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FICTIONAL VIDEO GAME REVIEW: SUPER NYPD BLUE

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CAN A MOODY POLICE DRAMA BE TURNED INTO A WORTHWHILE VIDEO GAME?

Editor's note: Fictional Video Game Review is, as the name suggests, a review of a video game that has never existed or even planned. There is no Super NYPD Blue cartridge you can buy on eBay, and we don't know why we let Ryan write this.

When Super NYPD Blue was first announced, I had serious doubts. Would the careful balance between a cop's personal and professional struggles be adequately represented in video game form? Did the programmers simply create a police action game and clumsily place it in the NYPD Blueiverse? And would David Caruso's character, Detective John Kelly, make an appearance?

The answers: yes, no, and yes, but not in the way I imagined.

Super NYPD Blue uses an action points system in combat, interrogation, and romantic entanglement scenarios. Though the available actions in these situations are mostly the same for each playable character, the effectiveness and recharge time varies depending on who you're playing with. Sipowicz, for example, does tons of emotional damage in the interview room with PRISONER'S DILEMMA, but he can't use it again for 45 seconds, at least until he levels up. The other playable characters include Detectives Simone, Medavoy, and Russell.

It's an interesting spin on the RPG genre, and you'll quickly need to learn each character's strengths and weaknesses if you want to get an arrest that will stick and keep your crumbling marriage intact. (Incidentally, I encountered an unusual glitch playing as Simone; every time I tried to chase a suspect, the interface only gave me POWER KISS, WISTFUL GLANCE, HEAVING SOB, STORM OUT, and WAIT as my options. Surprisingly, many of the suspects surrendered after I deployed a couple of HEAVING SOBS.)

Outside of the action scenes, the game moves at a methodically slow pace. You may spend ten minutes sitting in the precinct, for example, talking to the rest of the squad about all kinds of topics, from Lieutenant Fancy's leadership to Rangers roster moves to What It Means To Raise A Child In 1995 New York City. The tricky thing is that Super NYPD Blue doesn't make it clear whether these conversations are just passing the time or influencing the outcome of the game. Paradoxically, ratcheting down the pressure for these conversations somehow makes them seem more significant, though I'm sure some will find this overly tedious.

And there are moments where the game does crawl to unnecessary halts. I spent nearly an hour navigating a dinner between Medavoy and Administrative Aide Donna Abandando because I couldn't find the right conversational combinations.

One of the biggest disappointments? There's virtually no voice acting in the game, which is shocking considering how important each character's tone and cadence is to the source material. And I'm pretty sure this clip of Dennis Franz, used for the Game Over screen during combat, is taken from Die Hard 2.

(Warning: major spoiler below. Skip this paragraph if you haven't made it to the end of the game yet.)

But if there's one choice in this game likely to split the NYPD Bluemmunity, it's the treatment of John Kelly, the character formerly played by David Caruso. Last seen in Season 2, Episode 4 of the television series, Kelly leaves the force after he feels he's being railroaded by Internal Affairs. In Super NYPD Blue, the detectives of the 15th are primarily tracking down a vigilante, The Red Scare, who's kidnapping corrupt city officials and torturing them until they confess theirmisdeeds on camera. (Much of the game revolves around the characters debating whether the Red Scare's ends justify his means.) After eliminating several promising suspects, the game's final stage involves you tracking the Red Scare to his hideout...where it's revealed his true identity is John Kelly, convinced that sticking to the book only gums up the wheels of justice. It's an astonishing twist, and one I still can't decide how I feel about.

(Ok, spoilers over.)

Ultimately, Super NYPD Blue gets more right than it mishandles. This is a surprisingly thoughtful and character-driven game, and it captures the heart of what makes the television show so compelling. It isn't perfect, but, then again, neither are the detectives. I give Super NYPD Blue a 7.8 out of 10.

ADDENDUM: Several readers emailed me to ask about the rumored "Steamy Shower" code, which removes every NPC's pants. Though the programmers wouldn't offer any comment, I've learned that this secret mode is only available in the version of the game sold in Germany.