Ever fancied being an undercover agent? Not the sort who just runs along blasting everything that moves, a la Rolling Thunder, but one who has to use his eyes, his brain and his wits to solve a really challenging case? Good. You've got the job.
L.A. Crackdown is the best thing to come out of Epyx for some time. The clever part is that you don't play the undercover cop yourself; you play the mission controller, communicating with a rookie using a hidden transceiver. The rookie will normally obey your orders, but if you mishandle the case he's likely to quit on you - if he doesn't get killed first.
Your mission is to investigate an operation importing electronic equipment from the Far East. Is it a cover for drugs smuggling? Let's hope so, or there won't be much of a game. You can visit different locations, search for clues, plant bugs, take photos, question suspects, trail them, and, when you have enough evidence, start to make arrests.
The game is menu-driven, and combines text and graphics very smoothly. After naming your character and choosing a rookie from a selection of four upstanding officers, the main screen display divides into five sections. At the top left is a graphic display showing the interiors of buildings, such as the operation's warehouse and a suspicious sushi bar (the bar's suspicious, not the sushi). At the right are shown the exteriors of the buildings as seen from your unmarked surveillance van. If any suspects arrive or depart, you can select "Follow" from the "Go To" menu to trail them.
At the bottom left you see maps of Los Angeles, or of the insides of the buildings. Each room is numbered, and you just have to select a room number to enter it. At the bottom centre appears the main text menu from which you select your next command with joystick or keyboard; and bottom left, displays showing the time and date, and the status of your four available bugs. Planting phone bugs in strategic places is the key to obtaining vital information. Once a bug indicator light up, you know it has recorded a conversation which you can replay in your van. Combined with snapshots of schedules from the warehouse, these form your first leads, and direct you towards the strange Scottish sushi bar, the boss villain's beach house and so on.
I thought I'd seen a few things in my time - but a Scottish Sushi bar? OK, Los Angeles is as everyone knows the decadence capital of the world - but this strange mixture of cultures - anyway on with the tale...
You really have to think about what you're doing to play this game; for instance, you can't plant bugs or search the warehouse during the day, because the thugs will throw you out. Return at night, because if you try to insist on making a search, or arresting someone without enough evidence, your rookie will quit. Also remember to select the "Rest" option every hours, or he'll collapse! Using the "Time Compress" option you can speed through uneventful days or long stakeouts.
The graphics are simple and nicely-drawn, with clever touches such as moving vans and animated characters. Typical commands which you can issue include "Communicate", which initiates a dialogue between your rookie and other characters; "Search", "Follow" and "Identify", which brings up rap sheets of the various plug-uglies and the sleazoids you'll encounter. The portraits are nice, but comments such as "normally wears a moustache" aren't much help in your police work.
Great fun, though not terribly complicated; for instance, there are only four different buildings to investigate. The good thing about the game is that it's completely realistic; no jet-packs, wrist-communicators or stun-guns. You can't even shoot your way out of trouble, and there aren't many games where that's true.
Whatever about the specific verdict on L.A. Crackdown you have to give Epyx full marks for persevering with this unique gameplay system. It really is one possible future way in which adventure games can develop - which may turn out to be a life saver for the computerised lateral thinking puzzle. It would be a great loss to the computer game hobby if puzzle and whodunnit games were totally eclipsed by the role play fantasy type of game. Sure, these games are excellent in their own right - but they don't have the sheer weight of puzzlability that a good whodunnit style adventure can create. L.A. Crackdown and games like it are a lifeline for adventure enthusiasts.