Plus, of course, supply points are usually pretty high up. And this is where the game starts to get a bit tangential, on account of all its moreish distractions. It's not like GTA, where a lack of imagination led to the enforcement of dull rituals like visiting the gym and protecting territory. You don't have to babysit the supply points once you've claimed them. Crackdown never distracts you with anything that isn't fun. Hopping between rooftops is desirable because it also allows you to hunt for "Agility Orbs". There are 500 in the game, and some of them are very difficult to reach. Leaping is also something you do in rooftop races - superhero parkour that has you prancing all over the skyline against the clock. And of course climbing all over the city is also fun because it's just fun. The freedom itself is liberating. Every review you read will point out that you can climb the Agency Tower, which is immense, but that shouldn't demean the experience of doing so. It's a thrilling climb, and a fantastic, extraordinary visual pay-off.
Crackdown is certainly no technical slouch, and nothing demonstrates this like the tower's summit. Screenshots bring the game's relatively low-detail, cel-shaded graphical style into sharp focus, but first-hand exposure reveals an incredibly solid frame rate, unprecedented draw distance, an amazing volume of NPCs whose design, behaviour and animation can't be called into question, along with a lighting system that cycles the days happily alongside your quest for justice. In other words, I'd be surprised if there was disappointment, although if I encountered someone who found it so, I would probably just pat them on the back consolingly with a limpet mine, leap 400 metres in the opposite direction and press the "detonate" button.
It's a tactic of which I'm fond. Sadly, falling back on the same tricks is also rather effective in the bulk of boss encounters. Each of the game's crime lords lurks within a beefy looking fortress, with intel that hints at weak points and multiple entrances, but this isn't your new Deus Ex. You can sometimes sidestep defences by going for a swim, or climbing over rooftops, as opposed to going in the front all-guns-blazing, but the defences you encounter are fairly uniform: masses of enemies who need to be locked onto and shot, while you strafe in and out of visible firing lines and eventually take down a five-health-bar boss. There are occasional variations - alarms that you should try and avoid letting the enemy sound, or switch panels you have to blow up to flush your prey into the open - but otherwise it's a grind. The most entertaining of the 21 encounters are those you can superhumanly circumvent, either by sprinting through ranks of enforcers into areas they cannot follow you, or by sneaking round the back and playing "hide the limpet".
It's hard to know exactly how much to complain here, because while slightly prosaic none is offputtingly so. You may fall foul a few times, but you could always try a slightly different approach, or change your weapon loadout, or go off and upgrade your stats, or attempt a different boss. And the odds are always stacked in your favour anyway: you are The Incredible Filth. And victory is sweet. This is, after all, a game where you can angrily announce that you're going to kick a boss-woman's tits off, before not only roundhousing her to death but then using her limp body to batter the remaining minions about the face. Still, it feels as though the relative banality of the kingpin combat is what stands between Crackdown and true greatness.
You can't stay mad at it, though. Indeed, I never got mad the first time. This is simply stuff Kristan complained about, quite reasonably, when we played some co-op over the weekend. And that leads us onto another reason to kick those complaints off the tops of buildings: Crackdown is a join-whenever-you-like, full campaign co-op Live game, in the same vein as Gears of War, except - as is its wont - completely freeform. Kristan wants to kill one of the bosses. I would rather juggle enemies with rockets to get my Explosives stat up. So we play the same game, without playing together, occasionally calling the other to show them something, or to check what they're up to. Or to stick a limpet mine on their back. There are countless achievements - which, for once, feel entirely at home within the extremely gamey setting - along with even more numerable collectibles, and sometimes it's just fun to sort of, you know, "jam". To play drug-dealer tennis, or to see if you can land on your friend's head by leaping off the Agency Tower.
It's tempting to describe Crackdown in terms of GTA, and it's hardly surprising that the marketing people are keen on that ("GTA? You mean the one that's sold 50 million copies? How dare you?"), but it feels like they approach the same free-roam concept from different corners. Crackdown is more like Naughty Dog's Jak II approach: we're videogame characters, wouldn't it be fun if we had a whole city to play with? Within this construct, things like minor control niggles (you can't cycle between locked-on targets) and the occasional glitch (co-op is sometimes tricky to get going, and some boss sections fail to trigger properly online, meaning you end up running around empty venues, bizarrely) are trivialities. It's telling that the biggest complaint I have is that you're reliant on those Achievement Unlocked notifications to tally up your kills and feats, with no GTA-style stats page to call upon. Think about it: I'm upset with Crackdown because I can't examine how much fun I'm having in periscopic detail.
It's also rather short. I blasted merrily through everything central to the game in a day, and mopped up most of the rest by the end of a weekend. Being able to pick and leap into any of your friends' or even complete strangers' cities is likely to keep that buzz going though, as will the Time Trials (beat bosses quickly), the wealth of sub-achievements, and the prospect of downloadable content, some of which we know will be free.
In other words, being so excellent that you obliterate the single-player in a weekend is not enough to stop it being my favourite Xbox 360 game of recent times. You should definitely buy it, because, on this evidence, waiting for Grand Theft Auto IV would be rather daft. This is what it should do anyway.