Reviewed: May 20, 2005
Released: March 21, 2005
NARC is a gritty 2005 remake of an already gritty original game of the same title, also from Midway, that, when compared to games like Grand Theft Auto was way ahead of its time. The guys at Point of View have infused the franchise with more violence, drug use, and F-words than the Scarface and Casino movies combined. Parents and conservative senators can stop reading now. It only gets worse.
If you thought using drugs, beating up hookers and stealing their stash, and wasting innocent civilians wasn’t handled gracefully enough in the GTA games imagine doing all of that with the power and relative security of a badge tucked in your pocket.
NARC is a dark and almost evil look into the life of a “cop on the edge”. You can walk the line, you can cross the line, or you can snort the line, but the ultimate result is a lot of collateral damage and bad PR for cops and police brutality. Just imagine the oppressive atmosphere of The Shield combined with the gun slinging action of Hunter and you have a taste of NARC.
The box cover makes a bold claim that NARC gives you the choice of being a good or bad cop, but that is about as sincere as putting you in a new Ferrari and saying, “don’t go over 55mph”. In a game where nice guys finish last (if they finish at all) and using the drugs you confiscate give you heightened abilities, there is little doubt you will cross the line.
NARC starts you off with some on-the-job training where you travel the mean streets and talk with uniformed officers who teach you how to flash your badge, identify potential drug deals, fire your weapons, and learn a simple yet effect mix of melee moves than can be orchestrated into some stylish takedown busts.
NARC is funny, sad, brutal, and often probably all too realistic, which is a sad reflection on our society more than game design. After all, entertainment only mirrors life. At times it becomes all too easy to lose your focus on the game or even remember why you are still playing, but you will continue to do so, because unlike GTA the visceral stimulation to your cerebral cortex is instant and overwhelming.
You’ll lose yourself in a world of unimpeded violence, smile wickedly, and laugh aloud as you brutalize a prostitute then gun down a half-dozen prospective “johns” wandering aimlessly around the same block. NARC dulls the senses and time slows to a crawl as you look for your next “fix” so you can unleash more “cop power” on the public.
Lurking underneath all this violence is an actual story, not that we need one these days, of a super drug called Liquid Soul, basically a kick ass stimulate that can keep you alive longer than a 9mm clip emptied into your torso would normally allow. These juiced-up zombies have the same undying stamina of Al Pacino in the end of Scarface.
Naturally, it’s your job to track down the source of the drug and deal harshly with anyone involved in its distribution or sale. The city is your playground as you engage in multiple-objective missions that seem to keep expanding the more you accomplish. Between these missions are mini-game challenges that are engaging and a nice break from the tedious police brutality.
It is true. You could play NARC as a totally legit officer. You can bust only the people actually doing wrong and perform proper arrest procedures, but where is the fun in that. Harassing the businessman on the corner, appraising his family jewels with your kneecap, then executing a few Jet Li karate moves before snapping on the cuffs is much more entertaining.
The ever-present badge rating system (much like the one in True Crime: Streets of LA) keeps you abreast of how the public and your superiors see you. Not that anyone cares. Internal Affairs won't come after you and the public won't run away at the sight of a rogue cop. The factoring in of alignment is only played upon loosely, and while it is possible to corrupt yourself to the point where you cannot proceed further in the story, it only takes a few “good deeds” to get you going again.
Unfortunately there is no variance in just how good or bad you can be, only black and white morals. So you can never get so bad that the FBI or SWAT team comes after you, and you can never become some medal-wearing super cop. This lack of vision takes away a bit of the exploratory nature of performing various deads.
Drugs play an important part of the game and thankfully, taking them doesn’t tilt the meter any more than turning them in as evidence. There are a handful of narcotics, each granting you temporary benefits like super speed, better aim, higher perception, and each generally offers some tripped out visual effect.
NARC is hardly next gen when it comes to graphics and with the exception of a few advanced visual effects could easily pass for a PS2 launch title. The levels are simple in design and not overly populated with objects or details. This isn't Vice City by any stretch. The same can be said for the character models which are also a bit stiff and blocky.
The city is dark, but that does a good job of showing off a few nice lighting effects and makes the HUD indicators really stand out. There is a good number of people in any given scene and while they share similar models they do have minor texture details that make them somewhat unique yet oddly familiar.
Animation is surprisingly good given the simple construction of the characters; especially with the running and diving and the elaborate combo moves and super-bust takedowns. These segments are nearly mini-games in and of themselves as you master the timing of the bust meter to bring criminals to justice.
I can only assume that at one point in time NARC was not going to be a budget title. You just don’t see voice talent like Michael Madsen and Bill Bellamy being used in $20 games. The entire voice ensemble, stars and non-stars, all pull off impressive performances that keep the dialogue and the gameplay fresh, entertaining, and even humorous.
The soundtrack is solid stuff with 20 drug-related songs that are perfectly matched to the theme of this game. If you get tired of the music or have you own collection of “music to get high by” then the custom soundtrack support for the Xbox will certainly appeal to you.
The rest of the sound package is basically a collection of reasonably authentic weapon sounds, thumps and thuds of melee combat, and the ambient sounds of a city that never sleeps, how could it; it’s too amped up on amphetamines.
NARC appears to be proud of its $20 price tag to the point of printing it right into the cover art. Despite the stigma of launching with a budget price, NARC is a fun and entertaining game in its own sick little way, but I would have to say that anything more than $20 would be a bigger crime than anything going on inside the game.
You’ll experience everything this title has to offer in the first 3-4 hours and if you desire to finish the story you will spend three times that amount of time performing the same brutal acts over and over again. It’s mindless violence that plays well in shorts spurts, but much like State of Emergency, can’t sustain itself for the duration.
Midway has included the original NARC game as a nostalgic bonus if you manage to play long enough to unlock it. Or you could just go get Midway Arcade Treasures 2 and play it immediately.
I had low expectations going into NARC so I was neither surprised nor disappointed when I finally stopped playing. I had a few hours of guilty pleasure putting the smack down on a few perps, both guilty and innocent, and even more fun experimenting with virtual narcotics in the relative safety of my game room.
In the world of law enforcement you have good cops and bad cops. NARC allows you to explore both, but does little to hide the fact that the path to the dark side, although paved with the blood of battered hookers, leads to a much more rewarding experience.