Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crackdown Review.

Crackdown: Xbox360 Game: Developer:Realtime Worlds

Crackdown came to prominence due to Microsoft's decision to package the Halo 3 multiplayer trial with the game. To everyone's surprise the actual Crackdown game turned out to be a very fun (if somewhat flawed) open world action game.

In Crackdown one plays a genetically enhanced super solider called The Agent for an organization called The Agency run by a disembodied voice known as The Director. Through both your actions and the collection of orbs you increase your powers to the point that you are a true bad ass jumping around the city (surprisingly not called The City, naming things not being Realtime Worlds' strong suit).

The game's city consisting of three islands each controlled by a different gang with your headquarters on a forth smaller island in the middle. The gangs are Los Muertos (Your standard South American Drug Cartel), The Volk (Your standard Russian Mafia), and The Shai-Gen Corporation ( which represents Sony).

The graphics are a colorful cell-shaded affair that fits surprisingly well with the chaos and the ever more outrageous powers you will achieve. The sound (with one notable exception detailed below) is also quite good with the hum of the agility orbs almost being hypnotic (and yes you will see agility orbs in your daily life and hear the hum in your sleep.)


There are a couple of bits of genius in Crackdown. The first and most obvious is the combining of item collection and powers. The powers are more than mere stat boosts as there are both visible (You crackle with electricity when you level up a core power ) and quite fun (You can roundhouse kick a mack truck and leap from skyscraper to skyscraper).

The other brilliant move is the structure. In the game you are tasked with taking out the three gangs as you see fit. Each gang consists of a boss and various sub-bosses that specialize in various tasks for their boss (Such as training bodyguards or providing weapons). By taking out the sub-bosses you weaken a certain part of the bosses defenses therefore making him an easier target. It's a brilliant structure that gives a real sense of accomplishment in a open world environment.

The game also doesn't skimp on weapons with the harpoon gun and the five shot at a time homing grenade launcher being particular favorites.

Crackdown (3)

It is a good thing that Crackdown is such well structured and fun game, because the game certainly has a bunch of flaws that easily would be game-breakers in almost any other adventure.

For starters there is combat. There is a reason my Agent maxed out his punch people in the face ability first. Now hand to hand combat has its own set of issues. (Mainly facing the wrong way and missing enemies outright while jamming the B button.) Compared however to the auto-aim on guns, hand to hand combat is of a Street Fighter II Turbo caliber.

Auto-aim has two favorite targets: civilian vehicles and dead guys. Crackdown loves shooting dead guys, perhaps as a forerunner to the zombies in Crackdown 2 one might muse. Getting your targeting off the dead guy and onto the guy with a rocket launcher is surprisingly challenging. In addition Crackdown allows you to target specific parts of a person or vehicle. The game in theory allows one to blow up a car with a well aimed shot to the gas tank. Getting the cursor to the gas tank part of the car however seems to be a case of random hit or miss. Often the game simply won't let you target that part of the vehicle even if you a clearly facing it.

Fortunately the above mentioned homing grenade launcher renders many of these problems somewhat mute towards the end of the game. Though they still seem to pop up every once in a while.

Crackdown (4)

Part of the games challenge is making seemingly impossible jumps to grab onto a distant ledge. Unfortunately sometimes a ledge looks like a ledge, quacks like a ledge and yet your agent proceeds to plummet eighty stories to his demise. While the parkour in Crackdown is fun, and one of the games selling points, it isn't what I would call fine tuned.

Speaking of both out of tune and poorly tuned we have the vehicles. Driving is one of your abilities in Crackdown and in theory when one reaches the highest level ones car becomes a super powered monster. I say in theory because there is actually no need to power this up to defeat the game. In fact once your all important agility power has a few stars under its belt, cars are simply superfluous since you can now jump from rooftop to rooftop.

And thank God for that. For such a relatively small map Crackdown's streets are a confusing labyrinth. To add to the mess the in-game map has no custom waypoints. Strangely, The Agency claims they want you to capture enemy vehicles and bring them back to headquarters. However the entrance to headquarters is unmarked on your map, almost impossible to find and is disguised on top of that like the Bat-Cave entrance from the caped crusader's sixties TV show.

In addition the way you increase your driving skill is by winning races (easier said than done and hardly a fun pastime in this particular game) or running over gang members. Gang members however seem to metamorphosis into Cirque du Soleil performers the minute one points a car in their general direction.

Crackdown (2)

The final nail in the driving coffin is the in game radio. One of the joys of open world games is simply cruising around the city listening to the radio. I would purchase a downloadable version of GTA Vice City right now (Hint hint Rockstar) just to cruise the streets of faux Miami in a red convertible listening to the tunes.

Per Wikipedia: Music supervisor Peter Davenport was in charge of selecting the music for the game, over 100 tracks of electronica and sample-based music by a number of independent and video game musicians, a task that took three years to complete. Per Videogame Musings: it is the worst collection of "music" I simply have ever heard. Each song is worse than the last and if I would have to guess Peter Davenport's IPod is currently the torture device of choice at various CIA black prisons around the world.

Crackdown (5)

Thankfully, despite the control problems, some features either missing or broken, and a soundtrack from the depths of hell, Crackdown scores high in that hard to define fun factor category and when it comes to games that is always the deciding factor.

Final Score $25... so pick it up if you don't own it. (and from what I have read certainly pick it up instead of its sequel)

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