Crime Story looks pretty, but offers little in terms of actual gameplay

It’s a classic tale. An immigrant comes to a new land with nothing but the clothes on his back and a determination to forge a better life, one way or another. And so it is in Crime Story, the new social game that challenges you to discover the fate of your missing brother while rising through the ranks of the criminal underworld to become a respected Big Boss. But a classic tale does not a classic game make, and this one turns out to be pretty flat.

I had high hopes when I first fired up Crime Story. It opens with an impressive montage of black and white “photos” telling of a loving and protective brother and son who decided to seek a better future in America. The game itself looks great too, with a colorful and highly-detailed isometric view of the seedy New World. Things start off at the Port, a shipping zone packed with trucks, containers, a giant crane and some pretty seedy buildings, but you’ll also travel to a Big Park, the Northern Central neighborhood and, “coming soon,” the Docks and “Residence.” It’s also got an impressively gangsta backbeat that really sets the mood for some hard knocks on mean streets.

I grew concerned, however, when the game began in earnest and the characters started to “speak.” Crime Story was developed by Russian studio Game Insight and its non-English roots are painfully evident. Just about every bit of text in the game reads as though it had been translated by a third-year ESL class. It’s functional, although it does occasionally veer toward the outright incomprehensible, but it’s distractingly awkward. Phrases like “Yesterday I had a real fun” or “He would find the way to shut these talkers off” abound.

But the real problem in Crime Story is simply the lack of any meaningful gameplay. You’re given jobs via your cell phone from various skeevy individuals who want you to rob people, beat them up, smash things and so forth, but there’s no substance to it. When ordered to put the hurt on some poor slob, you simply tap the “To target” button, which takes you directly to your unfortunate victim, then tap the victim and then the “fight” button. Beatdown occurs without further input, target drops some combination of money, experience, energy and gold coins, you pick it up and then tap the icon for the next waiting job.

I’m not even sure what’s really happening in these battles, because everything is entirely automatic. I’ve never lost a fight so I guess I’m doing pretty well, but I don’t feel like I’ve actually accomplished anything because it’s 100 percent autopilot. I even spent some time running around beating up everyone in sight just to find out what would happen. The short answer is, nothing. I won every time and everybody seemed happy to let me do it.

Interactions with other characters in the game are limited to the aforementioned fighting, plus stealing from them and talking to them. I went on a pickpocketing spree, with results pretty much identical to those of my assault and battery rampage: plenty of picked pockets, not one single failure and no consequences of note. I stood behind one poor guy and picked his pocket at least a half-dozen times, scoring money, energy and experience every single time, but I eventually started to feel bad for him and took my show on the road.

Crime Story

Crime Story

Talking to people is an even bigger waste of time. It only adds up to something if you’re specifically told to talk to someone as part of a quest, and even those conversations are nothing more than one or two lines of mangled English. Otherwise, the response is identical from every character in the game: “I don’t need anything from you now and we have nothing to talk about.”

Excessive malfeasance does eventually bring the po-po around, which has the effect of doubling the energy cost of every action you take. This leads to a relatively rapid burnout of your energy points, which recharge very slowly over time; they can be replenished with gold coins, available in amounts ranging from $2.99 to $99.99. Otherwise you can count on quite a bit of downtime while you wait for your meter to fill up. Same thing with cash. Crime pays, but it’s also a pretty expensive endeavor sometimes, and if you don’t have enough cash to get a job done you’re stuck pulling repetitive, petty crimes until your wallet is sufficiently fat. Unlike energy, cash won’t automatically come back (this stuff doesn’t grow on trees, you know) so if you need more in a hurry, it’s gold coins once again – and more real money.

Crime Story is free-to-play, but has the feel of a game that needs money sunk into it in order to be played seriously. But why would anyone bother? I’ve advanced quite a distance in relatively short order (and would be much further if I hadn’t run out of energy and cash) by doing absolutely nothing more than tapping where I was told. That’s not a game, that’s two hours of proving that I can follow simple instructions. Call me hard to please if you will, but I don’t see the hook in that.