Crackdown Reader Review
GTA: Incredible Hulk Meets Judge Dredd Hyper Parody
Free form exploration games. A group of games that not until recently, have exploded onto the gaming scene. Grand Theft Auto III on the PS2 was the first game to establish the concept, and showcase the idea of exploring a big 3D world to the console gaming masses. Another two games after GTA3, and it looked like nobody would ever dare challenge GTA for the title of best sandbox game. Until Mercenaries came out in the later half of the Xbox and PS2's lifespan. Whilst it never received the same amount of popularity as any of the GTA games, it was proof that not only Rockstar games could develop a really good sandbox game. Years after Mercenaries release, we now see a lot of new games that try and experiment with the formula the GTA series originally established, with games like Just Cause, Saints Row coming out on a regular basis, we'll see a lot more of these type of games in the near future. The latest attempt at the sandbox genre though, comes from the original brainchild of the GTA & Lemmings series, with the help of his Scotland based gaming studio, Real Time Worlds, and with funding from Microsoft Game Studios. The game? Crackdown.
Crackdown doesn't beat around the bush with a complicated story involving multiple characters with a deep back story, instead Crackdown tells a simple story about you, a genetically enhanced supercop being dispatched by an organization called "The Agency" to clean up a group of islands that fall under the name of "Pacific City". The city is owned, and ran by three groups of gangs, and you're the agencies last hope in finishing the job that The Agency's police force never finished. All of this story is presented through some neat comic book stills, with a little bit of narrative thrown in too. Nice and simple. Now, onto the gameplay...
Those of you who are familiar with any of the previous Grand Theft Auto games should feel right at home when booting up the game. The basic foundations are all there, cosmetic things such as the world map, and the radar, are all present in Crackdown, and you'll have no problem using them to navigate your way around the island. Outside of the general concept, some loosely related gameplay elements, and cosmetic similarities, the comparisons end here. Crackdown throws you straight into the action after you leave the games main hub, literally. You'll shoot a few gang members, blow up a few barrels and cars, and then you'll be free to do whatever you want. Explore the city, take on a few bad guys, do a few menial tasks, or just goof around, it's entirely up to you.
Which brings us to the first, and most noticeable feature of Crackdown. You can tackle any of the games missions, and challenges in any order that you wish. Whilst the GTA games boast a lot of side-questions, and mini-games to do whilst following the main story, the games have never allowed you to tackle any of the games main missions in whatever order you want to. Due to the limitations that a storyline brings to the tables, but Crackdowns minimalist story makes for a much less linear experience. You can go to any of the three islands, and tackle any of the games 21 crime bosses, that lay waiting in many of Pacific Cities biggest buildings, and landmarks. It's a welcome change of pace from other games in the same genre, and it may leave you thinking why other games don't offer this sort of freedom of choice. This refreshing take on the sandbox genre just would not simply work if there isn't any decent gameplay to back it up. Luckily, Crackdowns core gameplay is very well done. Think of it as Grand Theft Auto, & Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, fused into one with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure.
Being a supercop, you'd naturally assume you would have some pretty awesome skills right out the gate right? Well, in Crackdown, you're going to have to work for these powers. Right at the start, you'll find that your character really doesn't excel much in anything, except being able to jump just a little bit higher than any regular human. This is where the RPG elements fall into place. You see, your characters skills are split into 5 different categories, Agility; which governs the speed which you run at, and the height and distance you can jump, Strength governs what things you can throw, and how hard you can pummel your enemies, Marksmanship, (obviously) governs how accurate you are with weapons, your explosive skills govern how effective your explosive are in power, and range, and your driving skills govern how well you can handle civilian vehicles, and agency vehicles. Pretty straightforward stuff, but what's even more straightforward is the way you go around getting better at each of these five skills. The most common way of increasing your Driving, Explosives, Strength, & Marksmanship is by killing as many gang members that litter the streets with the required skill in order to level up. For example, mowing down gangs with vehicles will give your driving skills a boost, and killing gangs with explosives increases your explosive skills, it a neat system and it encourages a lot of dedication, and playtime with the game without complicating things too much, the simplicity of the levelling up system blends well with the games primary focus on mindless action. Good stuff.
The only skill that may take a bit longer to level up than all of the other skills is your agility and seeing as you can't really kill anybody just by running really fast into them, or jumping on them, RTW dotted 500 green orbs around the city, and surprisingly, the task of finding all 500 of these orbs really is the meat of the main game, despite being given the task of taking out 21 crime bosses. These little green orbs of light are anywhere, and absolutely everywhere, and it's your job to find and collect all of them. Whilst the concept of finding hundreds of glowing orbs may seem like a rather dull objective, Crackdown actually makes such a dull, and meaningless task, fun! You'll only roughly need about 200-300 of these orbs to max out your agility, but as you level up your agility higher, and higher you may think to yourself "I wonder of I could climb that building" or "I wonder if I could leap this chasm". Maxing out your agility skills should be everybody's first priority, as it really opens the game up. You may just find yourself mindlessly exploring each nook and cranny for these stupid spherical orbs, instead of tackling any of the games main missions, it's that damn addictive. You may question yourself at times whether collecting hundreds of these things really is necessary,but before your brain can respond with a logical response to your question, you'll find yet another building that needs scaling, and hopefully, another orb to collect while you're up there. The fact that RTW dotted an extra 300 "hidden" orbs around Pacific City doesn't make dragging yourself away from such an addictive task any easier.
It's a good thing that collecting orbs is such an addictive task too, because outside of jumping around the city, and taking out the cities crime bosses, there really isn't that much to do. Whilst infiltrating each crime bosses hideout, and taking them out is fun enough, there just simply isn't enough meat to each of these missions to help stop people from completing the main campaign in less than a day. And whilst there are on-foot race events, and driving events, there aren't many of them to hold your interest either, and for the most part, they're incredibly easy to complete. With the lack of any real substance to Crackdown, it's strange that the game has so much lasting appeal, where there really shouldn't be any at all. It's all thanks to Crackdown's uncanny ability to take one really good thing, and do it so well that it manages to keep you entertained for hours on end. What there is to do in the game is fun, and addicting, but you may find yourself thinking why Real Time Worlds didn't add more meat to the main game.
The most glaring omission Real Time Worlds made with Crackdown though, is the lack of any option to play through the campaigns main quest again with full stats. You see, in order to play through all the bosses again you have to delete your original save data, and start a new file. For all those people who spent such a long time building up there character this may be a bit of a turnoff, as Crackdown is one of those games that begs to be played over and over again, because its so much fun, fighting all the crime bosses, and collecting all the orbs again with full stats could've been so much fun, but the lack of any feature to do so may seriously hurt the overall lifespan of Crackdown for a lot of folk. There's a Time Trial where you can fight all the bosses again, but tackling them in short bursts just doesn't feel as satisfying as it does first time through the game.
Crackdown does boast a rather fun online co-op component though. It's a neat feature, as jumping around the city and taking out gangs with your friends is even more fun with a friend than it is on your lonesome. But much like the offline portion of the game, the lack of being able to play through the whole game with full stats again may only limit you to a few sessions of Crackdown with a friend, because, as soon as you've both cleaned up the city, there really isn't that much to do except go your separate ways and finish the tasks which the game requires you to do on your lonesome. A shame.
What is your major malfunction Agent?!
What little there is in Crackdown though, reeks of quality. The city not only looks great, but the way each and every building and structure is designed so you can scale every single one of them really makes you wonder how much time, and effort Real Time Worlds put into the world of Crackdown, it's a testament to just how imaginative developers really can be with these type of games. Other developers would do well to study the design ideas Real Time Worlds came up with when developing Crackdown. They could learn a thing or two.
Visually, Crackdown may be a Love/Hate experience for many people. The game has this really strange cell-shaded vibe about it, but it's a lot more subtle than the likes of say, Jet Set Radio, or XIII. It's bizarre really. When close up to any building or object in Crackdown, you can see the bold, black lines, and flat textures that cell-shading is so well know for, but at a distance, things don't look Cell-shaded at all. It's a strange style, but it works really well, giving it a comic book style, and feel that games like XIII have done in the past, although less blatant. Some lovely explosions, and special effects Crackdown a treat for the eyes. The fact that the game only ever needs to load the game world once, and that the draw distance borders on non-existent is a testament to just how efficient Crackdown's visual style is when it comes to performance too.
The audio for the most part is great, meaty explosions, and gun noises back up the action packed gameplay perfectly, and the soundtrack, whilst not as varied as the likes of Vice City, has a fair selection of really good tunes. Atlas Plus' tracks in particular being a few of the best tracks that Crackdown's soundtrack has to offer. One glaring flaw though, is the Agency contact who keeps contact with you throughout the whole game, some of the things he says just seems so out of place at times. One example being if you look at say, a brick wall, the Agency contact will sometimes say "Best view in the City" even though there's nothing to even see in front of you. There are plenty of these moments in the game, and you'll often wonder what the hell the developers where thinking when coding his chatter into the game.
And the final verdict?
Crackdown is a strange breed of game. There's hardly anything to do outside of collecting orbs, the main missions have next to no replay value after you complete them, and the lack of an option to start the whole game again with full stats is just downright annoying, yet Crackdown keeps you sat in front of the TV for hours just by doing a few small things, and doing them well. Running around as a supercop with the ability to leap huge distances, scale normally unclimbable heights, and blow up, pick up, and throw almost everyone, and everything that gets in you way is insane fun. Combine this with the simple, yet oddly addicting task of collecting orbs, and some really good co-op support and you have a great balls out action game, with some great ideas. Don't skimp on the meat next time though Real Time Worlds, there's so much more potential to improve on what is already, a really good game.
8 / 10