Crackdown brings the Smackdown
Crackdown has been a long time in coming. Lauded almost every time it’s mentioned as the game being made by one of the creators of Grand Theft Auto, Crackdown has been talked about almost since the beginning of the Xbox 360’s life. With so much hype surrounding this title, can it possibly live up to the hype surrounding it? The verdict is in, and while Crackdown doesn’t do anything revolutionary or fantastic for games, it is a fun and mindless experience for action junkies.
Crackdown is the story of Pacific City, a fictional town that has been overrun by gang violence. The citizens of Pacific City are both terrified and powerless, and the police force can’t contain the powerful organized gangs. Their last hope lies in The Agency, a program which has used genetic engineering to create a super-cop to combat Pacific City’s criminal underworld. This is actually more than you need to know to play the game, since Crackdown has almost no emphasis on story at all. The nameless protagonist(s) have no personality at all, with no voice acting, no dialogue, and no character. From the pedestrians to the street gangs, the only person infused with any life is the stiff, movie-voice announcer, who can become annoying after the fiftieth time he tells you “Skills for Kills!”
The protagonist in Crackdown is the aforementioned super-powered cop with the ability to gradually upgrade his abilities. This super-cop can become stronger, more agile, a better marksman, a better driver, and better with explosives. All of these abilities grow with effective use, though it usually requires the death of a gang member. When killed, gang members expel orbs that increase the player’s talent in whatever skill killed him. When the hero defeats a gang member with a kick, he gains strength orbs, and when he kills a gang member with a gun, he gains marksman skills. This allows you to increase whatever skills they are most comfortable with. The agility skill is unique in that it can only be upgraded by finding agility orbs that are usually perched on rooftops and other hard to reach places, requiring the agent to leap and scale buildings to obtain.
The fun in Crackdown comes from the freedom that the game offers. The game is divided into three areas, and each area is controlled by one of three different gangs. Each gang has bosses that must be taken out, and then a big boss that must be assassinated to regain control of that area. Each boss that is eliminated makes the final boss more accessible, as each boss is responsible for some area of the criminal organization. Taking out one boss, for instance, might limit the gang’s selection of weaponry, while taking out another boss might make the gang members less hardy. However, you can choose to tackle the final boss whenever you like. The player can go after whatever gang they choose and take on the bosses in whatever order that they choose, even if they choose to attack the final boss first. The game gives the player that much freedom, although the announcer will give you a probability warning if you attempt something unlikely.
In addition to the freedom, Crackdown also rewards you for playing. It is indescribably fun to be able to leap from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of criminals, or to plow through car in your Trucker. Leveling up in the game is well done, rewarding just enough in each upgrade to keep you entertained. The leveling is also done in good increments, not rewarding you too swiftly or making you work too hard.
Crackdown, while a great, mindless fun experience, also has a number of elements that could have been done better. Driving and racing in the game aren’t fun or rewarding enough, especially considering that the protagonist can leap insanely high and run pretty fast. It becomes more fun to travel on foot than in a car, which can become a liability, especially when the races drag on for so long with dozens of checkpoints. The enemy AI isn’t great either, with stupid foes that will still charge you after they’ve seen you punt ten of their buddies into low orbit.
The visuals in Crackdown are pretty good, with a cartoonish look that fits with the fantastic things that the agent is able to do. The draw distance in the game is incredible too, allowing the player to see far off into the distance without any problems. There were times when I simply climbed to the top of a tall building and surveyed my surroundings to find the next likely location of a gang boss, and it is impressive that the game allows you to do that.