Crackdown Hands-on Preview

The Xbox 360 has been home to many games that do nothing more than fulfill a niche fancy — following release, these games become the "flavor of the month," so to speak, and would be loved just long enough for the next big game to arrive. There have, however, been exceptions, and it looks like another game is going to be added to that list of exceptions with the release of Crackdown. It consists of what has become a run-of-the-mill genre, with its GTA-inspired, open-world sandbox gameplay, but Crackdown incorporates a variety of features that haven’t been seen in this type of game before, with the end result looking like it will be nothing short of extraordinary fun. Taking on the role of a bionic superhero-like secret agent, you’ll set out as one of the good guys in order to protect Pacific City.

As soon as the game appears on screen, you’ll notice that it isn’t sporting the traditional, mildly-realistic looking graphics that GTA and other clones usually do. Instead, you have a cross between realism and cel-shading, resulting in a stunning effect which can only be compared to the look of a graphic novel. The deep, bold borders give everything a very cartoon-esque feel, yet at the same time the phenomenal animation and artwork will leave you wondering if you’re looking at a nighttime picture of a real city. There are games that consist of a certain art style which makes it difficult to be impressed by screenshots; Crackdown is the screaming epitome of this. Gears of War was celebrated for its incredible, like like graphics. Crackdown has this same effect, but on a different scale. It’s like your dreams of a cartoon come to life.

A technical problem that plagues the genre is draw distance, and by extension, pop-up. While cruising through the streets of Vice City or San Andreas, things in the far distance are unseen. In Crackdown, nearly the entire city (which is absolutely huge) can be seen from the rooftops of tall buildings. This is especially impressive at night, when the city becomes infested with neon lights that are a feast for the eyes.

Thanks to effectively being a superhero, you’ll have ample opportunities to view the city from the rooftops. While your character starts off as an above-average crimefighter, employing his abilities (strength, firearms, driving, explosives and agility) will cause him to level up like you would in an RPG. As your skills increase, you’ll find yourself more proficient in each of the areas. You’ll be able to pick up larger objects such as cars, targeting enemies will be much quicker and easier, new features in vehicles will become available, you’ll run faster and jump higher and so on. The one exception to this is agility, which increases by collecting orbs scattered throughout Pacific City. While being unable to use a car’s special abilities because your character can’t find the button to push is pretty lame, leveling up your character is a nice addition — it certainly works much better than the tacked-on San Andreas system.

The superhero aspect adds a tremendous amount of replay and fun; spontaneously deciding to pick up a car, throw it, and then blow it up in mid-air with a series of rockets is more rewarding than words can describe. An even cooler scenario is when you cause a huge traffic jam, and then proceed to blow up one car which consequently blows up another, and another, and another until they’ve all collectively blown up, causing them to fly into the air in an amazing dance of swirling fireballs and explosions. Beautiful.

Personally, my favorite thing to do in Crackdown is to take advantage of the aforementioned agility orbs that can increase the height you’re able to jump. Collect enough orbs, and suddenly leaping from rooftop to rooftop becomes something more tangible than memories of The Matrix. When you fall from a high distance, you’ll even dent the ground (or car, should one be unlucky enough to be underneath you) on impact. It’s the little details like this that compliment all of the roof jumping and car throwing perfectly, making it an easy task to become immersed in the game.

You’re free to wander aimlessly, leveling up your character and generally wreaking havoc, but there are also missions that help to provide some structure to the game. They clearly take a backseat to all of the action, though, which some may find as a shortcoming. Missions are essentially "go here, kill this person" affairs, although there is more to the simple premise than that. Pacific City is home to three gangs, each consisting of six generals and one kingpin. Each general controls a different aspect of his or her gang’s business, such as information or weapons. Take out that person, and that gang will find themselves with a major deficiency in that area. But this is a double-edged sword, because if you take out the weapons general, then you won’t find top-notch weapons on the gang members you eliminate. The ultimate goal is to take out each gang’s kingpin, which will help to rid the city of crime.

Story isn’t strongly emphasized in Crackdown, which is another component that has duality to it. Gamers expecting a strong, organized campaign — like those typically found in a GTA title — will be sorely disappointed. But the absence of a heavy story allows for the average player to pick up the game and enjoy wandering aimlessly more than in GTA. The city’s construction lends itself to climbing up the side of buildings and then leaping around, finding things in the most obscure of places. The simple mission structure also means you don’t need to worry about fulfilling all sorts of goals as you play through that aspect of the game. It also leaves plenty of freedom to be had when you head into co-op mode.

Co-op play over Xbox Live is one of the most fun experiences to be had, anywhere. You can join a game already in progress (assuming that the game is allowing someone to join) and immediately hop into the fray. Progress in the game itself goes according to the host’s saved game, but the second player can save the experience he or she gains. While you’re free to attack missions with two players, there are no apparent restrictions on where you can go or what you can do — your partner can be on the opposite side of the city, collecting orbs, while you jump into a firefight that has busted out in the middle of the street between police and gang members. Killing one another is perfectly fine, too (nothing beats a game of tag when the sky is the limit). The only complaint I had at any point with the multiplayer component is the absolutely terrible interface for finding and joining games.

Fundamentally, the game is very sound. The aiming system works quite well. Pull the left trigger, and you lock onto an enemy; the longer you wait before firing the better your accuracy. With a flick of the right analog stick, you can target specific body parts (or car parts, should you be aiming at a car) which causes different results. For example, you’ll kill them immediately in the case of a head shot, prevent them from moving if you hit a leg and make it difficult to handle a car if you take out a tire. While it works extremely well, you’ll find yourself accidentally targeting corpses or enemies in the distance instead of one that is standing just a few feet away.

Whether you decide to pick up the game for a Halo 3 beta invite or for the game itself, it’s hard to go wrong with Crackdown. Anyone worried that this is a subpar game and that Microsoft decided to pack in the beta invite because of that can rest assured — this has all the makings of a great title. Fans of the genre and gamers in general would be doing themselves a great disservice if they decide to look past Crackdown when it’s released on February 20.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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