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"We've Come This Far With True Crime Hong Kong--Why Not See it Through?"

After several delays and an ever-expanding budget, why Activision finally pulled the plug.

There was a collective feeling of "er, why?" when Activision announced True Crime, a series no one held much nostalgia for since it disappeared, was getting a reboot. Perhaps, like Bethesda's decision to move forward with Prey 2, the company simply felt better with a brand, no matter its previous reputation.

Then, after years of development at United Front Games and several notable delays, Activision canceled True Crime Hong Kong in early February. Gamers weren't the only ones caught off guard; at the time, I was senior editor for EGMi and we'd just ran a digital cover story on the game, where we'd sent a writer to Canada to talk with the development team. The cover story was published and only weeks later, Activision decides to cancel the game. The official website for the game is still up, as though it still lives on.

I've run two stories so far based on two internal Activision memos that were passed to me. Both memos were released to employees not long after the announcement became public. I wasn't sure if enough people cared about True Crime Hong Kong to even run a third and final piece, but the surprisingly honest comments from one of the executives involved in the cancellation struck me as worthy of sharing.

 The latest True Crime would have taken the series from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.

== TEASER == "We are ceasing production on True Crime: Hong Kong," explained COO Thomas Tippl. "While we believe that True Crime would have been a good game, we do not believe that it would have ranked as a top title in the competitive open world genre. Unfortunately, despite significant investment, True Crime was not on track to compete at the highest levels. Given the market dynamics described above, where only the very best titles succeed, we decided to stop development and allow the organization to focus on the many opportunities which lie ahead of us and require our full attention in 2011."

There was a small Internet campaign to save the game and rumors other publishers were looking at picking it up but nothing materialized. And while the official website has not been updated to reflect the cancellation (one would hope GameStop is no longer accepting pre-orders!), the developers at United Front Games, also responsible for Sony's ModNation Racers, did try to explain what happened:

 "We are sorry we did not get a chance to complete this project with Activision, but we understand why.  We are both committed to doing quality games and nothing less.  Maybe we will have a chance to work together in the future, but in the meantime we are setting our creative sights on a different horizon.  You can keep up with the latest developments at UFG here on our site."

Tippl's not the reason I wanted to publish this. His comments are expected boilerplate regarding the cancelation of a high-profile game--significant investment, market dynamics, competitive genre. Yada.

Let's instead turn to Eric Hirshberg, the CEO of Activision Publishing. 

"On my second day at the company, I stood up and said that we want to focus this organization around creative excellence," said Hirshberg. "The decision to stop production on True Crime is based solely on that focus."

 True Crime was to a feature a dynamic combat system that would allowed extreme acrobatics.
Within the memos, Hirshberg's comments seem more human, less corporate number crunching. He was also the executive saying Activision deserved more credit for its work on innovation.

"As many of you on the team know, I have a lot of heart for this game," he added. "And there are many great things about it. Stopping now is a hard pill to swallow, because a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into getting the game this far. However, after two pushed deadlines and a huge increase in the original production budget, we needed to take a clear-eyed look at the reality of this game’s potential."

The current evidence suggests that development was still going until the moment of cancellation. Perhaps Activision was faced with the decision of more delays and a continually expanding budget or cutting their losses and moving on. No doubt, Activision skeptics will take issue with the phrasing of "our most optimistic internal projects" (read: sales numbers), but since no one's played the game, who's to say?

"Even our most optimistic internal projections showed that True Crime Hong Kong was not going to be at or near the top of the competitive open world genre," concluded Hirshberg. "In an industry where only the best games in each category are flourishing, and for a game with a budget of this size, to be blunt, it just wasn’t going to be good enough."

Until next time, True Crime. Patrick Klepek on Google+
67 Comments
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Posted by Chris2KLee

If the game wasn't coming together, probably better they killed it. I would have loved another game set in HK, it's a cool city with a layout that would really suit the open world style. But if the game is bad I have no interest in throwing down $60 for something that is subpar GTA.

Posted by Xpgamer7

One day a future activision employee will find a box full of notes, hard drives and hope. This employee will then build the True Crime game. Until then we wait.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

Activision to roll out answer to Saints Row The Third hot on the heels of Saints Row The Third promo material released.  Activision still major arseholes who lack any imagination or integrity.  News at 11.

Posted by VegasAceVII

I completely agree and understand why it was cancelled.  I was actually looking forward to it, but they're right, it just isn't worth pouring anymore money into with all the other games coming out.  Maybe another time.

Posted by sublime90

i played the other True Crime games and they were mediocre. i remember reading the EGMi cover story and was actually getting hyped for this, sounded way better than the previous 2 and them boom its canceled. truth be told if this game was released id wait for it to be a budget title.

Posted by iAmJohn

Great article, Patrick!

Edited by Xsnipd

To Be Honest, this was a shitty move from activision because we didn't see it in Alpha Form which is discerning that it might have good mechanics or a good take on a concept . However, none of us never got to see that so then we can't judge it. If you are rebooting or making a new franchise, you need that jump of faith not hide beneath your safety rock which in this case is Call of Duty. My personal opinion, if activision can make something original and more like EA did, then I'll be buying their games again but for now I'll pass on them (Yes, including Call of Duty, too). 

Posted by Portis
@nikopeters said:
" Dang it! This game sounds rad though. "
I guaran-fucking-tee this game would not have been anywhere near rad.

Edited by StrawHatLaw13

Most likely would've been mediocre, but I definitely would've played it and most likely enjoyed it just because of the theme and setting.  I love my HK movies.   It's a shame.  It would've filled a niche I believe.
Thanks very much for shedding light Mr. Klepek.  At least we know now.

Posted by GetEveryone
@ThePhantomnaut said:
" Looks like the guy who is getting kicked either crapped or urined his pants. "
They both looks soaking wet. A good graphics engine it is not.
Posted by sickVisionz

It sounds like the game was going to be ass and would have sold ass.  Smart move Acti.  They already threw a few million down the trash can on the project, why throw even more down the trash can when you can see plain as day that you won't be getting that money back?

Posted by SupberUber

Good read.

Certainly more interesting than your Guitar Hero piece where the memo(s) - although interesting because of its inside nature - touched on a subject (why we're scrapping the cow we milked to death) that was already painfully obvious. And the rest was a subjective mishmash theory and/or pr speak, but I digress.
Edited by PenguinDust

The reasoning make perfect sense to me.  I don't think the game would do well against GTA or the next Saint's Row game.  Look at the last Mafia game as example. Building a good sandbox game can be difficult.  It seems to me it would have been better to put those funds toward something else.  This doesn't mean that the True Crime brand is dead though.  Hell, if Prey 2 can have almost nothing in common with Prey and still go forward then at some point in the future there could be another True Crime game that largely unrelated to the previous versions.  Name recognition is sometimes enough to draw attention to a uniquely different but worthwhile product. 

Posted by MisterMouse

hmm, that would be really difficult to come that far and just cut it off...

Posted by Dryftburn

Creative excellence? This game was finally something that broke away from the norm for a bit and they cancel it to make Black Ops? Black Ops?! A pointless addition to the most generic series ever.; you're telling me that it's considered creative excellence? I was really looking forward to True Crime 3 after I played True Crime NYC. I'm still sad about it.

Posted by Origina1Penguin

@Dryftburn: I think it's still coming out, but under a different name.

Posted by Parkingtigers

The game comes out, turns out to be fucking awesome, and Activision are exposed as a total bag of cocks. Again. Creative excellence? Bullshit, if that was an honest criteria then they would have backed this little gem of a game all the way. Glad that Sleeping Dogs was able to survive Activision's attempt to abort it.

Eat all the shit Activision. Eat it all.