Leap tall buildings in a single bound â€“ without entering any cheat codes! That sentence pretty much sums up what Crackdown is all about: allowing you to legitimately do many of the crazy things that could only be done in games like Grand Theft Auto with the help of cheats. And you know what? It really makes the game extremely fun.
Of course, the first thing many people will remark on when loading up Crackdown is how similar it is to Grand Theft Auto. But isnâ€™t that pretty commonplace nowadays? GTA has become less of a game and more of a genre â€“ a genre that is now, with the likes of Crackdown and Saints Row, actually getting populated with decent titles. So yes, youâ€™ll be placed in an urban setting and given free reign to wander about, steal cars and blow things up as you please. But itâ€™s the differences that really set Crackdown apart, and so Iâ€™ll be focusing on those.
You play as a cybernetically-enhanced cop, tasked with rescuing Pacific City from the clutches of three gangs, who are systematically driving it into the ground. The gameplay of the main story mode consists mostly of dispatching all the key members of each gang, starting with lower-order subordinates, and eventually making your way up to the leader of each group. These missions are fed to you as you wander around the city, but in a nice touch you can ignore them until youâ€™re ready. Each â€˜hitâ€™ you perform can get pretty chaotic, as your target is always surrounded by dozens of henchmen. Luckily, there are often several different routes to get to your target, meaning you can bypass a good number of bad guys if, say, you have a high enough jump skill to leap over particular buildings.
This is probably a good point to talk about your skills. You have half a dozen different skill categories, ranging from agility (which governs speed and jumping) and strength, to firearms and driving. You can increase these skills in a variety of ways. Your agility, for example, goes up every time you find one of 500 agility orbs scattered around roof tops, while your firearms skill obviously goes up with every bad guy you take out. Itâ€™s a good system that is easy to work with once youâ€™ve come to grips with the mechanics, and certainly gives you plenty to do if you feel like taking a break from the missions. I spent most of my time hunting down agility orbs in order to max out my jumping â€“ because once you beef up your agility as far as itâ€™ll go, youâ€™ll be leaping from building to building like nobodyâ€™s business. Need I tell you that this is heaps of fun?
To the developersâ€™ credit, pretty much all the aspects of Crackdown feel nicely cohesive, from the gameplay features to the graphics. The game sports noticeable black outlines around objects, giving everything a slightly cartoony look that is actually a welcome relief from the more â€˜realisticâ€™ feel of GTA and its clones. Explosions also look quite nice, which youâ€™ll find when you get your hands on a rocket launcher. Multiplayer is also a welcome addition, and is again nicely integrated with the rest of the package. Playing through the game in co-op mode really adds to the fun of the game, much in the same way as it did in Gears of War.
However, itâ€™s not all rosy in the world of Pacific City. The more open-ended nature of the missions contributes to the generally uninteresting narrative structure â€“ this isnâ€™t a game youâ€™ll be playing for its gripping cast of characters or compelling dialogue. Many of the missions also start feeling a bit repetitive after a while â€“ youâ€™ll begin to get tired of all the compounds you have to infiltrate, taking out swarms of enemies every time.
Still, the thing that will keep drawing you back is the solid core gameplay. Missions aside, I havenâ€™t had this much fun with a GTA-type game for a long time, simply because the developers have made things like rooftop-jumping so much fun. If youâ€™re after a sandbox game that will keep you entertained until GTA 4 comes along, you need look no further than Crackdown.