Crackdown Review

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Graphics: 8.5
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 8.5
Multiplayer : 7.5
Overall : 8.0
Review by Andy Levine
The gaming industry has seen plenty of GTA-clones, also known as sandbox games, and the Xbox 360 alone already has Saint’s Row and the Godfather to satisfy this genre, but that didn’t stop Microsoft and Realtime Worlds from releasing Crackdown. While most of the talk over this title revolves around the inclusion of a free pass to the Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta, the game itself isn’t exactly chopped liver. By combining rewarding RPG elements with a true sense of freedom, Crackdown will leave you busting skulls and taking down gang lords like there’s no tomorrow.

For starters, Crackdown possesses an interesting visual style that isn’t exactly cel-shading, but instead resembles a comic-book like appearance. The characters are encompassed by thin but noticeable black lines, and the overall color scheme tends toward the vibrant side. Luckily, the developers used this technique to their advantage by implementing a tremendous range of sight, high detail textures, and some of the most adrenaline pumping explosions ever. The cities are intricately designed, and the careful attention paid to the architecture of some buildings is impressive. However, when compared to a game like Gears of War or Rainbow Six: Vegas, it’s clear to see that Crackdown has a considerable amount of room for improvement. Nonetheless, you’ll be satisfied with the visuals here, even more so if you’re gaming in high-definition.

Crackdown is all about freedom, and as a result there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue. Aside from the repetitive screams of gang members and helpless cries of civilians, the only voice you hear is a co-worker at the Agency who guides you every step of the way. At first his advice is welcome, but his commentary wears thin once you get a grasp for the gameplay. This lonely fellow will never leave you alone either, so you’ll have to deal with his off-color commentary all the time. The soundtrack is rather poor as well, and the half-screen pop-up window showing the track title and artist doesn’t make things any better. On the plus side, the explosions sound great if you have a nice subwoofer, and taking down a gang’s headquarters is far from being a quiet operation. Still, the aforementioned nuances detract significantly from the overall audio experience.

Now the most appealing aspect of any sandbox game is the sense of freedom, and none of the other currently available titles compare to Crackdown in this respect. Although there’s a persistent storyline that involves our hero, the supercop, on his quest to rid Pacific City of crime, the manner in which this is accomplished is entirely up to you. While it’s recommended that you destroy each gang from the ground up, there’s nothing stopping you from heading to the kingpin’s hideout and shooting the place up. When all of this is taking place, it’s also important to build up your stats and evolve into a top-notch killing machine, and even though the story won’t take more than ten hours, there’s still an endless amount of fun to be had.

In a seemingly endless battle to end gang violence, our hero (who can be one of several selectable skins) embarks on the typical rags to riches journey. Starting off as a rookie cop, his actions can improve him in each of the five aspects – agility, driving, explosion, strength, and firearms. Throwing a ton of grenades will increase your explosion rating and cause your bombs to have a larger blast radius, while driving over enemy gang members will increase your driving rank. Increased driving proficiency will make you more adept at handling cars, and the three Agency vehicles will even transform if your rating is high enough. Working on your character’s statistics is a must, and while it’s alright to be a little weak at the start, towards the end of the game a feeble cop just won’t cut it.

Around the world you can discover hundreds of agility and secret orbs. As the name implies, an agility orb simply adds to your overall agility, while the secret orbs are similar to the secret packages found in Grand Theft Auto. There’s no requirement that you collect these orbs, but near the beginning of your adventure hopping from room to roof to boost your agility hardly seems like a chore.

Agility is arguably the most important statistic. Above everything else, agility determines how high your character can jump, and Crackdown is all about vertical leap. Being the supercop that he is, our hero is capable of making tremendous leaps across rooftops, far surpassing even the greatest achievements of urban runners today. Of course his jumping ability doesn’t seem realistic by any standards, but mastering the art of urban acrobatics is rewarding. One special type of mission even challenges you to pass through a set of checkpoints solely on foot, and you can be sure that this will involve hopping up stories, dangling from ledges, and more. This adds an entire new element to sandbox games, and this additional feature is a welcome innovation.

Ultimately the premise of the game involves taking out the kingpin and his top leaders, each of which reside in heavily guarded hideouts. By scrutinizing the provided dossier, you can learn how each member contributes to the gang and possibly discover secret weaknesses. For instance, taking out a gang’s explosion expert will reduce the number of cronies with explosive devices, while taking down their vehicle headquarters will significantly demobilize them. All of these factors make taking out the final boss a lot easier, so leaving even one man alive could make the difference between life and death.

The world, which is comprised of three separate gang islands and the central Agency island, is filled to the brim with Agency Supply Points. These locations, noted by an orange marker, can refill you with ammunition if needed. At first they are only stocked with weapons that the Agency carries, but if you bring back weapons from downed gang members they will forever be available to you. If you are ever killed you can spawn again at any of these points, and you can travel between any of these locations instantly.

As far as the actual combat goes, Crackdown utilizes a lock-on targeting system as well as freeform aiming to cater to your needs. At the most basic level, you can lock-on to enemies, wait for the reticle to focus, and then unload your magazine until your target is reduced to a bloody pulp. If you have quick reflexes, after locking on you can even use the right stick to aim to a specific body part. Shooting someone in the arm will make him drop his weapon, and putting a bullet in his leg will reduce his movement speed. It’s not uncommon to have a target stay locked on a dead gang member, which can be hazardous during a huge firefight, so at times like these it doesn’t hurt to aim freely for a few moments. You can even target explosive barrels, wheels on cars, and plenty of other objects of interest so keep an open mind.

In addition to playing alone, there’s a cooperative mode via System Link or Xbox Live (sorry, no split-screen here). Don’t expect a whole lot of features here because this feature simply allows another buddy to join you in your adventure. It’s best to play with someone with stats comparable to yours; otherwise the weaker of the two will feel left out. For instance, a cop with low agility will struggle to make it to certain areas, while a maxed out agent could reach areas of difficulty with ease. There’s nothing saying that you have to stick with your partner at all, but it’s hard to beat the thrill of wiping out a base of drug lords with a friend by your side.

As a whole, Crackdown delivers a thrilling heroic experience that should last you a while. Although the ending seemed rather abrupt, there’s still plenty to do once you’ve rid the world of crime. Whether you’re working to boost your stats or just seeing how far you can throw different cars and trucks. Crackdown puts a unique twist on the sandbox gameplay style that is definitely worth checking out.
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