As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently got Crackdown. The game initially showed up on my radar when it was announced that the game would include a free pass to the Halo 3 public beta test. This led to a lot of jokes about the game being retitled to Halo 3 Demo Disc Featuring Crackdown.
But Crackdown is a great game in its own right.
I admit, I tried the demo and didn’t really enjoy it. But once I had the game, I discovered it was one of those games you have to get into. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun.
Crackdown is a “sandbox” games, meaning you have a huge pre-rendered city to run around in and only the vaguest outlines of a story, which you don’t have to follow unless you feel like it. Grand Theft Auto III popularized this genre, and Crackdown was created by one of the minds behind GTA, so it’s not surprising the gameplay is similar (though definitely not identical).
I never enjoyed GTA III or its sequels. I was turned off by the idea of being a criminal. That’s just not appealing to me. Also, the game was too focused on driving, and I’m not a big fan of racing games that aren’t titled Road Rash. There were also quite a few timed missions, which I hate. Overall, the game just didn’t work for me.
Crackdown is basically “the good parts version” of GTA. You’re a cop, so while you do engage in lots of mayhem, you’re technically one of the good guys (for instance, at one point the Chief, the omnipresent and sometimes annoying narrator, informs you that you’re legally authorized to confiscate any vehicle in the city, so the cops leave you alone when you hijack a civilian). There’s plenty of driving, but you don’t have to drive?instead, you can jump from rooftop to rooftop a la The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction or City of Heroes.
In GTA, everyone loved loading up on weapons and then having it out with the police, even though you usually weren’t really accomplishing anything. In Crackdown, you’re given a huge arsenal?including rocket launchers and supercars with mounted machine guns?and let loose on the gangs of Pacific City. Kill enough gang members on the streets and they send cars with hit squads after you, which is when you haul out the trusty rocket launcher. Incidentally, the explosions are particularly well done, with lots of noise, fire and smoke. Yes, Crackdown is a game that does explosions well.
Over the course of the game, you improve your Agent’s stats in five areas: agility (jumping and climbing), driving, explosives, strength, and marksmanship. You increase all of these abilities just by using them. Jump over rooftops a lot and you’ll come across a lot of glowing green Agility orbs, which will increase your agility. Run over gang members with your car?or win races and perform stunts?and your driving will increase. Shoot, beat up, or blow up gang members to increase your marksmanship, strength or explosives respectively.
The game offers a bit more variety than that; for instance, you can increase your strength by picking up a car and throwing it at gang members, rather than just kicking and punching them to death. And the fastest way to a high Marksmanship is to camp on top of a building and snipe at gang members on the streets.
And you get results for your efforts. Initially, your Agent has an impressive fifteen-foot jump; but by time you max out the stat, you’re leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper. And as your Driving ability goes up, your Agency cars get cooler; you get guns on the Supercar and the Agency SUV gains the ability to launch itself into the air, allowing for some cool stunts.
Crackdown also makes excellent use of the Xbox 360’s Achievements system. The game’s storyline is almost nonexistent?you kill a bunch of gang members, their bosses and their kingpins, and you’re done. You get little bits of explanatory video for each boss, but after the third or fourth boss I started skipping them (“Yeah, whatever, just find him and shoot him a lot, I got it”).
The game makes up for this by having dozens of fun Achievements. In many games, the Achievements seem like an afterthought; after all, many videogames are released on multiple consoles, so designing them with the Xbox’s Achievement system in mind doesn’t make a lot of sense (never mind designing for the Wii’s wacky control system?but that’s another entry). Crackdown, however, is an Xbox exclusive, and it’s clear the developers embraced the Achievements system wholeheartedly (they even begged Microsoft to raise the cap from 50 Achievements to 60).
Sandbox games and Achievements were made for each other. Rather than forcing the player to adhere to a linear storyline to get all my play value, Crackdown keeps you playing for weeks by focusing on the Achievements. The player has races to win, car stunts to perform, and tricky climbs to make.
My favorite Achievement so far has to be Body Juggler, which requires you to keep a body in the air for ten seconds. I managed to win this one through a glitch. Rather than continually shooting one body to keep it in the air for ten seconds, I got this Achievement when I shot ten gang members with a rocket launcher and sent them all into the air for one second. So the game must count the seconds, not the bodies.
The nice thing about Crackdown‘s Achievements is that they’re not too easy and not too hard. None of them are near-impossible (like Gears of War‘s ridiculous “Seriously”) or require countless hours of practice, but you’re also not going to be picking them up right and left during the regular course of the game. In fact, it’s a lot easier to win Achievements once you’ve maxed out your Agent’s abilities, so you have an incentive to beat the storyline.
The game also offers a co-op mode, though it only works over Xbox Live (meaning you and a friend can’t play on the same TV). Co-op offers all sorts of interesting new options; for instance, if you’re trying to get into a boss base with your Agency Supercar, your buddy can pick up the car?with you in it?and hurl it over the wall.
I should mention Pacific City itself. As I said, the city is huge and largely (perhaps entirely?) pre-rendered, so you can go anywhere without having to sit through loading times. The graphics have a comic-book look to them. While the buildings and streets aren’t as detailed as Gears of War, they are more structurally intricate; there are garages with multiple floors, with cars on each floor, and skyscrapers with full interiors. Unlike games like GoW, which force you to follow a fairly linear path, in Crackdown you can climb any building, run down any tunnel, blow up any car.
I love the climbing and jumping. It’s exhilarating to watch as my Agent scales a skyscraper with his bare hands, or launches himself from the top of said skyscraper to land onto another rooftop, cracking its surface when he lands.
What’s even more amazing is how alive the city is. At any given time there are dozens of cars driving by and hundreds of people walking around. Stuff seems to be going on even when you aren’t there; while jumping over a bridge, I noticed two cars had crashed into one another and the drivers were wandering around. The gangs will randomly fight the police and blow stuff up while you’re off climbing somewhere.
If I had to sum up the game in one word, it would be addictive. Between the Achievements and the Agility Orbs, which are hidden in various locations throughout the city, you can spend many hours playing Crackdown without going near a boss. I killed the last kingpin days ago and am still logging one to two hours a day. Even better, the developers are promising a ton of new content for download soon, including new vehicles, new game modes, new Achievements, and perhaps even a new area in the city.
Here’s my best endorsement of this game: knowing what I know now, I’d buy it even without the Halo 3 beta. And I’ll be first in line for Crackdown 2. Between this game, Gears of War and Halo, MS has proved it can create great proprietary franchises as well as Nintendo or Sony.