Free roaming sandbox games are few and far between, good free roaming sandbox games that mimic a certain genre are even rarer. So in an industry full of seemingly endless clones of Grand Theft Auto what does Real Time World's Crackdown actually offer if anything?
Crackdown puts you as a futuristic government bio-agent, a kind of supercop that can evolve five particular skills through rigorous elimination of bad guys, and climbing to heights that only Spiderman can dream of. The city is in dire need of a hero, three major gangs control it and crime is at an all time high.
Enter the Agency, proponents of this bio-mechanical crime fighting approach. From their tower at the centre of the city they can strike out in a Batman-esque manner to deliver justice to the bad guys.
The first problem that Crackdown suffers from is that it has no real story. You get a small cut-scene when you first start the game; this is minimal and relies upon a comic-book style visual to tell. You get some info-data-burst scene when you enter a gang territory for the first time, and some regular (annoying) updates from the Agency when new intel becomes available.
This isn't enough to drive most gamers desire to play the game beyond blowing the heck out of gang members, cars, and other exploding objects.
Yet Crackdown is still a fairly addictive game and kudos should be given to the developers, they have tried something pretty inventive and out-there compared to the almost linear stories of other titles. Having an evolving agent that changes appearance as you increase their core skills adds a slight RPG-flavour to the game.
Each agent has five core skills. Athletics (the only skill you can't increase directly in combat - you need to find various glowing orbs to do this, some are placed way up on rooftops and other hard to reach areas), Driving, Strength, Explosives and Firearms. As each of the physical skills, Athletics and Strength increase your agent transforms to look tougher and bigger. Athletics allows you to run faster, jump higher (as high as around 30 feet from a standing jump) and long jump far enough to make Neo jealous.
Crackdown also has some Parkour, you can actually climb up buildings by hanging onto ledges and leaping madly upwards. If you catch onto certain objects whilst falling your agent will hang or pull himself up.
Strength allows you to pick up bigger and bigger objects until you're hurling trucks around like they were made of candyfloss. It also governs how much damage you do in hand-to-hand (as well as can take from enemies and long falls), so at the Max rating you'll be able to do some serious harm to your enemies and take quite a bit of damage.
Driving allows you greater control over the vehicles in the game. Normal cars handle pretty well, but you'll want to increase your skill here (By running gang members over, doing acrobatic moves in the SUV or completing other challenges like Stunt Markers) so you can get the best out of the three Agency vehicles that are available. When fully pimped-out via your Driving skill the Agency: Supercar, SUV and Truck Cab are futuristic wonders that are the choice pick for getting around.
The Supercar makes the Batmobile look tame and comes with a nice pair of twin machine-guns for dishing out damage. The SUV becomes an acrobatic dream and can spin, roll and even use its suspension to turn a normal jump into a thing of beauty. The Truck Cab transforms into a road-warrior death-machine that will blast anything out of the way and keep on going, able to absorb quite a lot of damage in the process. It also comes with NoS for that extra burst of metal-crunching speed.
Explosives increase your blast radius, damage and amount of force. Firearms allow you to take more accurate shots, reload quicker and so on. You can increase these one at a time, or by doing various combinations you can pull in those XP orbs in a mix. Shoot a few bad guys, toss a grenade or fire a rocket and you'll soon be earning points like there's no tomorrow.
If you can get up high enough and grab a sniper rifle, you'll increase both Athletics and Firearms.
You can target specific areas of a person, or a vehicle whilst locked on, the lock on system needs a way to quickly switch targets and feels a little clunky - having the pin-point mode makes it more fun however.
There are unlockable spawn-points, known as Supply Points that allow you to move quickly around the city and respawn if you die. Once you take one over you'll be able to bring gang weapons back to unlock them for your use. And that's the crux of gameplay in Crackdown, to take down the gangs. You do this by taking out the gang members, then tracking down the various generals that the Agency feeds you intel on and finally once you've taken all the generals down, you get a crack at the Kingpin.
Or you can go in guns blazing and try to kill the Kingpin right at the start, but your odds of survival will usually be extremely low as the leader will have some serious protection to keep you at bay. After you wipe out a Kingpin, Los Muertos, Volk, or Shai-Gen, you get one final crime - deal with that and the gang are gone from the city.
As you wipe out the gangs you'll see less litter on the streets and the city will look brighter, cleaner. There will be less violence and people will be a lot happier.
You can complete road races, stunt challenges, rooftop races and each of these will also help you increase those skills of yours. But that's about it, there's only one other thing you can do apart from blowing things up (satisfying as it is) and that's team up over Live or a Network, play co-op with a friend and take down gang members together.
The co-op part of the game should have been a dream, but it seems as though not a lot of thought went into it. There are times when you're both in other areas of the city and you notice that your friend has killed off your particular gang-boss. You can't pool your resources, so any Supply Points aren't shared between you and your buddy; they have to unlock them as well.
But it is a great step in the right direction for GTA-style games, co-op should be a must in most games and game genres as far as I am concerned and this is one reason that Just Cause failed to hit the proper mark. Mercenaries 2 might have it right but we'll have to wait and see regarding that. It is a lot of fun to tool up on some big guns and then run around with a friend just wasting the gang members, blasting through the game with a buddy whose better at driving gives you the chance to see the Agency vehicles as they look in the hands of a pro etc.
So that's the gameplay for Crackdown. It's a solid game but lacks any real kind of motivation to continue on apart from blasting things and gangs to bits. It would do better if there was more of a story and more of a GTA-style mission structure.
The game's graphics are a whole new ballgame as they say. Crackdown has a great draw-distance with none of the problems that plagued Saints Row such as disastrous pop-up and vanishing sections of road. There are a few glitches here and there but most of the time the game runs smoothly, at a decent frame rate and delivers fast past crime-fighting action for 1 or 2 players.
I love the use of this new Graphic Novel style comic-book look RTW went for, it is slicker than cell-shading and fits the game perfectly. It features nice lighting and a very smooth day-to-night cycle. The draw-distance is pretty impressive and looking out from the Agency tower top at night is quite breathtaking as the city seems almost alive.
The levels of eye candy are good, there's enough pyrotechnical explosive joy that when coupled with a decent physics system makes blowing things up lots of fun. There's the usual rag-doll physics and the bells and whistles are there for destruction - save for buildings ala Mercenaries.
The AI is a bit of a let down, it is rudimentary and simple stuff that presents a challenge when you are confronted by enemies with a tonne of explosive weapons, seven Shai-Gen, three of which are armed with Firefly heat-seeking rockets for example will often make mincemeat out of your agent.
It has some good sound (weapons, explosions etc), some excellent music tracks that are instrumental and so on lurk inside each vehicles futuristic equivalent of a CD-Player. The voice work (is few and far between) consists of random talk from pedestrians and your ever present (ever annoying) Agency liaison, nameless voice man.
All in all Crackdown could have been so much more with a great story, but it's really all about taking down your enemies, powering up your agent and blasting them with style. It has numerous clever Achievements and when you complete the game you can turn random crimes back on so you're able to keep on fighting crime solo or with a friend. I hope if RTW produces a sequel (and they should) that they take some of the faults into consideration and deliver a solid story.