Crackdown Review

While initially pegged as nothing more than "that game that comes with the Halo 3 beta," a recent demo and positive press have helped to at least give Crackdown a chance in many gamers’ homes. It offers a very unique and extremely fun take on the sandbox genre, which has been severely lacking innovation for quite some time now. It takes some leaps — both in terms of visual style and gameplay — and the end result is, for the most part, a success.

Most sandbox outings rely heavily on story; The Godfather rode on the coattails of its big screen brother, Saints Row stuck you in the middle of a good, old fashioned gang war, and each Grand Theft Auto title has had a solid plot behind it. (Well, except for the first two games with the top-down camera view.) Crackdown sprinkles in a story so that the action isn’t completely mindless, but it fails for the most part. Pacific City has been overrun by three rival gangs, and a last-ditch effort to eliminate them comes in the form of The Agency. Intel videos are shoved down your throat each time you learn of a new enemy location or one is eliminated, giving you some plot background. Sound lame? It is.

Luckily, the action makes up for the story in a big way. Simply put, Crackdown features some of the biggest explosions, highest jumps and most intense gunfights you’ll ever experience in a video game.

Targeting can be done in two ways: either by moving the right analog stick (a very imprecise method, but effective enough for short-range gunfights) or by holding the left trigger to lock onto an enemy. Once locked onto a target, you can fire away, or wait for your targeting reticule to become smaller, indicating greater accuracy. Additionally, you’re given the option of flicking the right analog stick in a direction to target a specific body part — head, arms and legs. By firing at one of these specific areas, you get the obvious effect of a quick kill, dropped weapon or restricted movement. At its most basic level, the system works extremely well and is the best targeting system you’ll find in any sandbox game. It does, however, suffer from some flaws. Targeting and attempting to fire while standing near a ledge will cause your character to swing his weapon for a melee attack, even if your target is hundreds of yards away. Quite frequently you’ll also find yourself targeting less threatening enemies first (ones in the far distance wielding pistols) as opposed to the guy employing a rocket launcher five feet in front of you. Other times, you’ll target corpses before actual enemies — it’s both frustrating and bewildering, to the extreme.

A basic, RPG-like skills system is used in Crackdown. Basically, by using your different skills (strength, driving, firearms and explosives), you earn points that level that skill up. The higher your level in that particular skill, the more proficient you are in the relevant activities (picking up larger things, cars’ handling increases, guns are more accurate, explosions are more volatile). The fifth skill your character can level up is agility, which controls both your speed and the height you’re able to jump. But instead of improving through usage, agility increases as you collect agility orbs, which are scattered atop the rooftops throughout Pacific City. The skill system works quite well, and the payoff for leveling is readily apparent. When your character is suddenly capable of lifting huge trucks over his head, you’ll be glad you put that time into upgrading your strength skill.

As I pointed out in a recent preview, the ability to leap from rooftop to rooftop and to scale buildings is one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had in a game. Once your agility rating is at its peak, traversing the city while remaining solely on top of buildings is a breeze. But even as you work your way up to that point, it’s just pure satisfaction when you realize, "Hey, I can jump a little higher now and can make it up to that ledge. I wonder what’s up there."

Crackdown’s graphics are simply stunning. A mixture between cel-shading and the cartoony realism seen in GTA, it’s truly a sight to behold. It’s really the type of game that cannot be done justice through screenshots, and has to be played to experience it fully — whether it’s on an HDTV or standard-def, the game looks great. Thanks to the stylization, there can be dozens upon dozens of cars, enemies and bullets populating the screen at the same time. Explosions are absolutely massive and beautiful looking; chain reactions are easily created, making a single exploding car lead to an entire block of mayhem and destruction.

The game can be played on your own or cooperatively through Xbox Live, which is a seamless and fun experience. When playing solo, you can open your game up so that anyone can join, or filter it so that only your friends or people you invite are able to hop into the city. The host of the game continues with his or her game, with the ability to save any progress made. The player that joins doesn’t get any benefit from actually completing missions, but any experience, skill points, or orbs collected are saved. The two players simply play through the normal game; nothing changes, aside from the fact that races take longer to begin so that both players can easily join in.

Initially it seemed that in a game where the two characters didn’t have comparable skill levels, things would be too unbalanced to play. It actually what works out well, as one player can act as a big brother of sorts to the other, helping to access places that would otherwise prove troublesome. For instance, a friend of mine needed to board a boat but wasn’t able to jump onto the deck. So I told him to get into a truck, and I proceeded to pick it up and throw it up on the deck, and then joined him a moment later.

While there’s no system built into the game for fighting your partner, it is possible to shoot at each other. Another cool situation had me in a rooftop race against a friend, who was sporting a superior character. I caught up with him, and managed to kick him down onto the ground below, allowing me to finish first. Cheap? Yes. Rewarding? Oh yeah.

To be fair, Crackdown does suffer from its share of problems. While solid, the framerate will randomly drop significantly, even if nothing unusual is occurring on screen. Joining a friend’s game over Xbox Live is unintuitive, since there isn’t much in the way of an indication that you’re attempting to join — you might just be sitting in the menu or playing your own game, and once he or she accepts your join request, the game saves and closes on its own. And from time to time, cars and enemies will disappear for no apparent reason — sometimes right before your eyes.

Every game — especially sandbox titles — suffers from bugs, so a few gripes aren’t enough to drag down an otherwise solid title. But there are two fundamental problems with Crackdown that act as severe detriments. First, there’s the simply idiotic AI; it’s the sort of stupidity that makes you grind your teeth and scream at your TV, controller or other convenient inanimate object. More times than I can count, I threw a grenade next to a group of enemies and watched them hold their ground. Other situations where I was destroying everything that moved saw them do essentially the same thing — why aren’t they running away or at least trying to avoid my rocket launcher? Perhaps the most utterly stupid action comes in the form of enemies’ complete lack of any desire to move out of the way of a slow-moving car. While it doesn’t sound like much of a threat, in Crackdown it’s enough to take out an enemy. You’d think they would realize that after I run over four of the five members of the group, but nope — number five is going to hold his ground against my car, too.

The other major problem is that the focal point of the game — taking out key gang members — is the same exact formula of "go here, kill this person" again and again. With 21 total bosses to eliminate, there was plenty of room for simple objectives like this as well as more elaborate tasks, but each and every "mission" — if you can call them that — is composed of the same process. It’s ultimately very formulaic and can get tedious after the first dozen or so.

Despite the repetitive nature of the core game, being able to scale rooftops and blow everything to smithereens is more than enough to compensate for these problems. Sure, driving isn’t much fun until you’re a high level and the game is downright cheap at times, but this is a unique, one-of-a-kind experience. Whether it comes with the Halo 3 beta invite or not, Crackdown is well worth your hard-earned cash.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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