Video Game Rentals Delivered

Crackdown

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-04-19 13:50:12

Crackdown - Rank B


Developer: Realtime Worlds
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Date: 2/20/07

Let me get this out of the way: to call Crackdown's story "thin" would be charitable. The "plot" is that you're a super genetically engineered law enforcement agent called upon to clean up a gang-infested Pacific City. The entirety of the single player campaign consists of killing thugs en route to killing their lieutenants en route to killing their boss, and wash-rinse-repeating this process for each gang. I would give Crackdown an F if it relied on narrative or characterization. The "story" exists solely as an excuse for the action, like in a porno flick. Fortunately, the gameplay is totally hot and heavy.

The enjoyable aspects of Crackdown, exploration and the growth in your character's abilities, are absolutely intertwined. Agility is by far the most important trait, and you improve it by collecting green orbs. Detractors of the game will describe Crackdown as "nothing more than orb collecting", but these jaded gamers are ignoring how satisfying this simple mechanic is. Initially, you can only reach orbs near ground level, but as you level your agility up, you can explore higher and higher utilizing your newfound leaping ability. Pacific City is sizable to begin with, but once you realize how much of it is built vertically, it's downright massive. Before you know it, you'll be hurling yourself a hundred feet into the air, scaling massive skyscrapers whose heights conceal yet more succulent orbs. Combined with bulking up the strength stat, you'll feel the urge to holler "Spoon!" as your battle cry.

You build your strength by killing gang members by either pummeling them with kicks or by throwing objects at them. At first, this is limited to smaller objects like cinder blocks, but you can eventually hurl automobiles around by hefting them over your head or punting them like footballs. Your firearms and explosives abilities are improved simply by using those weapons. Crackdown's targeting system is only of adequate quality, but the combination of using guns and rocket launchers while leaping buildings in a single bound is thrilling. Explosions are deeply satisfying, and grow more devastating (the explosive radius expands) as you increase your skill. Unfortunately, driving doesn't fare as well. The game's vehicles handle terribly, and it's far more convenient to simply bound around to where you need to go.

Crackdown's graphics are impressive. Realtime Worlds chose to go for a sort of cel-shaded look, only the textures are so rich that they prevent the game from looking cartoonish. It's a unique style that lends itself to clean, fluid animation. The draw distance goes on forever. From a high enough vantage point, you can see clear to the other side of the city. My only complaint about the visual presentation is that the third-person camera is just too close to the character model. This limits the adjustable range of view, making it awkward to figure out where to aim your next jump while hanging off the side of a building.

Achievement Points are usually tacked on as an afterthought, but they're well implemented here. One of them requires that you climb to the top of the central skyscraper and leap off into the water below. Reaching this pinnacle requires a maximum agility rating and no small effort navigating the geometry of this truly massive structure. This has absolutely nothing to do with the story campaign, and is simply something to do for the fun of it. The view from the top is breathtaking, and even contemplating my leap off it gave me a touch of vertigo. Another example involves a huge globe you can grab at the city's observatory. Arturo (of Squishy Comics fame) was just screwing around by carrying it about as if he were Atlas, and was pleasantly surprised when he earned an achievement for squishing a certain number of gangsters with it.

Crackdown can also be played cooperatively online. This at least doubles the opportunities for fun. Following a proud tradition that hearkens back to Double Dragon, co-op play can quickly degenerate into player versus player shenanigans. As long as the two of you are evenly matched, "death tag" is highly entertaining. All that leaping around and chucking cars takes on a whole new dimension when you have an intelligent and equivalent adversary. Speaking of chucking cars, one of the many side goals is to drive a car through stunt rings suspended ridiculously high in the air. I was staring at one of them, trying to determine how to launch myself through it. Arturo, in a stroke of brilliance, physically seized my car (with me in it) and simply threw it through the ring.

It's true that Crackdown feels like an unfinished game. If you need structure and goals to enjoy a game, Crackdown probably isn't worth the investment. You could conceivably "finish" it in half a dozen hours. However, if you have the disposition to create your own fun, Crackdown delivers the tools to do so, especially if you have a buddy to co-op with. I was looking forward to a richer, more well-developed sequel, but Realtime Worlds has announced that none will be forthcoming. That's a shame, because despite its glaring problems, Crackdown is an important game that will be informing game designers for some time to come.

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