A game set in a city where gangs rule the streets and where the authorities have given up hope of ever regaining control doesn’t sound like anything new. Crackdown gives the setting a new spin however, as this time it is the player who must clean up the gang-infested city and make the streets safe once more, rather than take over the city to plunge it into an even darker abyss of criminal activities as seen in Saint’s Row or Grand Theft Auto.
The game is developed by Realtime Worlds, which was founded by Rockstar co-founder David Jones. Incidentally, Jones was also one of the people behind the first two Grand Theft Auto installments. Though some influence can be noted from the GTA series, Crackdown adds enough unique elements to the mix to claim its own spot in the open-world genre.
Players are tasked with “cleaning up the city”, which involves taking down each of the tree crime rings that have taken over the various city districts of the fictional Pacific City. Unlike the regular peacekeepers in the street however, you are a completely new breed of law enforcement. As an Agent, you are faster and stronger than your counterparts and are more proficient at handling vehicles, guns and explosives. What sets Crackdown apart from many other games however, is the fact that your powers grow throughout the game. Killing gang members with firearms will slowly make your weapons more effective and will also improve the auto-aim feature. Using grenades or explosive weapons will increase the blast radius after having defeated enough enemies in this way. The same goes for the melee and driving skills. As melee skill increases, the Agent becomes stronger and is able to lift heavier objects. The driving skill influences the handling of all vehicles found throughout Pacific City, and specific Agent vehicles will morph into more powerful versions of themselves in a Transformer-like manner when commandeered by an Agent. The only skill that does not increase with use is Agility. This skill influences the Agents movement; speed and jump height, and can only be increased by gathering a large amount of “agility orbs” that are strewn throughout the city.
The three gangs of Pacific City each represent a unique form of organized crime. The “Los Muertos” are of Central American origin and mainly focus on the trafficking of drugs and weapons. The “Volg” are led by an Eastern European mastermind and control most of the city’s industries and provide the city with a constant flow of immigrants. Finally, the “Shai-Gen Corporation” is a legitimate Asian organization that conducts dubious experiments on the population of Pacific City. The main goal players pursue involve killing off the leader and the six generals of these gangs. This generally involves infiltrating a compound and then finding and defeating the marked target.
After having defeated one of the 21 officers that are found in the game, the gang to which they belonged will be weakened. Defeating the general in charge of weapons procurement will result in gang members carrying less effective weapons, which in turn will make it easier to infiltrate the headquarters of the gang and take out the overall gang leader. Taking out the gang leader before all generals have been defeated will leave the remaining gang members disorganized and disable any significant reinforcements.
Unfortunately, despite the innovative player progression and the constant action players will find themselves taking part in, several gameplay mechanics remove the challenge from the game and actually force you to avoid direct combat towards the end of the game.
At the offset of the game, firearms are rather weak. Still, by using the auto-aim feature players can pull off headshots if they just take enough time to allow the game to aim. In fact, you only need to have a clear line of sight when targeting the enemy and when firing, leaving players free to run around while the actual “aiming” takes place. This actually encourages players to take out enemies at maximum range, as groups of enemies can be cleared without the opposition getting a shot at you. To make matters worse, as your level in Agility increases, the agent will move faster and due to the high movement speed, it becomes nigh-impossible to take down enemies WITHOUT resorting to the auto-aim feature. Weapons fired without the auto-aim will generally just spray a large amount of bullets in a general direction, but will rarely deal enough damage to kill. Explosives, such as hand grenades will also always hit a target when using the auto-aim feature.
Though it is genuinely fun to blow up large groups of enemies and vehicles or just gun your way through hordes of enemy gang members, the combat poses little challenge and therefore will slowly become a nuisance when faced with the large amount of respawning enemies that serve as guards for the more powerful gang leaders. This, combined with the fact that the Agent is much faster and can jump higher than normal human beings, will make it attractive for players to just ignore most enemies and navigate through compounds as fast as possible to locate their target.
As the Agent becomes more proficient in each of his skills, he slowly becomes some kind of superhero while the environment and opponents remain the same. Though enemies slowly increase in number, health and firepower, players grow more powerful at a faster rate. Therefore, as the game progresses players will likely find the actual objective of defeating gang leaders to become less and less challenging and therefore less satisfying.
That is not to say that there is no fun to be had in Crackdown. As agility increases, players become able to scale buildings in only a few jumps and make incredible leaps from building to building. It is highly entertaining to navigate across the city’s rooftops from point to point and collect the 500 agility-orbs that are located throughout the city. However, as there is no effective way of tracking which orbs have been collected, and in which area of the city you have missed a few, it is not appealing to try and collect them all.
Finally, when the story draws to a close after ten to twelve hours of gameplay, players are presented with one of the least satisfying endings in gaming history. Afterwards, players are left free to explore the city. Yet, as there are no more enemies remaining, this seems pointless. Strikingly, those who actually wish to replay the game are prevented from doing so as there appears to be no user-friendly way of starting a new game or resetting the story while retaining the Agent’s abilities. An update introduced the option to respawn some of the gang members, but the post-game never becomes satisfying.
Summarizing, the game has several interesting concepts that are implemented poorly or that are negated by strange gameplay mechanics. It is fun to wage all-out war on gang members in the open streets, but in close quarters, weapon control and issues with the camera make the game lose its shine quickly. Those who have friends with the game, could perhaps borrow this game if they absolutely have nothing better to do. Otherwise, this game is likely to keep you entertained just as much as some of the many other mediocre games on the market. It seems like games are still a lot more fun on the wrong side of the law.
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Realtime Worlds
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: February 20, 2007
Genre: Action, Open World