Simple, spirited, spectacular.
Following in the footsteps of Brave Fencer Musashi and Zone of the Enders, Crackdown was originally coupled with an access code to a Halo 3 multiplayer “beta” to bolster its sales. Despite being a blast, the game stumbled into discount territory soon after its release. Though similar games have been released before it, no game has distilled Grand Theft Auto down to its purest action moments and then soaked it in even more chaos and death in the same way as Crackdown, which is why it’s so strange and unfortunate that it’s landed in the bargain bin.
The premise is straightforward: in the sandbox that is Pacific City, locate and assassinate 21 gang bosses, who range from lesser thugs to heads of nefarious corporations, to “clean up the streets”. There’s scaling in difficulty, but the targets can be disposed of in any order to make the game fairly non-linear. You play as an operative of The Agency from a third person perspective. At your disposal are guns, vehicles, explosives and your own superpowers, which evolve as you rack up more gang kills and find orbs. Superpowers are divided into five categories: agility, physical strength, firearms, explosives and driving. When you kill an enemy using a specific skill (e.g. punching for strength, grenades for explosives), that specific skill will go up. You are also penalized for using a skill to kill innocent pedestrians of whom there are often many in the way. Look out! Agility is different and requires the collection of orbs hidden around the city. They’re primarily on rooftops, helping to put a focus on Crackdown’s verticality. One of the most entertaining parts of the game is just jumping from building to building to obtain agility orbs and eventually gaining the ability to jump further and higher for your efforts. In addition to orbs, there are also rooftop races and street races. Both are simple, point-to-point races, but the on-foot rooftop races are much more fun. They add another activity to the game and another way to get agility and driving skill points.
For a city as infested with crime as Pacific City, it sure is pleasant looking. Cel-shading makes what could be a darker, blander, less appealing setting comparatively bright, colourful and clearly “a video game”. Once you start a new game, you’re greeted with a comic book-style primer for the story narrated by a comic book-style omniscient voice. After that, any story takes a backseat to the action. The narrator stays for the duration, though, reading the dossiers for gangsters and offering helpful hints. He, in collaboration with the distant future setting, the racial gang stereotypes and the gratuitous violence, helps create subtle but effective satire within Crackdown. There is licensed music to listen to while driving vehicles, but you probably won’t hear much of it over the engines, explosions, gunfire and gang swearing and banter.
A typical Crackdown mission plays out like this: First, the enemy hideout is located either by you or The Agency automatically. Second, you storm increasingly convoluted bases filled with dozens upon dozens of hostile henchmen. Third, you finally find the target amongst the bedlam of bullets and do them in. It brings back memories of classic Grand Theft Auto “storm the hideout” missions and it’s damn fun. Beyond these gang busts and the races, the game’s single player doesn’t have much else. It has online co-op and it’s a physics playground, if you’re into that, but the lack of offline mission variety doesn’t really matter anyway. The game’s scope is small enough to feel plenty full with what it offers and what it offers is very entertaining and addictive, at least 10 hours long (if you put the legwork into your stats) and occasionally quite challenging on the default difficulty setting (with another two above it). Because it’s all of these things and inexpensive (even if it weren’t the latter), you should totally check out Crackdown if you’re at all a fan of the action genre.