Crackdown review

Let’s cut to the chase; Crackdown features a futuristic cop or “Agent” whose job it is to rid Pacific City of three controlling gangs, Los Muertos, The Volk and Shai-Gen. Each gang controls a segment of the city and the player (whose character remains nameless) simply has to kick, shoot and destroy the gang and its structure starting with sub bosses and eventually working their way up to the leader or “Kingpin”. Once the bosses and kingpin has been defeated the gang ceases its activity and the agent has successfully completed the liberation of part of Pacific City. Once all three kingpins and their minions have been defeated then Pacific City can return to some form of normality.

Gameplay:

To begin, Crackdown offers a sprawling urban playground filled with pedestrians, buildings and vehicles to mess around in where once an agent skin and difficulty has been selected, players can jump right into the game world and get to work on tackling the gangs. The gameplay takes a free form approach in that players can choose what they do with their time free from the constraints of a rigid storyline. Due to the dynamic nature of the environment there are plenty of distractions from starting out and heading for the nearest gang boss.

The first major distraction is in fact the agent himself; who at the game’s beginning starts out a little bit of a weakling. Sure he’s probably a lot tougher and agile compared to the regular guys and girls in the game, but at the same time has limited options in terms of his effectiveness and what he can do. A key component of what makes Crackdown addicting and fun to play is the fact that performing certain actions, such as running over gang members using a vehicle increases the agent’s driving stat, or firearms, or explosive stat depending on what you do. This in itself presents some great gameplay experiences whilst you constantly try to raise your agent’s ability to become that little bit more powerful.

Another key component of the game is the agent’s agility skill which unlike the other skills such as firearms isn’t directly related to killing gang members. With a large cityscape to explore, players are encouraged to think outside of the usual confines that we are all too used to in free roaming games. With style and finesse players can scale buildings and head to the rooftops for some pseudo plat forming gameplay. Yes believe it or not, Crackdown does share some similarities to games featuring the likes of Mario. The whole level design is geared towards this style of play, as gamers can climb and jump up onto ledges and reach the upper regions of the city for some spectacular panoramic views. Jumping around the city isn’t purely for cosmetic reasons either, as taking to the higher ground allows gamers the chance to scope out areas or even attack from afar for a differing approach to certain obstacles the game presents.

As a clear nod towards the platform influence there are also orbs which are scattered among the city rooftops. Collecting these raises your agility stat which in turn allows you to jump higher and move faster and thus providing better access to the full 3D space of the city. Collecting orbs might seem a little non-descript for a crime busting agent but at the end of the day is a welcome distraction from killing and one that really does show off some astonishing level design.

The combat itself is what I would describe as a little on the fiddly side to begin with; although once mastered is still not particular accurate but adequate. The problem stems from the fact that the developers have tried to be a little different with the game’s shooting mechanics. Where players can freely shoot wherever their cross hair points, the lock on features poses the most problems. For lock on to work effectively players must point the cross hair over the desired target first otherwise the auto lock will target the nearest foe to the crosshair it decides to. In some cases this is ok whereas in other cases this can be a pain as the auto target locks on to the wrong target or a dead body or other inanimate object. So as you can imagine, pointing the crosshair at the desired target during intense fire-fights whilst you are running and jumping around at the same time is at best awkward. Obviously with sustained practice gamers should be able to overcome these issues somewhat but for beginners, beware. Another feature of the lock-on, which actually works quite well is the fact that players can designate target zones on the enemy’s body using the right thumb-stick; with Up relating to head, Down to legs and Left and Right to arms. When targeting specific areas, players can shoot weapons out of enemies’ hands as well as send them to the ground with a well placed leg shot. I actually thought this was a good idea to implement and offers that little bit more variety when dealing with foes. It’s just a shame the whole process is of such a fiddly nature.

Combat comes in many forms and perhaps we should be very thankful for this considering the shortcoming of the lock on feature. Not only can players shoot opponents but they can blow them up as well using grenades, rocket launchers and remote mines. The lock on feature poses less problems with explosives for the simple fact that accuracy isn’t as big a problem; especially when you consider the blast radius of any explosion is sure enough to kill those who are close by. Some pretty hefty explosions can be made here and with plenty of explosive barrels and such like littering the streets means that explosions will play a big part of the gameplay for most people.

Players can also commandeer any vehicle they see fit and use this as weapon. Running over gang members has a somewhat satisfying feel to it; especially as gang members try and dodge out of your way. The driving takes a little getting used to due to some light controls but in general offers an arcade like driving experience that is fairly easy to master. To finish off, gamers can take a more direct approach to tackling enemies in that they can pick up objects and use these as shields and makeshift projectiles. This action is related to the strength stat and with maxed out skills; players will be able to lift and throw the heaviest of objects including things like cars and trucks. For that final touch and for those of you who really do like a no nonsense approach there is the option to perform a melee attack. Whilst this does sound interesting, to be brutally honest it’s not implemented very well. For starters there are only two moves which come in the form of a flying kick and a rifle butt attack. Melee is a necessary action for raising the agent’s strength stat and so running into gang members for a quick kicking session becomes paramount even if it’s a little on the boring side. On a plus point there are some cool moments to be had here especially if you are able to kick a gang member from the roof of a high building for added effect.

So, you have this massive city to explore but what of the gang bosses themselves I hear you ask. Well this is truly a remarkable aspect of the game. As you can expect, gamers looking for some sort of semblance or closure to proceedings will undoubtedly seek to destroy all gang bosses and kingpins at some point in their games. In one respect its great that players can choose who they take out first and that the death of a gang boss has an impact on the overall strength and effectiveness of the gang. However in another respect the implementation seems a little off key. I played on medium settings and for a low level agent had quite a number of deaths doing things the conventional way. In fact on many occasions I felt totally underpowered and unprepared as for the umpteenth time was out numbered and outgunned resulting in untimely demise. The bosses are all usually well covered in what can be described as fortified buildings and locations. Level wise, players can use what ever route they wish and in most cases can even snipe away at targets from afar to get an edge. However, those players who are bold enough can often simply run into the boss area ignoring any guards and simply kick the hell out of the boss before jumping away from the ensuing madness. I guess this is nice being given the choice but it seems somewhat silly that players taking their time and being more tactful are punished more than those who simply act like their on a suicide mission. In most cases bosses can be despatched very easily using this method whereas using a more tactical approach actually gets you killed more yet is far more engaging and challenging. A number of gamers will no doubt tend to favour exploits that require the least amount of effort and so I truly believe that a lot of the essence will be lost due to the easy nature of running in for the kill. With more exploration of some of the boss areas it is clear to see that a lot of effort was placed in giving players as many possibilities here. Sadly this will be lost on a number of players which is a shame.

Graphics:

Crackdown uses an advanced version of cel shading techniques to bring the city and its inhabitants to life with a comic book feel. Where as games such as Jet Set Radio and XIII have used cel shading very well, Crackdown seems to provide a far more detailed encompassment of their efforts. The sense of scale is of a very high standard as players can come face to face with some extremely impressive draw distances or in layman’s terms you can see very far into the distance. I think this is probably the first game of its kind to offer such high levels of detail from great distances where from the top of a skyscraper you can still see the insect like people (and we are talking crowds rather than the scattered few) walking below rather than have them fade out until you get closer.

The level design as mentioned earlier is excellent and in fact I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the best I’ve encountered in free roaming gaming thus far. Everything just feels right and in accordance with the player being able to jump around on top of things to get around. Each of the three sections of the city has a different feel and means that you are constantly seeing new things rather than rehashed buildings and signs. It truly is spectacular as kudos has to be given to those who imagined and then realised it.

Gameplay wise, everything runs as smoothly with no stuttering or screen tearing issues even amongst the large impressive gunfights and explosions that players create. What is also very impressive and again a first for free roaming games is the game’s use of prop physics and more importantly the game remembering which items have been interacted with. This means that should you leave a vehicle somewhere and run off it will still be there when you get back. This is not always the case, especially when you amass a pile of cars and other objects but for the most part it is still leaps and bounds ahead of any of its rivals. The prop physics allow for some pretty intuitive user created activities and with some imagination there are plenty of things you can mess around with.

Audio:

The sound is a little awkward in my opinion as it seems the player isn’t given much control over it. Sure the spot effects like gunshots and pedestrians speaking are handled well players will have a hard time with the game’s music. Naturally music only comes on in vehicles however the music is tied to whatever vehicle you are driving. You can switch tracks using the left and right bumpers but at the same time are restricted as to what you can hear. There are plenty of tracks available (over 100) but with no clear categories means that picking out favourite tunes for driving is virtually impossible. On another note, players wishing to listen to music outside of driving will have to resort to using their own custom soundtracks. I’m kind of on the fence really as at times some in game music during boss battles might have worked well for the game; yet the eerie ambience amongst the gunfire and screams seems quite natural.

One thing that did annoy me was the fact that in the options you are only able to change the volume for voices and music. This is amusing considering the only time you hear music is in cars which in turn is the only time the sound effects really boom out consistently with the car engine. This results in you not being able to hear the music very well.

Longevity:

Free roaming games usually tend to offer limitless replay value due to their nature and Crackdown is no exception, for the imaginative amongst us. However where other games have offered pointers in terms of what players can do, Crackdown seems to hold your hand at the entrance and then boot you in and leave you to get on with things. To be honest there’s very little to do story wise as gang bosses and kingpins can be despatched of quite quickly. Aside from killing the gangs there is of course the exploring to find hidden orbs and agility orbs, a few checkpoint races, stunt hoops to discover and jump through. This all adds up and for those wishing to get all of the orbs will take some considerable exploring time. For those of you who are content with beating a games’ story then I’m afraid the only things on offer here is to try on harder difficulties or partake in boss time trials which allow you to take on any boss you’ve defeated with your agent. After that there’s not a lot else to do other than freely roam a gang infested city or goofing around in peaceful bliss.

For the online connected, there is the inclusion of co-op play whereby two players can fight alongside each other or against. The whole city is available and what is neat is other players can request to drop in and out of your game at any time. The game will pause and a confirmation message will appear before the game reloads where you left off. The co-op really does open up the game world as players can adopt some effective strategies for tackling bosses and such like. There are also a ton of other user made activities to engage in which is what makes the game very fun indeed although you have to think them up yourself. Sadly those offline will have to settle for system link to receive similar thrills.

Overall:

Crackdown is an ambitious game which somewhat lacks ambition at the same time. For a third person action game it delivers the right ingredients and then offers an unquestionable level of freedom to do as one pleases. Now I could harp on about what the game fails to offer in terms of content and I think for some games this is a tad unfair. In Crackdown’s case I think it’s something worthy of mentioning considering the free roaming aspect the game presents. The bottom line is, Crackdown feels empty as there seems to be so much potential for added content that simply isn’t there. The developers either wanted gamers to make up their own activities or simply ran out of time to implement them. I’m not sure which, but it still leaves us with a game that feels hollow and should have had a lot more. That said, Crackdown remains a fun and fulfilling gaming experience and one that is perhaps unrivalled at this point in time. The whole platform game play aspect combined with the role playing elements, rawness of driving and shooting seems to cover all bases. For what it does do it remains fun and well polished despite being the jack of all trades.

Crackdown is well worth a look for action fans although many will be able to see and do most in a weekends’ play or rental period. The co-op is extremely good fun although this is no excuse for those not connected to Xbox Live. Either way if you are looking for some engaging game play then Crackdown is compelling, addictive and well worth a look. The only thing that is questionable is the game’s staying power. Will gamers still be goofing around in a few months from now? I would suspect only the die hard few.

 

8/10

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.