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Game Review: Crackdown

Because I’ve been playing this game so damned much since I got my Xbox 360, I thought I’d write a review of it.

Stuart and I have played it on Xbox Live! together twice, and both times the lag was pretty crap but we still had fun. The very first time, I had just started, and my Level 1 agent was completely unable to keep up with his.

Me: Where the hell are you?
Stuart: I’m up here, on the roof of this giant building, I can see the top of your head.
Me: WTF? What do I have to stand on to get up there?

——–

Crackdown (Microsoft Game Studios / Realtime Worlds)
Platform: Xbox 360
Score: 8/10

Criminals are a rotten lot. Turn your back on them and they’ll take over your neighborhood in a heartbeat. You’ll see them start to ride around in hideously painted cars overnight, blasting bad dance music everywhere you turn. The point where it really gets unbearable for me is when they add gunshots into the mix, leaving police corpses outside your home. That’s just not on.

Crackdown is a game where you are tasked with single-handedly crushing a crime wave that the combined efforts of all the world’s police have failed to stop. When I say ‘You’, I mean a heavily-armed genetically engineered agent of justice, of course. But it’s important not to let that minor detail turn you off because you’ll get used to being awesome.

In its essence, this is a game of many discrete joys. While crime-fighting is in itself a fulfilling goal, the numerous creative options and bonus objectives mean that you spend a lot of your time just exploring the limits of your cel-shaded sandbox. Set over five islands that make up the troubled Pacific City, Crackdown offers up plenty of room to play in. You can swim up rivers, drive down boulevards and crowded public squares in commandeered (really, stolen) vehicles, and gracefully traverse city blocks in giant loping leaps from rooftop to rooftop. The crisp, colorful execution has a comic-book playfulness to it, and you’ll find it to be a cross between playing GTA3, and watching Universal Soldier and the Japanese movie Casshern back-to-back.

Its gameplay design has been infused with basic RPG values: the more you do something, the more you’ll come to excel at it. Spend enough time challenging yourself to climb buildings and you’ll find your agility level rising. Mow down villains with mad driving skills, and your Agency-issued vehicles grow faster, and visually morph when you enter them. It’s like being in the boat from Hulk Hogan’s TV series, Thunder in Paradise, except none of the agents have mullets. All in all, improving your stats in a game of Crackdown feels far more rewarding than it does in most action RPGs. Every time your agent gains an extra star, releasing a shockwave of energy, you’ll run back to earlier areas to see if you can finally reach that elusive rooftop, or drive a car fast enough to jump over that bridge. By turning a modern city into a playground, Crackdown achieves a level of spatial connection between player and level that most RPGs do not. The feeling of wonder over new-found powers instantly becomes a deep-rooted desire to see them play out in a familiar setting.

Crackdown doesn’t just offer incentives for obsessive compulsive behavior. In fact, it nurtures it. Hidden across the city’s rooftops are 500 Agility Orbs, and finding them inevitably becomes an addiction to rival Pokémon collection. Elsewhere, you’ll find purple vehicular stunt markers hanging in the air, waiting patiently for you to find a way to get a car through them. Taken along with street races, rooftop Parkour races, games of Stockpile and Rocket Tag, and another 250 Hidden Orbs for those who’ll explore every inch of the virtual city, and there’s a raft of things to do in Pacific City besides hunting down your 21 gang bosses. Although fun is already its own reward, doing any of these tasks also rewards you with points that make you even more badass. Most achievements are also unlocked just by doing ridiculous things like juggling a car up in the air with a rocket launcher.

What you will find lacking in the experience, however, is something most 3rd-person shooters already suffer from: a poor camera. You’ll often find yourself just missing the edge of a ledge and falling 100 feet to the ground, ending your attempt for a record time on a Rooftop Race. All because you couldn’t move the camera quickly enough to see what was under you, after having moved it up to see what you were jumping at to begin with. It’s a minor niggle, and even with other complaints such as multiplayer lag, a lack of good in-car radio music, and the lock-on targeting system that favors parked cars over the guy shooting at you, there’s a significant amount of fun to be had.

The deal has recently been sweetened with the release of downloadable expansion packs (1 free, with another costing 800 MS points), and a patch that enables the resurrection of defeated bosses for more replay value.

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