C.O.P. The Recruit
In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Rockstar smartly translated its much-loved franchise onto Nintendo’s underpowered handheld by re-imagining elements of the series to make them work for the platform. Ubisoft had slightly greater ambitions with C.O.P.: The Recruit, attempting to recreate the full 3D open-world experience of a console GTA. The results? Maybe aiming so high isn’t always the best idea.
To Ubisoft’s credit, the technology behind C.O.P. is impressive. The huge, open New York City is quite possibly the biggest world we’ve seen in a DS game, and you can drive around it without any loading unless you need to enter a building for a mission. Unfortunately, the driving is miserable, with the cars handling like boats on ice (and the few drivable boats handling even worse). If that wasn’t bad enough, when you’re driving above the speed limit you’ll unavoidably crash into oncoming traffic that appears out of thin air moments before hitting you thanks to texture pop-in.
The game features a surprisingly varied number of mission activities -- run-and-gun combat, find-the-object segments that require you use the city’s camera system, and even huge raids that introduce light strategic elements. But thanks to the inadequate core gameplay, none of these are any fun. The unintuitive shooting mechanic has you use the stylus to aim on the bottom screen while moving with the d-pad or face buttons and tapping L or R to shoot. This is probably the only solution for third-person shooting without auto-aim on the DS, but it also demonstrates the hardware limitations for this kind of game. Essentially, Ubisoft made a game that’s too big for the DS, and then tried to cram it down to size, ignoring usability or fun in the process.
The problems in scope affect the game’s plot as well. You take on the role of Dan Miles, a street racer recruited into the police force to investigate a terrorist conspiracy. That very basic overview is all the game gives you. Despite pages of dialogue and constant cutscenes, we never understand Miles’ motivation for becoming a cop, and the side characters the game wants you to care about are never fleshed out.
Every ambitious idea in C.O.P. is countered by a lazy compromise, right down to the unnecessarily acronymized title (which is never explained in a satisfactory way in the game). The game offers oodles of content for anyone willing to put up with the sub-par execution, but if you’ve ever played a Grand Theft Auto game or have reasonable standards for gameplay and storytelling, there’s no reason to waste your time on C.O.P.
Ubisoft creates some impressive handheld technology; too bad that doesn't translate to great gameplay.