Game Description: Crackdown pushes the action-driving hybrid genre into the next generation with the first ever truly 3D playground. Gamers will enforce justice by any means necessary in Pacific City, a crime-ridden urban center built to encourage the exploration of the full width, depth and height of the city. Coupled with highly innovative co-op gameplay—a genre first—and an interactive world where nearly anything can be used as a weapon, gamers will be able to create a volatile cocktail of judicial oppression as they clean up the streets.
In my review of Mercenaries, I wondered if it wasn't time to drop the plots entirely from open-concept action games. Let the player run around with a gun, going nuts. I'll be the first to admit that it was a terrible idea. In my defense, though, it was meant as an ironic comment about the poor quality of videogame stories, not an honest call for their removal. Realtime Worlds seems to have run with the concept, though, and the result, while entertaining for a little while, is for the most part an awkward, incomplete mess.
Crackdown is a third-person action game in which the player controls a superhero whose power is shooting people. A lot. In a dystopian future crime is at an all-time high, with gangs waging open war on the streets. Only fascist supercops can kill enough people to restore order, if not necessarily law. That is literally as much story as the game features. After a brief intro movie, rendered in comic book panels for no other reason than to set up the cel-shaded graphics style, the player is dropped into a large city and told to kill 21 people scattered across it.
If the basic concept sounds familiar, it's because searching for specific "gang leaders" to murder across a large open landscape was a key element in Mercenaries as well, although that game offered players other things to do. Crackdown, not so much. Perhaps the first truly open-concept 3D action game, Crackdown features no structure of any kind. Bosses can be killed in any order, at any time; there are no missions to complete, no puzzles to solve, no characters to meet. At first, this seemed like a bit of a bold choice, but eventually I realized that killing 21 people just isn't enough content to justify building an entire game around. There's nothing to do but endless repetitive combat.
Actually, the combat starts out fairly well. Unlike most of its contemporaries, Crackdown features a decent targeting system. Hovering the targeting reticule over an opponent and pressing the lock button will affix the camera to him or her, allowing the player to blast away with perfect accuracy. This isn't a flawless system, though, as most items in the gameworld can be targeted, and the game doesn't prioritize hostiles over inanimate objects, so if a bad guy is standing in front of a car I would find myself just as likely to target it as him. What's worse, there's no way to switch quickly between targets, so whenever I find myself targeting a corpse or a park bench I have to release the lock, manually move my aim, and lock on again. It's a tedious waste of time for a game that's supposed to be about fast-paced action.
There are combat options other than shooting, though, and for the most part, the robust punching and throwing system works very well, with only a few niggling problems. Especially nice is the fact that the shooting lock-on works for throwing as well, so the game basically guarantees a perfectly aimed throw, making grenades an incredibly useful part of the arsenal. Throwing other things is more of a mixed bag though, as a quirk of the game's physics engine makes throwing large objects surprisingly unrewarding. While it seems like it should be a blast to pick up a car and hurl it at an opponent, exceptionally large objects tend to float through the air seemingly in slow motion. Since they're always thrown in an arc as opposed to directly, it is extremely difficult to hit anything with a car or truck, ruining what should have been one of the game's highlights.
Getting to the point of being able to throw cars is fairly painless due to the game's exceptionally well-designed upgrade system. Killing gang members awards upgrade points based on the method by which they were killed: shooting gives shooting points, explosions explosion points, and so forth. Agility points, which allow players to leap tall buildings over a number of careful bounds, are secreted throughout the impressive city, forcing players to play scavenger hunt to track them down. The system works great, with the game rewarding players based on their play style, improving the abilities they use the most more quickly than the rest.
While the running, jumping, and shooting is relatively satisfying, the game suffers from the fact that the developers either couldn't think of things for them to do with those mechanics, or just couldn't be bothered to include anything. After the first four hours go by and all the bosses are dead, there's nothing of consequence left to do. Compounding the problem is the game's bizarrely awful save system. A popular way to tack on replayability is to allow players to restart the game with their powered-up characters. Not only does Crackdown not allow this, but it's impossible to start a new game without deleting the entire save file.
This even ruins the mild fun that can be gleaned from the game's co-op mode—instead of teaming up with a friend to play through the whole game, both players are forced to continue from however far the host player has made it into the game. Unless playing co-op is the absolute first thing that's done when starting the game (which I recommend), more likely than not all the two players will be able to do is wander around causing random, inconsequential havoc. Fun for a little while, but it gets very old, very fast.
It must be said that Crackdown isn't an unmitigated disaster by any means. The superpowers are entertaining enough. While the combat quickly grows stale, exploring the city is good for a few hours of mild fun. This feels like an alpha build of a game: the point in a game's development cycle where engine is in place, and the world has been built, and a few bad guys running around for testing purposes. Unfortunately, the actual meat of the game, the story and the missions, haven't been added yet. Were it a complete game, Crackdown would probably be a lot of fun. As released, it's just a nice idea and proof of concept, but nothing that anyone should have to pay money for.
According to ESRB, this game contains: blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs.
Parents will want to steer their children clear of this one. It's excessively violent with blood, explosions, and the wholesale slaughter of innocent bystanders. Not cool for the kiddies.
Fans of sandbox gaming may discover just what a hollow pursuit it is. Sure, there are cars to toss at people and grenades to send them flying in every direction, but doesn't the constant murder get old after a while? It's not like there's anything to do other than shoot people in the streets, and even the most socially maladjusted nihilist is sure to tire of it quickly.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers should be fine. There aren't any vital audio cues, and key information is written onscreen. Even the random audio messages that pop up on the soundtrack are subtitled.
Dan says that Crackdown isn't an unmitigated disaster—I disagree. For a game that received crazy amounts of hype prior to release and was even granted the coveted honor of being host to the Halo 3 beta, it's an embarrassing, incomplete, and hopelessly botched attempt by a developer that either has no idea what they're doing, or lacked the time, talent, and/or resources to bring their concept to fruition. The idea of being a superpowered police officer works, but nothing much in the game does. It's such a train wreck, I hardly know where to begin—but I'll try.
Taking the concept of sandbox gaming to an unwelcome extreme, the Crackdown play experience feels shallow, repetitive, and lacks any sort of intelligence in terms of progression or craft. The developers seem to think that scattering anonymous bad guys around a map and surrounding them with stupid-huge hordes of snipers and rocket-launching goons is a good substitute for designing actual levels and encounters. It's not. It's not even enjoyable. Most of my time was spent either systematically eliminating gangsters like ants streaming from a hive, or trying to find a quiet corner so my life bar could regenerate. There is no complexity here, and no nuance or balance to the play at all.
Even worse, many of Crackdown's individual components don't hold together. For example, the city's architecture feels incredibly false and only serves to impede the player's movement. In fact, it's frustratingly difficult to navigate without taking the time to purposely increase leaping abilities—so much so that I was amazed the developers even bothered to include cars since driving isn't a practical option. It's much faster and more efficient to jump after leveling up, not to mention the fact that the vehicles handle like junk, height of locations is often an obstacle, and the roads are impossible to get around on. Good luck trying to find an on-ramp or even reaching some of the elevated roadways.
It may land in the genre by default, but I hesitate to call Crackdown a "sandbox" game because there's more to the formula than simply being "open." In Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series, players follow a scripted plot line but can deviate from it at any time in order to participate in other activities. Not only are there alternate subplots to follow, there are a number of pastimes which exist simply for the pleasure of performing them, customization, and small goals that may or may not have an effect on the game overall. In Crackdown, the only option is wreaking havoc. Tired of tracking down bosses? I hope aimlessly leaping around the city or tossing cars for the hell of it sounds entertaining because that's about all there is to accomplish unless wasting time searching for stray icons is appealing. Game time well-spent? Hardly.
It's true that gaining superhuman powers and leaping through the sky to deliver fierce justice should be a winning formula—but there's really nothing to do and even less ability to experiment with or influence the elements that make up the game. Aimless and devoid of substance to the point of being pointless, Crackdown is such a raw, incomplete and unfocused effort that I actually feel insulted by the developers' gall in trying to pass this off as a full-fledged product. If I hadn't played Earth Defense Force 2017, I'd say that Crackdown was the worst thing I've played for the 360. As of right now, it's a dead tie.