Written by  :  Joshua J. Slone (4675)
Written on  :  Aug 31, 2009
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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A supercop game that delivers

The Good

When I recently got an Xbox 360, I went browsing for deals. Crackdown was a game I wouldn't have got unless it was quite cheap. All I knew about it was that it was compared to Grand Theft Auto and was initially a big deal because it let players into a Halo 3 beta. However, the chance to try out a B-tier open world game on a high-def console for $10 seemed fair enough, so I went for it. I'm so glad I did. While the freedom is GTA-esque, in many ways Crackdown is like Grand Theft Auto in reverse.

Let me apologize if I go too heavy on GTA comparisons, but as it's by far the most popular game of this type and the one I've spent most time with, it seems the obvious way to frame things.

In Crackdown you don't follow a set mission structure. In fact, you could try to complete the game's main objectives almost immediately. However, you will probably fail. Your ultimate goal is to take out the leaders of Pacific City's three main gangs, but at the beginning they'll be heavily guarded. By taking out the lesser gang generals and kingpins (in any order you please), the gang will become less powerful and the final gang leader less well protected. This actually reminds me of the way battles work in the Dynasty Warriors series, but in this case it's on a much larger scale.

In GTA you can improve certain stats, but it's a fairly gradual thing. Crackdown kicks it up a very enjoyable notch. At the beginning the Agent you control will run and jump much like any game character, but as his agility increases through several levels he'll be able to run the speed of slow cars and jump dozens of feet. He'll go from being able to throw a trash can to being able to throw a truck. Other stats that improve are gunmanship, explosives, and driving. Eventually you get to feeling like quite the superhero. When I think Crackdown, I think racing along the city bounding from rooftop to rooftop and having a blast doing so.

GTA's on-foot and shooting controls have always been a bit clunky. Luckily since Crackdown is more action-packed and with a more agile and able character, the controls keep up. I'm more of an RPG guy, but after a while I was having no problem leaping around, targeting and taking out gang members in mid-jump, or smacking them around physically if they approached while I was reloading. Speaking of things that help me as more of an RPG guy, the game has multiple difficulty levels, though they still try to make one feel manly by naming the easiest "Tough". So whereas in many action game I'll just reach a point where I'm stuck forever, I was able to get through Tough without it seeming either taxing or patronizing.

In GTA you gain new weapons for your hideouts by finding hidden packages throughout the city. In Crackdown it's much more natural. You find a new weapon, you carry it back to one of your supply points, and now it will be available from any supply point. However, that doesn't necessarily make it easy--if you want a certain fancy rare rocket launcher, you'll first have to find someone who has it, take them out, drop one of the two weapons you can hold at a time in exchange for it, and then make it back to a supply point without being killed. There are still hundreds of objects hidden throughout the city to gather, but they have to do with increasing player stats.

As Crackdown is the first X360 or PS3 game I've spent many hours with, I'm not in the best position to compare the game to its peers in a technical sense. However, I can say this is the type of upgrade I prefer to see from a new generation. It's not uncommon for developers to get a more powerful system, but just go so wild that the frame rate still has problems. Not Crackdown. The frame rate is always great. The draw distance is near infinite. Unlike last-gen GTA games, you won't just have a few types of cars on screen at once, which disappear when you get a few dozen feet away--things stay in place pretty much until you've forgotten they were there. It's rare to find a texture that gets blurry. And as a matter of preference, I really like the outlined look objects have, rather than trying for photo-realism.

It's worth noting that the game has online multiplayer and for-pay downloadable content that promise more fun, but neither of which I tried.

The Bad

I've put above many of the ways being a reverse GTA can be good, but it sometimes can mean things that worked in GTA don't here.

One is driving. It feels largely superfluous. There are street races, but the driving controls themselves don't seem fun enough to bother with them. Perhaps they'd feel better if I leveled my driving stat higher. Going fast usually means some unintentional citizen casualties, which is sort of frowned upon in this game since we're supposed to be playing the side of law and order. The music also didn't strike me as worth listening to, and there's no attempt at things like fake commercials or radio station identities to keep you interested. Luckily, since the running and jumping is so great in this game, there's almost never a need to get in a car to go where you're going. It might just be more fun to carry it there.

Another is mission variety. In a game like GTA, you have actual varying mission types. Maybe you need to get in a car and knock someone else's vehicle off the road. Maybe a gun shootout. Maybe tail someone. Maybe drive a boat to various destinations. Not always handled well, but certainly mixes things up. In Crackdown almost everything boils down to infiltrating an area full of little gang goons until you reach the big gang goon and take them out. Doing so is plenty of fun, but it gets to being largely the same thing in a new location. The freedom you have can in some ways make it seem like the game designers wasted their time, as well. One gang general in particular looked to have a heavily guarded entrance, so I swam around to the back and the general was almost completely unprotected.

If there's one thing I really appreciate in GTA that's not here, it's just... messing around, maybe getting chased. In Crackdown, you can't really just pick on a civilian; you either do nothing or strike them, which in the latter case means killing them since you're such a superman. The law officials don't look kindly on that, but neither will they chase you around. I know it's not fair to expect this of every open world game, but as someone who gets a big kick out of doing that when it's there, it's worth mentioning to you readers that it's not. So when you've cleared out the gangs and everything is peaceful... well, it can be a little TOO peaceful. Though you can always use the menu to reset the gang members to try for them again.

The Bottom Line

This game was a real blast to play, and at the prices it goes for now if you've cared enough to check out my review of it this far you'd probably enjoy trying it out.

It's worth noting that I think the star rating attached to this review is I think a little low. Most of the categories I gave lower scores to are things that I didn't think were very important in the game, and so didn't detract from things to just be there rather than special. My pick for "Personal Slant" was the full 5.