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Walk the line…or cross it?

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Based upon the 1988 arcade classic of the same name, Narc sees you playing as Jack Forzenski and his partner, Marcus Hill, in their street quest to take down ?perps’. Alternating between both characters you’ll take on successive missions in an attempt to track down those responsible for the hottest new street drug – Liquid Soul. Narc is basically your standard third-person shooter, with a few attempts at mixing up the action by allowing you to use confiscated drugs, and also manage a badge rating to ensure you don’t stray too far when ?abusing’ your authority.

Starting out as a lowly beat cop, you learn the basics of movement, how to initiate and execute arrests, and how to keep your badge rating up. The badge rating system is used to indicate how closely you follow the rules as an officer. For example, if you’ve been staying sober and clean, and only busting authentic criminals, you’ll be in good shape. However, should you crumble through the urge to smoke some crack, and start pummeling innocent people, then expect your rating to fall ever lower. Should it fall too low, you’ll be busted from detective back to beat cop again, forcing you to ?play nice’ for a spell, while nursing your badge rating back up to qualify as detective again. If this happens, you’ll be unable to complete any of the story missions and basically be reduced to tackling and arresting any hooker/pusher/purse snatcher you come across to increase your rating. While the badge rating system could have been a great mechanic, it ends up falling flat and becomes more of a minor nuisance than adding anything meaningful to the gameplay. It’s just too easy to raise and lower your rating because most of the criminals you encounter put up little, if any, resistance to tangibly hinder your progress.

Dealing with narcotics all day, it’s easy to get tempted. So Narc has no reservations about letting you have a little taste of whatever poison you desire. Each drug will affect the player differently. Smoke some grass and watch as the world slows down around Jack, letting him aim at normal speed to take down multiple enemies. Pop some speed and, naturally, you’ll get a big boost of speed (the regular kind) and be able to flee a firefight quickly. Be warned, though; just like any drug in real life, if you do too much you’ll find yourself addicted, and sooner or later you’ll have to fight that addiction. You’ll eventually suffer from withdrawal symptoms and have to combat your urges via a mini-game to keep from blacking out and waking up in another part of town – and losing your entire inventory. Of course, you could always just give in to your addiction and take more of the drug, but then you’ll end up right back where you started.

The drugs and badge rating system might have been outstanding additions to this title, were it not for the uninspired and repetitive combat system. Aside from a slow-motion power takedown you can use by hitting ?A’ and ?Y’ together, there’s just not enough variation from standard punches and kicks to make it interesting. Arrests are completed by ?softening up’ your suspect, followed by rapidly hitting ?Y’ to fill an enemy’s arrest bar. It’s certainly fun cleaning up the streets, but you can only dive, tackle, punch, kick, cuff, and repeat so many times before it gets old. Taking drugs offsets the repetition, but only slightly, because you rarely need to take any to aid you on your missions. Most of the enemies in the game run at you like mindless junkies, and most of your garden-variety, street-walking scum can literally be arrested without throwing a single punch.

Narc is also an awfully short game, but some frustrating glitches will make it feel like it’s taking much longer. One of the major problems affecting gameplay is the poorly managed weapon/drug system. It’s annoyingly difficult to switch between the drugs and weapons inventories to find exactly what you’re looking for. When under fire from four different enemies, the last thing you want is to be forced into putting your weapon away before being able to cuff someone for interrogation. Of course, you’ll have to because there is no other way to capture someone alive. Even more flawed is the auto-targeting feature, which also targets fellow police officers and innocent civilians in the heat of battle – where you’ll mow down oblivious bystanders as fast as your badge rating. Also, there are some strange glitches that occasionally cause the controller to vibrate continuously, or completely drown out Narc’s audio with a loud, irritating screeching sound, which can only be remedied by resetting your Xbox! While it’s viscerally satisfying to drop acid and unload a grenade launcher on any random hooker you encounter, the gameplay is marred by too many problems to create any type of fluid and compelling experience.

Even though Narc has some notably attractive cut-scenes, these largely exist as the only memorable aspects of the game’s presentation. The two cities you’ll explore attempt to convey a dark and gritty atmosphere, but instead come off as looking far too bland. The character models for Marcus and Jake are of solid quality, but almost all other game characters look blocky and flat. Onscreen movement of characters is often (unintentionally) hilarious. Those who’ve played the truly horrific State of Emergency will have a fairly good idea of how all of the NPCs move in Narc. On a plus point of note, it should be mentioned that there are some nice special effects whenever you consume the various available narcotics. However, it would have been more advantageous to the game as a whole if similar effort had been invested in making the environments more detailed and convincing.

If there’s one area where Narc almost excels, it’s in the sound department. With plenty of drug-related tracks from artists like Cypress Hill and DMX, Midway has definitely done their homework regarding which songs would complement the game’s narrative. Of course, if you’re unhappy with the music, the Xbox version also supports custom soundtracks – just in case you have an insatiable urge to listen to Purple Pills by D12 while selling some Quaaludes to that junkie in the alley. Aside from the varied selection of tunes, the main characters are voiced by Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) and Bill Bellamy (Def Jam’s How to be a Player). Madsen and Bellamy both do a good job through their delivery, but the rest of the voice acting is mediocre at best.

Including the original Narc as an unlockable extra is a definite bonus but, in the end, lackluster gameplay and a glitch ridden presentation make this latest iteration of Narc difficult to recommend – even at its reduced $19.99USD price point.

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