I picked up Crackdown over the weekend to see if what I'd read about it was true: an average shoot-em-up game wrapped with a Halo 3 beta to increase sales, therefore landing thousands of copies on eBay shortly after said beta is released. I'm surprised to say that while eBay will be handling its share of Crackdown sales once that beta is out, it won't be flooded with them. Crackdown is a surprisingly enjoyable old-school game of beating up bad guys, finding power orbs, and running over as many civilians as possible.
Here's the jist of it: you're a genetically engineered supercop known only as an "Agent" who works for "The Agency" in "Pacific City", where gangs have taken over the main three city areas. It's ridiculously generic in comparison to the games we're used to now, but it works due to the very open ended gameplay. You literally start in the "Agency Tower" in the middle of the city, pick a car, and drive right into Los Muertos' territory (the Latino gang) looking for the gang bosses. There's no story involved here, and that's why the lameness of your character is fitting: you're not out looking for revenge or trying to get ahead in the department, or trying to find your kidnapped wife. You're just out to pwn gangsters. Period. You advance by killing off gang bosses of the three gangs: Los Muertos, the Volk (Eastern Europeans), and Shai-Gen (Asians). The gang bosses get progressively tougher for each section of the city until you kill off the gang's kingpin, which eliminates the gang from their portion of the city. By the time you get to the Shai-Gen, the toughest gang, the firefights are purely awesome. Dead gangsters abound.
The actual pwning of gangsters? Well, it's done fairly well: the precision aiming system works well, as it helps you aim, but makes you wait for your Agent to "zero in" on the target before the shots are accurate. You can also aim for heads, arms, and legs, although those types of precision shots take so long, you might as well just do the standard shoot for the chest. Typical situations have five or six or more gangsters shooting at you. You don't have ten seconds to lock in on a headshot. However, you can also run over them, blow them up with grenades and rockets, throw dumpsters and metal poles at them, or just plain kick em in the nuts. Depending on how you kill your gangsters, your Agent gains skills in one of four categories: firearms, explosives, driving, and brute strength. The more you use your firearm, the more firearm skill you'll have. Same goes for the rest of them. It's simple, but rewarding to see your Agent progress from only being able to pick up a trash can to being able to fling cars all the way down the road.
However, the fifth skill is what takes the game from amusing to genuinely fun. Agility, which you gain from finding agility orbs strewn throughout the city, allows you to run faster and jump higher. Really higher, as in 25 feet higher while you're running like a fat kid across the street to McDonalds. Okay, not that fast, but maybe as fast as a cheetah. This allows you scale buildings all the way to the top and leap from rooftop to rooftop. The Spider-Man cliches pile up the more you play the game. But there's something great about firing a rocket from a 30-story building to the ground into a bunch of civilians. There's also something great about using your agility to find numerous "hidden orbs" in hard to reach places, providing something different in a game that is very simplistic. There are other side activities like agility races (basically scaling buildings in a time limit) and street races, but they get tired fairly quickly. Let's face it: finding orbs is cool.
The game features two modes, the first of which is the main campaign mode of advancing through the city, eventually killing the Shai-Gen kingpin. The second is time trial, which let's you see if you can kill gang bosses faster than you previously killed them. It sounds alright, but after you've killed them all, killing them again is a lame generic exercise, even if it is under a time limit. The game also features Xbox live support in allowing you to join another's campaign, or have someone join your own, all in the name of helping to clean up the city. This is cool, but not nearly as cool as an all out Spider-Man free for all battle would be with, oh, say 8 players at a time on some decent sized maps. Such a thing would give this game much more replayability, which is really lacking. Finding the orbs will keep you busy for a while, but once you've beaten the main story, there's no reason to go back.
Switching gears to the graphics for a moment: I don't usually think of graphics in these terms, but they fit the game. There's nothing mind blowing here, but it looks bit comic-booky in certain spots, which just feels right. The frame rates are good, and some of the sunsets are actually quite beautiful across the water. It's an instance where the developers got it just right: nothing mind blowing, but it doesn't look like ****. Same for the sound: sounds are appropriate and cool, but no crazy enviro-audio. Just good explosion sounds.
Final word: this is the quintessential weekend rent game for a junior high school kid, and for the rest of us too. You'll love it for a week, probably two, but once you get to the third, you'll want to take it back. However, Crackdown gave me the same feeling as Dead Rising: once they add some features, fix the occasional bug, and add replayability, it will be a classic game. Look for Crackdown 2 to be something special.
Gameplay: B+. Fun mix of shooting bad guys, pwning civilians, and finding orbs while flinging yourself around the city like Spider-Man.
Graphics: B. Nothing Gears of War here, but smooth and appropriate. Lighting is actually quite nice looking in some spots.
Sound: B-. The sounds that are here are good, but I would have liked to see a bit more sound related to environment. Why no significant bells and whistles at an amusement park?
Replayability: C. Time trial only goes so far. I'd probably play it a second time if I was in the mood, but definitely not a third. Co-op via Xbox Live is fun for a while, but nothing spectacular.