Why True Crime: Hong Kong Deserves a Second Chance

It's not very often that you see a video game franchise picked up by another developer, but when it happens, it's a pretty surprising move.  Electronic Arts picking up NBA Jam, WB Games acquiring Mortal Kombat, and so forth.  Now you can add Square Enix to the list, as the company has snagged the cancelled True Crime: Hong Kong project from Activision's camp.  Here's why we think United Front Games' third person action romp deserves a second chance.

Activision first introduced True Crime: Hong Kong at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards, with a teaser that would introduce a serious new story arc, a far cry from the previous True Crime games on older game consoles.  During 2010, we saw the game develop into fruition, first with a brief Game Developers Conference demo and then with a full-blown demonstration at E3 2010.  However, before the project could gain any speed, Activision suddenly cancelled it, opting instead to focus on more popular franchises, like Call of Duty.

But, oddly enough, that wouldn't be the end of United Front Games' development.  This afternoon, Square Enix announced that it had acquired the rights to the project, in a news story that comes courtesy of Gamasutra.  The company's London general manager Lee Singleton expressed much excitement in the project, calling it a "great big bucket of fun." 

"When we first saw and got our hands on the game we fell in love with it,"said Singleton.  Obviously he saw something appealing, sort of like the journalists who caught a glimpse of the game during the E3 2010 presentation.

Now, despite Square Enix picking up the game, the True Crime name probably won't stick, since Activision defuncted the name some time ago.  Said Singleton, "branding team is already working on concepts," so an original story is likely to be created as a result.  Actually, that could work more towards the game's benefit.  While the original True Crime: Streets of L.A. wasn't that bad a game (despite the cop's continuous wisecracks), the following True Crime: New York City didn't perform as well, and this might be a good time to try something more original.  The storyline could still work, but Square Enix is probably better off going in an entirely new direction.

What's more, United Front Games also benefits from the move.  They had to "scale back" following the cancellation of the game, but with Square Enix now backing it, says Singleton, "we're ready to turn up the heat and get the team up to capacity,"  That said, we probably won't see it until late 2012, if not any later than that.

What's surprising about this development is how supportive Activision is, considering they're the ones that dropped the hammer to begin with.  Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, who orgiinally announced the game's cancellation earlier this year, stated, "Our team has worked very hard to find a solution where everybody wins. Square Enix gets the benefit of the tremendous investment we've made in the game thus far. UFG gets to stay together and complete their vision. And gamers get to play a great game. We couldn't be more thrilled."  Nice to see some parting words and a little sympathy.

Now, why does True Crime: Hong Kong, of all games, deserve a fair shot at redemption?  Well, to be quite honest, something about the story -- and the game's impeccable design -- really stands out.  To be stuck in the middle of a Hong Kong war, while maintaining the status quo with plenty of shooting, fisticuffs and driving...what's not to like?  And United Front Games has shown thus far that they have the development chops to make this a somewhat worthwhile adventure.  And we're pretty sure once the team comes back, Square Enix should have an enlivening product on their hands.  (It'll make us forget about Kane and Lynch, at the very least.)

We're eager to see where this project goes next.  And, for that matter, so is Square Enix.  Closed Singleton, "We are committed to working with the team at United Front Games and giving them the time needed to realize the full potential of the game's standout features and create a truly unique open world adventure."

We'll see what happens...