death_burnout's Crackdown (Xbox 360) review

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An Impressive Debut From Realtime Worlds

Crackdown is one of the very few free-roaming games that takes the sandbox formula and almost re-invents it entirely, fusing multiple types of gameplay together to form a game of one of its kind. Simply put, Crackdown is one of most fun experiences a sandbox game has had to offer in recent history.

The one thing that might come surprising about Crackdown is how fast it drops you straight into the game, you have your basic main menu that of course lets you decide what you want to do, but the main mode, campaign mode, is really all there is from the get go. Crackdown lacks any real in-depth story, all that is needed to know, is that the futuristic metropolis that is pacific city is overrun by gangs, and its your job as a super-agent (yes, super-agent) to clear out those gangs, and that just about sums it up, Crackdown is more of a freeform sandbox game than a huge story-driven adventure and that only helps bring the game down, and as a result, leaves Crackdown feeling a little shallow at parts, but all that really matters is the fun and intense action Crackdown has to offer.

You play as one of eight agents, but these aren’t your average agents, they have 5 key adaptive skills that evolve over the course of the game, these skills are; Agility, Driving, Explosives, Strength and Shooting. These 5 skills are pretty much the 5 main cores of action in Crackdown. In pacific city there are 3 main gangs that rule over 3 unique territories, and by taking out the 21 unique gang bosses and wiping out a gang completely, you will gain skill points depending on how you take down the enemy, for instance just shooting a guy will improve your shooting abilities, and using explosives will improve you explosive abilities, its actually a really clever way of advancing through the game in your own way and adds to the free-from play that Crackdown does so well, as these skills improve you will see a dramatic change in your characters appearance: new facial features, hair, a bigger build ect. and of course the parameters of that said skill such as bigger explosions from explosives and precision targeting enabling you to aim better shots. The skill system is really what separates Crackdown from the rest of the Free roaming games to come out in recent history and instantly the one of the best features Crackdown has to offer.

With the agility skill the world becomes more “open” then any other free-roaming game, its basic benefit to you is the ability to jump great heights and run at super fast speeds, this enables you to get from place to place really easily instead of having take long journeys and getting hopelessly lost. There is a lot of verticality to the environment so climbing up to the top of a skyscraper is not only fun, but it opens a whole new world of transportation, you can jump from building to building like some sort of superhero and that’s probably some of the most fun you will have playing crackdown. Increasing your agility is a lot of fun too, there 500 agility orbs scattered around the world and they are all situated at high places (of course), in addition to those, there are rooftop races which test your jumping abilities in a series of checkpoints, these races are a nice thing to get sidetracked on but unfortunately, these are pretty much the only distractions from the main game. There are some surprisingly high places to scale and climb though, and the games impressive draw distance only makes climbing a building that more exciting.

Of course there is another mode of transportation, but in all fairness you’d be better off just sticking to jumping, the car handling is pretty mediocre even when the driving skill is maxed out the civilian cars handle like garbage, but the gang cars step it up a little, they tend to have a little more power under hood and therefore feel more responsive, but in hindsight, the agency cars at your disposal are what you should be using, as your driving skill increases by doing races and mowing gang members down, your agency cars will take a dramatic transformation, similar to your character changing appearance, whereas that is primarily aesthetic, these changes improve the power and abilities of the cars accordingly, not only do these cars improve, but your overall car handling is increased, even though the civilian cars are pretty much rendered useless to you throughout the game. You will be stuck for choice however, Crackdown has an interesting variety of vehicles, and while there aren’t any bikes or boats, you will find a variety of compacts, sedans, SUV’s and even armoured vehicles, and with your super strength these cars become instant weapons.

The combat in general is great, the 3 main components that consist of the combat are using the objects around the environment, shooting and using explosives. One of the impressive features is the ability to pick up and throw practically every object you can find in the city, whether that’s a trashcan or a 2 ton truck is totally up to you and down to your strength skill, throwing these objects at gang members will not only feel gratifyingly good, but it will also improve the skill, and when that happens, you’re able to throw things at a much larger scale and take more damage. All of the objects deform and break really well: lids flying off trashcans, concrete tiles breaking into loads of pieces ect. and all of the parts that do break apart can also be picked up and thrown, and its all down to the impressive havok engine that creates a huge amount of possibilities, however there are some technical issues with actually picking the objects up, if an object is tucked away in a corner or is in an awkward spot, the command to pick things up will not always immediately show up and end up leaving you venerable while desperately trying to grab an object. If using the environment as a weapon was not enough for you, then there is always your super strong kicks at your disposal, you can literally send objects flying at a tap of a button, so there’s never a dull moment to be had in Crackdown.

The shooting element is just fine, but as with all the skills you start off pretty weak, and since you are using a gun you would probably assume that that’s all you ever probably need, guess again, even with the strongest firearm skills, gang members do not go down easily unless you cap a solid headshot, even when using precision targeting, enemies still take a while to die, but the neat thing with the precision targeting, is the ability to shoot specific parts of the body or car, so undermining a targets mobility whether it’s a car or a person, is easy. Crackdown has a good set-up of weapons, you‘ve got your SMG‘s, sniper rifles, handguns, your usual line up of weapons, there isn’t necessarily a huge amount, but it’s evident a lot of care was taken into the overall design on some of the later firearms you will acquire, but for the most part, they all resemble modern weaponry used today, and the Explosive weaponry is just as fun as the standard shooting, similar to practically every other skill, using explosives to kill gang members is the way to improve it, and once improved, there’s never a chance of being bored because utter chaos awaits at the end of one single grenade. With all these skills in hand, you would think that there’s no way anyone can stop you, but you’d be wrong, Crackdown throws in enemy after enemy at you left, right and centre, and there’s no stopping the action at all, its damn right chaos from the get go, but its undeniably fun, you’ll notice a ton of random events occurring, from gang wars to civilians defending themselves, it just keeps going on and brings up the replay value to an insanely high amount.

Most free-roaming games will always try to create “a huge breathing, living world”, that bold claim can only be heightened even further with a developer name like “Realtime Worlds”, and the good thing is, they’ve done just that. The world has been designed beautifully, it may be a little smaller than what you would come to expect from most next generation games but for what it lacks in width, it makes up for in height, and there is no shortage of high places to go. There is a surreal variety to the environment, one minute your in suburbia, the next, in a rocky countryside, what makes this surreal is the distance between the two, its all very compact and is not initially perceived to be there, but it is, and its great. The civilians are just as impressive as the world is, there is a lot of them on screen at once, you do get the sense that the world is definitely breathing and most certainly living, they will say some great stuff, trouble is its hard to hear them, the game has a bad unbalance with sound effects, there is an option to make the quite noises louder, but still, civilians sound far too quite, but only when they are talking at least, you can pretty much hear their screams of terror all the time, which is always a welcome notion that something bad is going on, but it would be nice to hear their comments a little more clearly.

One voice that will never seem to be quiet is the disembodied voice that is the agency director, at first he seems really appropriate for the style of the game, but eventually he will just get on your nerves, his main goal is to show you the ropes and give you certain Intel, he’ll make a few comments here and there and generally just try to help you out in certain situations, but when you practically know everything, there’s no reason for him to carry on, he will cut down on some obvious comments but for the most part he really is unnecessary towards the end and makes tons of mistakes based on your location among other things.

Crackdown isn’t the hardest game of all, while the later difficulty levels do get hectic, the main incentive of the game isn’t a total challenge, sure the later bosses do get harder, but you could rush through the entire game fairly quickly without having too much trouble. Thankfully the enemy AI is pretty good, if you get too close they will use the objects in the environment as weapons giving you a taste of your own medicine, and they wont hesitate to use heavy weaponry at a distance either, there are some rough spots though, they wont entirely notice you from some angles, but rest assured, they will get more aggressive as time goes by.

One of the big parts of Crackdown is blowing stuff up, and its only fitting that they look exceptionally good, from black smoke pluming from a car explosion, to a burst of flaming bodies and debris flying through the air, you wont be disappointed when something blows up. With the mix of cell shading and textures, the graphics feel totally unique and add such a character to Crackdown, it has such a great draw distance on the landscape its breathtaking, sadly as far as cars and certain other objects are concerned , the draw distance isn’t so good. that’s not the only graphical blemish Crackdown has, cars will disappear quickly if you look away for just a second, and sometime cars just fail to show up at all and leave the driver floating in mid-air, also, when the physics are pushed to the limits in an explosion for example, the framerate can dip and can get messy, but other than that the game runs at a solid framerate throughout.

With a great visual experience comes a great audio experience, the soundtrack for Crackdown is surprisingly bad, there are a huge amount of tracks, sad thing is it’s a huge bunch of tracks from artists you may have never heard of, you can look at that any way you want, but it is a disappointment nonetheless, this doesn’t mean the music itself is bad, it actually pretty good varied music. Apart from the fact that the soundtrack in Crackdown is somewhat poor, the sound effects emitted from gunfire and explosions is spot on perfect, the explosions are so loud you’ll have to prepare your ears for it, overall the audio experience Crackdown has is really something special.

Crackdown has a interesting set of achievements, they vary in difficulty but are all easily achieved to some extent, some achievements don’t even have any points tied in with them, they simply are just another way of building your skills which is a first for an Xbox 360 game, the achievements are really unique as the rest of the game is, “body juggler” is just a glimpse at the creativity Realtime Worlds has put into the achievements.

Crackdown is just one of those games you wont forget anytime soon, in fact, you will take a lot of the things you can do in Crackdown for granted, when playing any other game of the same calibre you will feel the need to jump 30 feet, use objects as weapons and generally cause as much mayhem as possible, but you will find you can’t, or not as well as you can here, and that’s when it becomes apparent, that Crackdown is truly a game of one of its kind. Crackdown is a must have for anyone who likes the genre, but more specifically to anyone who has gotten bored of the free-roaming experience previous games have had to offer.

~Death Burnout

Other reviews for Crackdown (Xbox 360)

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