Activision already announced plans to reboot its open world action series, but True Crime’s appearance at GDC 10 is the first time the company has given us a peek. With former developer Luxoflux out of the picture, the publisher has called upon the talents of new studio United Front Games, which is also working on the PlayStation 3 exclusive Mod Nation Racers.

This new version of True Crime wipes the slate clean from the previous two titles in every way – a new proprietary engine, a new narrative direction, and a new tone that leaves the campy action of its predecessors in the rearview mirror. Where the first games focused heavily on branching narrative paths and a cop morality system, the True Crime reboot boasts a linear story. Set in the inner city of Hong Kong, players will experience a crime story not unlike Chinese cinema hits like Infernal Affairs, which was remade in the States by Martin Scorcese and retitled The Departed.

While the story drops the branching paths and good cop/bad cop shtick, one thing remains similar to the first two games: this reboot still features a cop protagonist. But as our demo started, it became obvious that leading man Wie Shen's approach to police work is less than squeaky clean. Shen is in deep undercover within one of the Hong Kong Triad gangs, working for a lieutenant named Winston while gathering intel on gang activities. When Winston finds out that a rival Triad member named Dog Eyes has messed with his family, he flips his lid and demands revenge. Shen reminds him that the boss, Uncle Po, will likely frown on this inter-organization retaliation, so Winston sends Shen to preserve the a key figure who may be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much in the vain of a Grand Theft Auto game, the mission starts with the Triad gang driving to the destination in a pimped out SUV. As Shen navigates to the target location, the NPCs inside the car have conversations with him to help fill the time. United Front Games says that there are over 30,000 lines of dialogue in the game, and over two hours of cut scenes, which means you’ll rarely be left staring mindlessly through the passenger window. Arriving at the destination, the group moves in and Shen breaks off to find Siu Wah, a heroin expert who to not be harmed unless Winston wants to feel the wrath of Uncle Po.

As the groups go head to head and the roundhouses start flying, Shen demonstrates that he definitely knows how to fight. Because True Crime is set in Hong Kong, where gun laws are stringent and firearms are scarce, the game places less focus on shootouts in favor of hand-to-hand combat and weapon melee with improvisational tools like knives and cleavers. (Don't worry; there are still plenty of guns to shoot in the game.) While doing research on the Triads, United Front discovered that the gangs prefer to slice its enemies, and the combat definitely reflects this.

Shen is also a skilled martial artist. From stylish roundhouse kicks to brutal finishing moves, Triad grunts stand no chance against his lightning fast attacks. The environments play a large part in the fistfights, in which Shen often finds himself drastically outnumbered not unlike Altair or Enzo in Assassin’s Creed. To even out the odds, Shen makes creative use of his surroundings. As he fights is way from room to room, we watch him smash heads with freezer doors, bash enemies into crates with a running dash, and even push one unlucky fool into a fuse box, which yields some shocking results.

For United Front, the focus on the on-foot portions of the game is very important if True Crime is to differentiate itself from other open-world games. But that doesn’t mean that driving is left for dead. The developer has brought in talent from many other Vancouver studios, including some who have worked on Need for Speed. The team is proud that the driving portions feel more like Burnout instead of giving vehicles the heavy feel of other open world titles. Wie Shen is just as good behind the wheel as he is with his fists, and can pull off tricky stunts. As he chases Siu Wah away from the ambush, Shen takes leap of faith from a high-speed motorcycle onto Wah’s getaway car.

For an open-world game to succeed, United Front is aware that the title needs to feature more than just a linear story. To supplement its tale of an undercover cop who bends the rules for the greater good, the developer is creating many side activities that will give gamers plenty to do along the way. With external cases that tie to the main storyline, dating, gambling, and street racing, players will have many options to explore in between story missions. Other open world staples will be present as well, such as radio stations, day/night cycles, different neighborhoods, and more. True Crime is slated for release this Fall on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Be sure to check out the GDC 2010 hub page for quick access to more news and hands-on impressions straight from the event in San Francisco, CA.