necessary. But it is kind of up to the player. We give them these choices.
So will there be branching storylines depending on what decisions the player makes?
Ngo: Well, one of the unique features of our game is the ‘Face system’ – which is kind of like reputation. In Asian countries, ‘face’ and reputation is important. How you are perceived by others is impacted by a lot of things – it could be the clothes you are wearing, the car you’re driving. So depending on your actions your Face level will fluctuate and go up and down in the game. So if you have a high Face rating, people will look at you with respect. And you may get preferential treatment.
Whereas if you have a low reputation or you are seen as a thug, then it will be harder for you and people may not want to talk to you and so on. You may need to come back when you have a higher Face level. So depending on your choices the game will play slightly differently. Or you may have to figure out alternate ways to get around the situation.
So this Face system is integral to the culture and to this game?
Ngo: Yes and it is unique to this version of True Crime, because it is more important as we are setting the game in an Asian city.
How did you seek to make this different from lots of other third-person combat-based action games?
Ngo: As you have seen, we have the martial arts, the parkour, the running over the environment and the climbing – those are all things that not a lot of other games in this genre do. In addition to the driving and the modern-day setting. So we feel that there are a lot of differentiators between us and other games in the genre.
So you have gunplay, hand-to-hand combat, environmental kills. Are there incentives within the game to encourage players to try out the different combat systems?
Ngo: It is kind of up to the player how much they want to do. I mean, we are not going to force you to do the parkour if you don’t want to. After all, it is an open world game. If you want to go to a gunfight and use the cover and hide behind things, then that’s great.
But if you want to just go in like Rambo and start shooting straight off, then you should have that option to.
What about a training level?
Ngo: Yes, well we are doing a lot of testing right now because there is a lot to this game, between the parkour and the hand-to-hand combat and the environmental kills, so we are testing out ways of teaching the player how to do these things, which is very important. So we are seeing which areas testers are getting stuck on and we are iterating on that and making it easier for people to know how to play the game and to use the options available to them.
You know, so they know, “if I want to I can use this refrigerator to kill someone, or I can just beat them up with my bare hands!”
Is there multiplayer? How long will the game take to play through?
Ngo: No. It is a single-player game. And we are looking at between twelve to fifteen hours to play through.
Are there any quiet or reflective moments in the game?
Actually, there are a lot of cut-scenes, which is something that we didn’t show you. But we have many, many hours of dialogue and there is a story going on that is being told via the dialogue. We are using a lot of very great talent in the game.
You’ll hear about them shortly. There are some very famous people working on this game.
True Crime: Hong Kong releases on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 later in 2010.