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Hands On: C.O.P.: The Recruit

| 7 Jul 2009 16:32
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One of the most technically impressive DS games since Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, C.O.P.: The Recruit is, incidentally, pretty much a GTA game. And I mean that in the best way.

If you were disappointed by GTA: Chinatown Wars top-down camera and throwback to the style of Grand Theft Autos of old, Ubisoft has a game for you. They won't name names, but C.O.P.: The Recruit does for the DS what Chinatown Wars didn't: it delivers a replication of the modern 3D sandbox action game on a handheld.

C.O.P.'s got most of the genre: big open world loosely based on a modern metropolis (New York City, going by its actual name here), cars and vehicles to jack (boats, no choppers or planes), and a mission-based gameplay structure that finds you doing everything from putting out fires to shooting up mobsters.

The open world's really the star of the show here: I didn't wander around much, but it seemed adequately big (Ubisoft says they can't even squeeze in single lines of code into the game anymore they've used so much memory), but more importantly passed by at a consistent 60 frames per second. Like Chinatown Wars, the game might not be much to look at in screens, but when you see it in motion, you'll have a hard time believing your eyes.

Unlike the hooligans who star in GTA games, in C.O.P. you play as an underground street racer who's been taken in by the cops and, you guessed it, given the choice to either wear the badge or go behind bars. Since you're playing as a cop (or C.O.P. rather), you have to be a good guy. There's no running over pedestrians here, since all of them are about as fast as The Flash when it comes to running out of your way. Bummer, but this is the DS kids.

Random acts of violence might be absent, but you get to dole out plenty of hot lead in the name of the law. In the first mission I played, I ended up in a firefight in a warehouse. Shooting is in the over-the-shoulder camera, Resident Evil 4 mode so popular these days. You use the stylus to aim and double-tap or hit L trigger to fire. There's no lock-on and guns do have recoil, but it's easy enough to take down bad guys and light up explosive barrels.

The next part of the mission had me tracking down some lowlife, which led to a touch-screen based minigame where I had to use security cameras to find my target in a casino. Using the stylus to rotate and switch between multiple cameras, I tracked the guy down which, you guessed it, led to another firefight, which, in turn, led to a literal firefight in which I had to douse some flames (again using the stylus) that were burning up some intel.

Mission structure, then, is a lot like what you'd find in GTA, alternating between miscellaneous tasks and straight-up action. There won't be anything in the way of the social life sections of GTAIV, since Ubisoft says they're intent on keeping this handheld experience action-packed and exciting, like a handheld GTA-meets-24.

C.O.P. certainly impresses. Graphically, it's hard to believe this is a DS game and beyond that, the gameplay's solid. The biggest problem I can see - beyond my worry that the missions will get monotonous and that the open world will seem empty without much variety - is an abstract one: the game simply lacks much of an identity. The premise isn't compelling, the art in the cutscenes is generic cartoony fare, and for hardcore gamers it'll likely never transcend its status as a GTA clone, adept at it as it could be at that. But this is definitely a game for a slightly younger audience, and kids/teens might get a kick out of it. Especially since they shouldn't be playing GTA anyway.

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