Crackdown is the first game from Real Time Worlds, the studio which was founded by David Jones, the creator of both Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto. The game recently stole the spotlight as a select number of specially marked editions will allow access to the Halo 3 multiplayer beta. The fact that the game is being developed by David Jones should have been enough, and while Crackdown does have a few flaws it's extremely enjoyable in its own right, and the multiplayer beta for Halo 3 is merely a bonus.
Crackdown may look like a typical sandbox game, but there is one unique element which makes it a little more unique and fresh. You'll take control of an agent in Pacific City. Pacific City is a futuristic metropolis that is being overrun by three gangs - the Los Muertos, the Volks and the Asian Shai Gens. The gangs are becoming so powerful that the law enforcement Agency has to resort to desperate measures, and you're the first agent who is able to upgrade his abilities.
You'll begin the game as little more than a normal character with basic strength and a basic jump. As you progress though the game you're able to upgrade one of five abilities: agility, driving, explosives, strength and firearms. Each of these abilities are upgraded by putting them into practice, for example if you use firearms then your accuracy will improve and you'll hit more targets. There are also 500 agility orbs scattered throughout the city. Collecting these will improve your agility. The agility orbs are generally located rather high up, so it's quite common to find a few of the orbs on successive buildings. After fighting a few enemies and collecting a few orbs you'll be leaping high distances and throwing objects into the proverbial stratosphere.
Pacific City is huge and is divided up into seperate areas where each of the gangs congregate. After a quick introduction you're free to roam around the city exploring and collecting agility orbs, or just simply having fun. As you roam around Pacific City you'll discover gang havens; intel will pop up to inform you of the ringleader and you can choose to attack the gang members or level your agent up and come back later. If you choose to attack these gang members you'll face off against dozens upon dozens of enemies. You don't need to kill them all, though you'll want to kill a lot of them so you have easy access to the head honcho. Thankfully your agent's health regenerates after about ten seconds without being attacked, so you're able to face these enemies and still stand a chance. Once you've defeated all the gang leaders in a city you're more equipped to take on the kingpin. If you can beat the kingpin and then clear out the final gangs then you've cleaned up a part of the city.
One of Crackdowns shortcomings is the fact that the story mode is so straight forward. You'll be killing quite a few enemies repeatedly, wiping the area clean and moving on. This means the game can become quite repetitive, as rather than face off against smart enemies you'll face a lot of dumb enemies. There isn't a whole lot of mission variety throughout the story mode either, so you'll need to do a few other tasks so things don't become repetitive.
There are a few other things you can do in the story mode so you're not just doing the same activities repeatedly. There are supply points located all around Pacific City. Supply points are like save points and you can store gang weapons at each, as well as teleport to any other supply point in the city. There are 300 other hidden orbs located around Pacific City which also upgrade your stats. There are also race missions where you'll need to try and run through checkpoints whilst jumping over buildings as well as vehicle time attacks. Outside of the main campaign you can also attempt to defeat any of the bosses you've previously beaten with a better time.
Targeting in the game isn't as easy as we'd hoped. The left trigger is used to aim whereas the right trigger is used to shoot. Using the left trigger to aim will lock you onto the closest enemy, but if you want to change which enemy you're shooting at then you'll need to let go of the left trigger, face the next enemy and then lock on again. It would have been more preferable if you could just use the directional pad to cycle through targets. If you prefer melee combat then you can kick with the B button, but it's sometimes hard to single out an enemy to melee.
One of the best additions to Crackdown is the co-op support. At any time you can jump into a game with a friend and play through the missions together. The game also lets your Xbox Live friends jump into a co-op match, which is handy if you're stuck on a mission and need some help. You don't both need to focus on the one goal though, one of you can be wiping out gang members while the other person is collecting hidden orbs. Even if you don't want to complete missions in co-op there is plenty of fun to be had just jumping around or causing massive carnage.
Some of the simple things we've taken for granted in previous sandbox titles are missing from Crackdown. There is no option to set a waypoint on the map, so if you want to head somewhere you'll need to keep bringing up the map. The game also doesn't keep track of your stats, and some of the achievements require you to kill a certain amount of gang members and you'll have no way of keeping track of how many gang members you've killed - which is frustrating and seems like a poor omission. Throughout your time with the game you'll also come across a few glitches. At some stages shooting enemies will have no effect, despite consistent targeting. The camera can also occasionally obscure a clear view, but you're able to manually adjust it with the right analog stick.
Crackdown may have a few problems but you're very unlikely to care as you're jumping around the city throwng explosives around and watching cars go flying. The game becomes even more enjoyable the more your character's abilities improve. It's one of the best incentives to complete the game.
The visual style for Crackdown is a little different as the entire game is cel shaded. The game still has a lot of personality and Pacific City in particular looks appropriately gritty. When you're on top of a building you can see miles ahead of you, which is handy for retrieving the agility orbs. The game also runs at a smooth frame rate even when dozens of enemies are on screen. The voice acting in the game is good, although very serious.
Beating all of the kingpins will take you less than ten hours but then there are the agility orbs, the hidden orbs, the unique stunts and race missions to come back to. There are achievement points awarded for completing the story mode as well as doing crazier things such as keeping a vehicle in the air for more than six seconds. The game also supports downloadable content and with only 900 points worth of achievements available in the game at the current time, we're hoping Real Time Worlds adds some more humourous achievements - a new island or kingpin would be great though.
Crackdown does have a few shortcomings such as an average targeting system and repetitive missions but the game really does have that "one more hour" feeling to it. Even after completing the game you'll still come back to find one more orb or just to cause carnage. When you're jumping from building to building avoiding grenades and hordes of gangs it's hard not to smile. Crackdown is a highly recommended game and a great debut for Real Time Worlds.