It's still brilliant. It really is. And on Xbox One X, Crackdown is even better than you remember it. The 2007 classic scales up wonderfully to 4K resolution, but the biggest takeaway here is that, remarkably, the gameplay still holds up - it's still utterly superb. I picked up the game exactly where I left off - with a tooled up, maxed-out Agent ready to take on the final gang left in the game, the villainous Shai-Gen. What happened next is Crackdown at its best: absolute carnage on the streets of Pacific City, urban warfare on a simply spectacular scale. It is - quite possibly - the best Ł1.50 I've ever spent on a game.
Yes, Ł1.50. Therein lies a secondary joy of Xbox One X enhanced gaming - tracking down a reasonably priced physical copy of the original game, my 360 collection having been lent out or (shamefully) lost over the last decade. In the case of Crackdown, noted UK used game specialists CEX came up trumps with 360 copies priced extremely favourably compared to the cost of a Starbucks coffee. With an eye towards the inevitable comparisons required of a Digital Foundry project, I bought both copies in the store.
I returned to Crackdown with some degree of concern - principally because I loved the original Xbox 360 game but did worry that it had aged badly, that the open world action would fall flat nine years on and that the visuals wouldn't suit a 4K screen. On the latter count, I needn't have worried - the original game always had a distinct style, and the bump from native 720p to full 4K complements the art beautifully. The X-enhanced technique of forcing the highest quality mip maps reveals that the original textures were relatively simple in keeping with the cel-shaded style of the game, but detailed enough to the point where they don't look bad on a 4K screen.
Deficiencies in the original presentation are helpfully addressed too: 16x anisotropic filtering helps resolve soupy ground textures in particular, while the low resolution alpha transparency effects that dominated Crackdown's explosive effects are also significantly improved. They run at 40 per cent of full res, giving us a 1536x846 pixel count vs the 3840x2160 overall resolution. In the heat of the action, the jumbo-sized pixels we saw on Xbox 360 whenever an explosion intersects with geometry aren't much on an issue on the X enhanced version. The game is crisp and clean, with little in the way of obvious blemishes when rendered with a framebuffer utilising over eight million pixels.
Performance is an interesting topic - going back to the dawn of time on our YouTube channel, we carried out some stress tests where we piled on the pyrotechniques to bring Crackdown to its knees on Xbox 360. Replicating these exact tests in a repeatable fashion on Xbox One X would have been impossible, which is why I bought both of those physics discs from CEX - we'd run our tests over Xbox Live, and we'd rope in John Linneman with his own copy of the game for a three-way 360 vs Xbox One vs X showdown.
However, the game-breaking stutter we found running the game over Live (accompanied by a clear hit to input lag on top of that) was clearly not indicative of actual performance, so we dropped back to system link. Again, this didn't work via a router, but hooking up 360 to X with a basic LAN cable worked just fine, and we quickly discovered that where we were GPU-limited, Xbox One X in 4K graphics mode with all of its additional enhancements offers a smoother, tear-free output compared to the Xbox 360 original. But in our most explosive moments, both systems dropped to nigh-on identical frame-rates - it seems that the host/client netcode Crackdown uses effectively limits performance to the CPU limits of the host machine (which in this case was Xbox One X).
Xbox One X can still drops frames in the most intense scenes but it's a pretty decent turnout overall, and for those looking for the smoothest frame-rates, there is a potential route forward via the new performance mode. This strips away all of the graphical enhancements and pours resources towards a closer lock to a game's target frame-rate - in this case, 30fps. The truth is, of all the X-enhanced 360 titles to date, none of them have shown much improvement, making the visual downgrade a trade we simply can't recommend. Crackdown, however, does show some uplift to frame-rates in our tests when two X units battle it out over system link. However, once again, the biggest bangs - and by extension, the biggest stutters - are entirely uniform between both machines. Performance mode does show a measurable improvement here in some scenarios, but again, not enough to warrant losing the beautiful native 4K output.
Ultimately, Crackdown on Xbox One X delivers a markedly improved result for a classic game but with the overhead of the emulation layer in effect, we still don't have the CPU power to run the game entirely locked to its 30fps target. What you are getting is the same experience but improved in many ways: it scales beautifully to a 4K screen (and similar to Forza Horizon, some of the HUD elements seem to be native), it addresses some of the visual compromises and it runs more smoothly with no tearing.
But the core essence of the game - the physics-based destruction, the open world exploration, the character progression - it's just as compelling as it was so long ago. This isn't the most realistic open world of the last generation but it's arguably one of the most fun, and in that sense, the Xbox One X enhanced version of Crackdown does precisely the job that was intended - it reminds you of how good the original formula is, to the point where you can't help but wonder just what Microsoft has lined up for Crackdown 3, due later this year. After a session with this, you can't help but want that game. What we want is a proper sequel to the original that gets what it's all about, that uses the power of the current-gen machines to take this incredible formula to the next level.
But this X-enhanced release also raises the expectation level immensely. Crackdown is one of the most criminally overlooked franchises in video game history, with Microsoft taking years to green-light a sequel before giving Ruffian Games a highly compressed development period within which to deliver a sequel that didn't hit the target. And worryingly, we've not actually seen that much of Crackdown 3, with last E3's trailer seemingly shifting the focus away from the the fundamentals that made the original game so good. Whatever happens, we now have a lovely, improved version of the Xbox 360 classic, but the pressure is now even more intense for Crackdown 3 to fully deliver.