Crackdown (360) – Review

Crackdown - CoverTying a full game to the chance to beta test the highly anticipated Halo 3 may seem like a cheap marketing tactic by Microsoft in order to push Crackdown, but the game itself is much more than just a free Halo 3 ticket. It’s a well done take on the open world genre, focusing much less on missions and instead giving the player an incentive to build up their character’s abilities in order to do more amazing feats within the game, with a pacing in this buildup rather critical to keeping the game interesting throughout the entire main plot. While it’s certainly not perfect, it’s definitely a title that should hopefully inspire similar styles of open gameplay in future games.

Story: B

Sometime in the near future, the metropolis of Pacific City is taken over by three criminal gangs, dividing the territory between themselves for their own illegal gain. With the local law enforcement overwhelmed and the population unable to resist, a group called “The Agency” sends in their freshest talent to tackle the problem. With technology-enhanced abilities, is the sheer fighting power of one man enough to bring down the gang kingpins and win back the city?

Gameplay: A

The gameplay in Crackdown is a combination of the open-world elements of the Grand Theft Auto series, along with some random chaos as might come from a game like State of Emergency. As an Agent, your job is to patrol the streets and taking down the three crime rings that inhabit Pacific City. Each ring has a leader, and then a number of bosses underneath that leader. While you could waltz in and try to take out the top guy right away, that’s usually rather dangerous, as taking out the subordinates will weaken some aspects of the boss (for example, taking out a recruitment officer will prevent the boss from having as many spawnable underlings for you to fight through). Of course, that’s not the only thing that will help.

The game gives your character 5 skills to develop; athletics, strength, driving, explosions, and firearms. There’s 5 possible skill levels in each (indicated by 0 to 4 stars). As you perform actions that result in a death of any hostile gang member, you’re credited with orbs that slowly build your stats. As you get 100 ‘points’ (not necessarily equal to a single orb), you’ll automatically gain the star for that stat and your ability in that area is increased; with increases in strength, you can pick up larger objects and throw them farther, while explosions improve the damage that such weapons do and the amount of splash damage they can cause. The only ability that varies from this is athletics, since this can’t be really used to kill a person; instead, you get your skills improved by exploring the rooftops of the city and locating special ability orbs that are scattered about in the highest places. As you gain the ability to jump higher and run faster as you collect these, you become faced with much more impressive jumps and locations that you need to travel to as to continue building up your stats. Additionally, you can gain more athletics and driving skill through special races set about in the towns.

As you start the game, you’ll find you need to unlock supply points throughout the city; these locations are where you can take new guns you’ve found as to add them permanently to your arsenal, restock on ammo or select different weapons, and also you can travel between any opened supply point that you’ve unlocked. Death isn’t the end of the game, as you’ll be able to select which supply point you’d like to return to, though you’ll have lost some orbs and any new weapons you may have gains. As you approach strongholds for the bosses and their subordinates, which are initially unknown to you, you’ll get word of some intel on the nearby criminal, and then the spot becomes permanently marked on your map, so that if you die, you can figure out the best spot to start to minimize the traveling distance between the supply point and the hideout.

Crackdown - ScreenshotOf course, the criminal element isn’t so secretive. Roving gangs are always out to get you, particularly if you raise the hackles of the gang to high levels, at which point they send out their hit squads. Once these gangs start getting muddied up in the rest of the crowd of regular citizens of the city, you’ll need to use caution in dealing with them, lest you harm the civilians. If you do too much harm to the gentlefolk of the city, you’ll find the regular cops on your tail as well. You have a Halo-like shield and limited health, so by finding a place to hide, you’ll be able to regenerate your health as well as cool any heat that’s on you presently. A questionable decision is the fact that once you’ve killed off all the bosses in the gang, no more members of that gang show up – it can make for getting already the familiar haunts rather easy but also makes it somewhat more difficult to gain experience since you’ve got no easy targets to go after. Once you’ve beaten the game, you do have the option to play with the criminal element back on (though with the bosses defeated) as to complete the rest of the Achievements for the game.

Value/Replayability: B+

With a total of 6 bosses and a kingpin for each of the 3 gangs, you’ll have a lot of action in the game. The 3 gangs are progressively more difficult, but with more experience orbs as you play through, though there’s nothing preventing you from trying to take out the kingpin of any gang, or face the gangs in a completely different order than intended by the game save for the likelihood of dying much faster. However, since the rewards are greater for the more difficult gangs, you’ll level up a lot faster if you are successful in those ventures. While the bosses individually aren’t hard beyond their large amount of health, it’s the number of underlings that keep shooting at you that make the boss battles difficult. For myself, with a bit of exploring and leveling to defeat all the bosses and to get all 4 stars in each skill took around 15 hours, which isn’t bad – the game stays just above the point of being tedious due to the well-tuned progression of your stats and the opponent difficulty. However, while there are three difficulty settings you can play at, I can’t easily see the game being that fun on replay, since you’ll have an idea where everything is and the layout of the city. However, the game has been promised additional online content from Xbox Live Marketplace at some point in the future, which I can see being a nice feature since there’s nothing restrictive in the city to prevent adding in, say, another gang to dispatch that’s taken over old areas.

The game also features a co-op mode with one other player. At any time, that player can ‘drop in’ to the action, though this will reset both players to a supply point, so you can’t drop in right to help another player in the middle of clearing out a heavily-infested boss area. However, once in, both players are credited for any boss kills, though players individually will have to unlock their own supply points and find their own agility and hidden orbs. The races also can be done competitively as well, if the players choose. The players don’t have to stick close together, either; they could be at opposite ends of the city doing their own thing without nary noticing anything happening with the other. Of course, you have to watch out for friendly fire as well. The co-op is an excellent way of a stronger agent helping one with fewer skills in getting up in levels quickly. I wonder if competitive play was planned or just left out of the game; understandably with only 2 players, 1 on 1 matches could be tedious, but something along the lines of ‘most kills in 5 minutes’ or the like would have helps to keep more of the game fresh.

Crackdown - Landscape shot

Graphics: A

The graphics use cel-shading as to approach the look of a comic book, though not as hard-lined as something like Sly Cooper or XIII; the dark edging is just visible enough to make this game feel more like fantasy than reality. While the comic styling of the game is not that strongly emphasized, the design and texturing is pretty well done through out, giving an impression of a near-futuristic city. Save for when you switch or start at a supply point, there’s no loading screens; the game moves smoothly from area to area, but when you get on top of some of the larger skyscrapers, you’ll have a rather impressive view of the entire city, including the lights of faraway cars as they move down the roads. The game uses the Havoc physics engine pretty well, even though most cars (save for the Agency vehicles) feel really sluggish in steering even with full stars in that ability. It would have been nice to have more types of close combat animations for the player beyond kicking and punching to add variety to the melee part of the game.

Sound: B+

The sound effects are good, the explosions are nice and dangerous sounding, and you can use the sound of weaponfire to help locate enemies. The blabber by your enemies gets a tad old after a while with only a few limited sayings (eg “Prepare to die!”), and while the announcer for your Agent tasks is pretty good, he can also get a tad repetitive. The one disappointing aspect of the sound is the use of music. Like GTA, you can listen to several licenced tracks of music when you’re driving (though no radio stations), but when you’re on foot, there’s nothing. Now, in GTA, where most of the game is spent in cars, this is certainly reasonable, but in Crackdown, you’re likely to be crossing the city on foot in the most direct route (even if it means climbing over a building) most of the time. Of the music I did hear, it’s actually good action-fighting music (like from The Matrix) and actually would have been great to have as a constant aspect of the game instead of limited to a small part of the overall game.

Overall: A-

Crackdown is an excellent approach to the open world approach, focusing less on the need for missions, an aspect that tends to bog down other GTA clones, and instead keeping the overhead of getting into the game very light, making it a great pick-up-and-go title that you can play for 5 minutes or 5 hours at a time. The game looks great and the gameplay, including co-op, is pretty tight despite the relative repetitiveness of the game, made up through a well-paced skill development system that encourages you to maximize your abilities for the best effects. There’s just a few questionable elements of the game, such as the lack of in-game music outside of vehicles, but for the most part, it’s a refreshing take on the open world genre with potential for more games using similar elements without simply recreating another GTA clone. Only due to the lack of repeat playthroughs may really keep this game for being a top-notch title.

4 Responses

  1. Nice review,
    I can’t wait to play this game myself.

  2. This game – oh god – I love this game.

    A- is a fair review. The game has a few flaws – but they are few and far between. Outside of Gears, Oblivion and maybe GRAW – this is one of the best 360 games.

  3. Fantastic review. Thanks. I’ve been looking at this game, but I wanted reviews first. I think it’s a sealed deal now.

    Thanks again.

    Jeff Ventura
    Graceful Flavor

  4. Good site!!!

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