Holy crap this game is fun.
In the Grand Theft Auto-esque Crackdown, the capital Pacific City is under assault from gangs that have become so strong that even the police have been dissolved in their wake. All that remains is the mysterious Agency and their Peacekeepers, who don’t have the manpower or training to take down the powerful gang bosses. There is constant crime throughout the city, keeping the citizenry in a state of fear at all times.
Each district of Pacific City is in the grip of a different gang. The northern islands are under the control of the evil Shai-Gen corporation, whose leader Wang resides in the second-tallest skyscraper in the city. (The Agency headquarters on the central island is the tallest.) The eastern islands are ruled by the Volk, a gang of deserters from the Russian Army who have a large stockpile of surplus vehicles and weapons. To the southwest is Los Muertos, a gang of murderous hispanic gangsters who specialize in customizing fast cars.
To combat this threat, the mysterious Agency has genetically-engineered an agent with special evolving capabilities, which is you. In addition, they’ve provided you with specially-designed vehicles to use in his crime-fighting mission. The Agency Supercar is basically a ramp with an engine, and when you get it up to speed it’ll pass underneath any other vehicle on the road (even huge trucks) and send it flying away. It’s also by far the fastest thing on four wheels. The SUV’s tires grip so well that it will often sweep itself up over guardrails or up the side of tunnels. Meanwhile, the Truck Cab is powerful enough to instantly destroy anything it hits once it gets up to speed.
And when they say “evolving,” they aren’t kidding– the game goes far beyond the level-up system in most similar games. While you start as an average athletic and well-trained police officer, you evolve into (basically) The Incredible Hulk.
The skills are:
- Athletics, which influences your running speed, jumping height and swimming ability. At four stars (the maximum level), you’re able to jump between buildings and fall from great heights without getting hurt.
- Driving, which controls the speed and maneuverability of vehicles you pilot. The Agency vehicles become insanely fast and maneuverable at the four-star level. They also smoothly morph in appearance to suit their level, which is a very well-done visual effect.
- Strength, your physical strength which influences which objects you can lift and throw, and how much damage you do when kicking and hitting enemies. With four stars, you can pick up and throw any object in the game, even huge boulders or buses, and any physical attack is instant-death for all enemies except bosses.
- Guns, which influences the accuracy and damage done by the various guns you find in the game.
- Explosives, influencing the blast radius are power of explosives you throw. Rocket launchers and grenade launchers count as explosives in Crackdown, not guns. At the four-star level, you can explode an entire group of gangsters in a single rocket launcher shot.
The objective of the game is to locate shut down all the gang bosses in all the districts of the city. Once you find a hideout, the Peacekeepers will prepare a short briefing for you describing the gang boss and what kind of guards they have. Expect tons of bodyguards as you venture into the hideout after the boss, and bosses themselves typically are much tougher than the average criminal. When each boss in a district is defeated, you are given calculated odds of beating the leader of that district’s gang. Be careful of civilian casualties, they’ll slow down your skill advancement and the Peacekeepers will come after you.
Like most GTA-style games, Crackdown contains various races throughout the city. Rooftop races are marked with glowing green circles on the ground, and will have you jumping and falling all over the buildings to beat the clock. They reward you with agility points when you complete them before time runs out. Vehicle races are marked in purple, and reward you with driving points when completed. In addition, there are various stunt markers in the city. Driving a vehicle through a stunt marker will grant you driving points, and since most of these are very hard to accomplish, make you feel really good about yourself. (Even with a four-star driving skill, I haven’t been able to get a car through that stupid stunt marker in the shipyard yet.)
In addition, there are some scattered power-ups in Pacific City. Agility Orbs are placed on high buildings, or in other hard-to-reach places, and increase your agility when picked up. From my experience, agility orbs are pretty much the only way to level-up your agility in a decent amount of time. There are 500 agility orbs in the game. Hidden Orbs are, natch, hidden throughout the city and grant you a selection of experience points for all stats.
The graphics in Crackdown are done in a hard-to-describe graphic novel style. It’s not exactly cell-shading, but at the same time it’s not realistic in the way that Gears of War is. The game uses the processing power of the Xbox 360 to render the entire city in every frame, and while I’m sure it’s ramping down detail for far-off objects, whatever simplification it’s doing is so smooth as to be completely unnoticeable. The only slight problem I found with the graphics was how sometimes you would see cars disappear from the road as they turned from “background filler” into “vehicles you can interact with.” But all-in-all, the graphic quality is excellent.
The soundtrack consists of tracks from bands you’ve probably never heard of before, but most of the songs sound great. While driving a car, you can use the shoulder buttons switch radio stations to listen to your favorites, which is a nice touch. (The game also has a jukebox mode in the sound settings screen if you want to listen to the music uninterrupted.) Most of the songs are selected to match the district you’re in. For instance, while fighting the Los Muertos, the music selections are primarily latino. A small caption at the bottom of the screen tells you the name, artist and label of each track if you want to go out and buy it.
One of the best parts of Crackdown is the physics engine. While the physics are entirely comic-book style, the visuals on the screen always look great. Rubber tires act like rubber when they hit something, and objects fly through the air and fall realistically. Like all great action movies and video games, every car on the road appears to be loaded with a ton of TNT, and it only takes a couple of bullets into the gas tank to cause an explosion to sent it flying. You can also target a vehicle’s tires, and send it skidding out of control. The Agency vehicles seem to be specifically designed the show off the crazy physics model.
The game has a few bugs and shortcomings, of course. The tutorial becomes annoying after the tenth time you’ve heard “agent, there’s a road race nearby!” The track info shows, and the shoulder buttons work, even if you have music turned off. The Agency Supercar is almost too fast to control when fully upgraded, but maybe I’m just getting old and losing my reflexes. The end boss in Shai-Gen takes too long to get to.
Crackdown is a tremendous game that any fan of GTA-style games owes it to themselves to get. Don’t let the free Halo 3 demo download the game includes make you think that Microsoft is shoring up sales of a crappy game. This game can most definitely stand on its own. It’s hard to describe the simple joy in driving the Supercar down the freeway at 300 MPH, launching car after car in the air behind you. Or killing five gangsters at once by throwing their own car at them. Or jumping off a 60-story building to land on a 30-story building two blocks away. I’ve beat the game once, and I’m looking forward to playing through it again. Highly recommended.
- There is much less traffic at night, so that is the perfect time to do some of the more difficult road races. You’ll hit fewer civilian cars and get much better times.
- Hidden orbs are frequently hidden in pipes, chimneys and under bridges.
- If you don’t have an Agency vehicle, try these substitutes:
- Supercar – use a Peacekeeper police car instead. While not as fast, it has good manueverability and survivability.
- SUV – Use a pick-up truck, which has very good grip on dirt roads but is quite a bit slower.
- Truck Cab – Try grabbing one of the Volk’s APCs. They’re slow, but have almost as good survivability as the agency truck cab. The Scud truck is awesome.
- The “Freeway Gauntlet” race in Volk is holy crap insane. Use the Agency Supercar, or you’ll end up totaling a dozen civilian cars trying to beat it. Only the Supercar has the hitpoints, speed, and weaving-through-traffic ability to do this one in time.
- Crackdown is entirely free-form. While generally you’ll want to beat each district in order so the difficulty ramps up, there’s nothing to stop you from doing the Volk gang bosses first while ignoring Los Muertos, or from just driving around and completing races or looking for Orbs. I spent hours playing with the car arena in the Los Muertos area, not even working towards any game goals.
- You can’t really beat the Shai-Gen end boss without four-star agility. I wasted a lot of time figuring this out.
- Sometimes it’s worthwhile to give up assaulting a hideout to return to base, grab the Truck Cab, and just road-rage your way through all their guards.