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Do you ever feel like gaming has become too complicated? Does ‘open ended’ translate to ‘never ending’? Do you gnash your teeth at the thought of choosing the size and shape of your character’s teeth? Are the only meals you want to worry about the ones YOU eat in real life? If so, Crackdown
is the game for you, a game that’s both innovative in its gameplay but simple in the how and why you’re playing.
The story is very basic stuff that’s relayed to you by a guy who sounds like he could work for NFL Films. You belong to the Agency and are the result of a super soldier-like experiment, used to create super-police as a last resort in the effort to fight the crime ridden metropolis of Pacific City, which makes Vice City look like Brick Township, NJ
Your nameless agent (one of two you can choose from) isn’t out to kill his former gang or avenge his murdered little sister … at least not that we know of. He’s just a man doing his job, namely killing bad guys and causing more destruction than any hundred criminals could … but, hey, that’s the price of fighting crime, I guess. The cool thing about the game’s story setup is – unlike other sandbox shooters – there’s actually a logical reason why you can do ridiculous things and survive ridiculous damage: You’re essentially a super hero, with super abilities.
These abilities are represented via five skills that your agent can level up: agility, driving, explosives, strength, and weapons. All the skills are leveled simply by using them, except the agility skill, which is enhanced by finding and collecting the 500 agility orbs strewn throughout the game (there are also 200 hidden orbs that spread ability to all five of the skills). What results after some time spent in the game is an agent that can leap far and wide and throw large vehicles like lawn darts.
Your task in the game is to eliminate the organized crime that has overtaken Pacific City in the form of a Latino gang called Los Muertos, a Russian (or “Eastern European”) gang called the Volk and finally the Shai-Gen Corporation, an Asian gang, led by their leader the “enigmatic Wang.” You see the kind of nefarious villains we’re dealing with here … after all, what’s more sinister than an enigmatic wang?
Pacific City is split into three parts (with the Agency HQ located on an island in the middle of it all), with each gang controlling their own section of the city. While all the sections are open at the start of the game they’re scaled to match your character as he advances, with the Los Muertos section being the easiest (and hence, where you begin) and the Shai-Gen section being the most difficult (with really
The gameplay formula is pretty simple. Each gang has seven bosses and each boss is based at a specific location and surrounded by a ton of gang members. You go to said location, plow through a bunch of gang members, and kill the boss. That’s it. That’s basically the game. The bosses themselves are not hard to kill so it’s getting to them that’s the trick. After you kill all the bosses of a gang, the surviving gang members riot at a central point and you have to clean them up before finally snuffing out the gang. Convenient, huh?
However, the real joy of the game involves enhancing your agility skill and using it to leap (think early Superman) around the city like it’s your own private playground … only occupied by bloodthirsty gangs. The graphics are excellent and the physics of the game are top notch. There’s a wonderful sense of height to the point I actually get a twinge of vertigo when I stand at the edge of a tall building, much like I do in real life. One can spend hours just leaping around the city finding the agility orbs and, sometimes, trying to figure out how to reach them, lending the game a nice puzzle solving element. It would be hard for me to overstate just how cool this part of the game is.
For those looking for other modes of transportation you can also use cars, either found throughout the city or three special vehicles located at the Agency HQ, a super car, a SUV, and a big rig. The reality is, however, that most “normal” cars handle like crap, which gives the agency car added importance. As the disembodied voice so aptly puts it, the Super Car drives past things, the SUV drives over things, and the big rig drives through things.
As your character levels, so do the agency cars – even if you haven’t driven them – until the super car has a machine gun, the SUV can jump, and the big rig has a power boost that helps destroy any car that dares get in its way. Driving is fun enough but in this game it’s a lot like those action figure playsets you had as a kid, where the Hulk or Superman had cars. In other words, it’s kind of useless. Why drive, like you can in every other Grand Theft Auto
knockoff, when you can have the unique experience of leaping around like Spiderman on steroids?
The combat system is very reminiscent of the GTA
series (mechanics), with a bit of Gears of War
(strategy) thrown in. You aim and shoot as you would in GTA
but the sheer amount of enemies in any given situation dictates a hide, duck, and shoot from afar technique, which usually involves taking higher ground. Alas, as in GTA
, there are problems with the shooting mechanics. When you begin to level up your weapons skill the game says something like ‘shooting your weapon proficiently has become second nature to you’.
Unfortunately, your first nature when it comes to guns is apparently to shoot a car three blocks away while a gangster two feet away riddles you with bullets. Also, much like in GTA, your agent will stop shooting and start hitting opponents that are in close proximity. This becomes a problem when trying to shoot over ledge at a target below, because you wind up swinging your gun at the ledge!
The game can be played on two modes: Campaign or Time Trials. The campaign mode can be played on three levels: Tough, Ruthless, and Psychotic, all aptly named. While the campaign mode isn’t particularly long (roughly ten hours if you attack it head on) there are also races (both car and on foot) and stunts to complete. You can also play with another player but only online, so no split screen, which is disappointing. All in all, there’s not a lot of replay value but there’s enough to do to keep it interesting the first time through.
While Crackdown isn’t long on story or particularly original, it is as fun and addictive as the first syllable in its name implies. It may not be the biggest sandbox on the playground, but I sure had fun playing in it.