No matter what’s written in this review, Crackdown will always be remembered as being a big seller for the Halo 3 beta and not much more. Whilst some consider it harsh to look over a game in favour of a demo, the shallow gameplay and repetitive nature of Realtime Worlds’ title makes it hard to find plausible excuses that this futuristic sandbox title is anything but mere fertiliser for something much much bigger and greatly anticipated; Halo 3.
A lesson we’ve all learned from Grand Theft Auto is that it’s much cooler and easier to make it as a villain than a good guy, which is what ultimately seals Crackdown’s fate. In between taking out the 21 gang bosses and hoards of footmen, the best our man of justice can look forward to in his spare time is hunting down agility orbs to help make him jump further, take part in rooftop treks across the city and partake in street races, unless you’re up for a bit of exploring. As a bad guy in other titles you can lay smackdown to civilians, go to a lap dancing club, smoke drugs, smash up cars and cause utter carnage without remorse. In Crackdown, it’s these sorts of actions that you penalised for. Is this really Jack Thompson: The Game?
Not really, and thank god for that. But it has to be said that after 8 hours of continual battles against the drug lords, it makes you yearn to be-able to fire a rocket into rush hour traffic and watch vehicles fly off into buildings. Your job is to rid the city of gang culture and warfare without harming the civilians, aided by your upgradable suit, which is achieved by performing tasks that govern each attribute. Blowing up gang cars and causing explosions makes your destructible rating increase, allowing bigger blast radius from grenades and rockets, whilst driving over the bad guys see’s your driving ability start to rise. As you begin to perfect each attribute you’ll see some nice advantages; a maximum rating in driving unlocks the agency’s vehicles special abilities, such as an SUV that climbs up the sides of buildings, a sports car capable of going under other vehicle and a huge hefty truck that barges everyone else out of the way. Of course, harming innocent civilians in your course of ultimate superiority causes attributes to drop slightly, which can become annoying when a big trick pulls off.
Unlike other titles which grant you weapons after reaching certain levels or requirements, here you must hunt them down yourself. Agency firearms are weak at best, and so as you progress you’ll start picking up and depositing shotguns, machine guns and higher explosives at designated checkpoints. Going back to these checkpoints saves your game, refills ammo levels and recharges your health, but being few and far between you’ll often have to plan out which items to use for which mission because, despite your super human powers, there’s no such thing as pockets as big as those found in Tomb Raider or Saints Row. As if that wasn’t enough, agency checkpoints have to be activated by killing local gang presence before you can use and abuse them.
“Is this really Jack Thompson: The Game?”So that’s the basics, and from what I’ve just written Crackdown doesn’t seem so bad. It’s when you step into the city to put theory into practice that thinks take a nosedive. For starters, driving seems to have been overlooked when in production and literally forces you to get onto the rooftops and start jumping around like a super hero. The handling is awful, in that when first steering it doesn’t feel as if the car is responding. Then suddenly it’ll be like putting on full lock and the car starts to skid. In Lost Planet there’s plenty of control options, one of them being a progressive-style cursor, in that it starts off slow and then speeds up the longer you hold the direction. The cars in Crackdown handle exactly like that, which is bloody annoying. Even more so, the camera is terrible, sitting right behind the car so you can’t see what’s infront of you. To lift the camera, the player has to tilt the right thumbstick up ever so slightly (too much and you’ll be looking down at the roof of the vehicle) and then hold it there, which is damn uncomfortable.
When you’re not driving, you’ll be on foot, be it on the streets or jumping from building to building, which makes it more likely that you’ll encounter some sort of resistance. The guns, whilst there being lots of choice, just don’t sound or feel like something threatening, you’ll get more of a “phat, phat phat” than a good hearty “rat a tat tat” out of something resembling an AK47. A good feature of shooting is that of the right thumbstick. You have to lock on to shoot a weapon (thus avoiding directly shooting an innocent), and by the side of the victim is a small body. Moving the right thumbstick around highlights in red different parts of the body such as head, either arm, torso and legs. Shooting someone in the arm for example renders it useless and so they’ll be unable to fire a gun. Shooting them in the leg makes enemies fall over, gaining valuable reload time, but its the head and torso that you’ll need to hit to take them out of action. It’s a great feature that you can have some fun with, much like that found in Lost Planet, whereby you can take arms and legs off of creatures to render them helpless. A form of torture, if you will.
Sadly, enemy AI is near non existent. The trick here is swarming you with near-endless bad guys than just a handful of heavily trained baddies, which seems great when you first get that RPG but damn tedious when the final few bosses come around. Making yourself known often gets them running for cover, a few will even toss grenades, but it’s generally a game of taking them out one by one than anything tactical as seen in Gears of War. There’s not even a cover button, instead you’ve to crouch or stand behind objects and hope you can’t be seen or hit, which can be frustrating as the camera seems to love looking down at you when next to solid obstacles than zooming in so you see what’s around. The safety in numbers game is also incredible annoying when you’re making that transition from puny rookie to powerful super-cop as you’ll have to tackle large groups of enemies all with powerful weapons whilst you’re still running about a small pistol and a one barreled shotgun. Another factor worth taking note of is how useless stealth is. Once one gang member knows of your location, the rest of his cronies will also know of your exact whereabouts.
Visually, sometimes you’ll see something that’s quite amazing, other-times things that aren’t. Landscapes look magnificent from afar, what with the water effects, sun light and birds flying overhead, but when in the nitty gritty alleyways there’s little detail and far too much use of grey. Progressing your attributes see’s your character age, but only cosmetically and you’re only going to notice when loading a save because your character’s face is shown on the screen looking straight at you. If there’s anything that stands out, then it has to be the explosions, because things really will fly, smoke will fill the immediate area and often enough you’ll be scrambling for cover until the dust settles, because you just can’t see a damn thing through the carnage. The audio is pretty much the same, with songs on the radio that you won’t be bonding with anytime soon, the weak gun effects and then those of a bustling city. Certainly nothing bad, but not much that we haven’t heard before.
I’d love to say that it’ll be interesting to see what people make of Crackdown once the Halo 3 beta is over and done with, but it’s already obvious that the price will plummet and we’ll never speak of it again. A shame indeed, but even at budget price there’s not much that any self respecting Xbox 360 owner will be missing other than a few pretty explosions and half a day spent marveling at spring from building to building, the novelty of which rubs off pretty damn quickly.