It looked like Crackdown was set to be the next big thing. Long delayed, the demo released in January had me ready to jump from skyscrapers and rain fiery death on criminals and hoodlums. The gaming media added to the hype machine by praising Crackdown for its infectious carnage and achievement-centric gameplay long before its February release date. Throw in access to the Halo 3 beta for the first pressings and you've got every GameStop manager's wet dream.
Crackdown is not a breakthrough I wanted, though. In truth, Crackdown is really just a mildly entertaining game that can't break through its glass ceiling. It sparkles like gold for a while, but all too quickly the shine fades.
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Time Played: ~20 hours
Kinda like: GTA meets C.O.P.S.
I had a pretty decent time playing Crackdown. Certis and I made a pledge on release day that we'd clean up the streets of Pacific City together. And it was fun. The day after our great gaming experience, slogging my way through the tedium of my day job, all I could think about was how many agility orbs I had, and how soon I'd be able to play "Catch The Semi" with Certis. Indeed, everyone should play this game in coop mode, at least for a few hours, to remind yourself that working with your friends is sometimes better than chainsawing them in the face. Sometimes.
We spent the majority of our time leaping from roof to roof in search of elusive agility orbs. Among all the things Crackdown gets right, this is the best. You begin the game seeing these green orbs everywhere, but since you can only jump three inches off the ground, they'll seem unattainable. Eventually you'll find a few, gain a level in agility, and find yourself soaring through the sky in no time. But one level in agility is never enough, and those green orbs become your fix. Are the Peacekeepers waging an assault on the front gates of a crime boss's lair? Who cares? There are three orbs in that construction site across the street. The cops can take care of themselves.
The cops handle themselves so well that I wasn't sure why they needed us. When I began the game, driving out of Agency headquarters into the Los Muertos' territory, there was a big firefight between the yellow-clad gang and the cops. The announcer, an omnipotent jackass who spent most of the game chastising me for catching civilians in explosive crossfire, pleaded with me to turn back and help the Peacekeepers out. Okay, sure, I was looking for a bit of action. But by the time I'd turned the squirrelly supercar around, the cops were hanging out as if nothing had happened. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a couple of digital donut boxes in their cars.
There's no sense of urgency. The gangs only get dangerous when I come close, and tossing grenades at them is rarely as satisfying as scaling skyscrapers, looking for hidden orbs.
The other skills your agent has are never as cool as agility. Higher strength means you have more health, can lift heavier cars, and kick bad guys farther. Becoming an expert in firearms and explosives makes you more effective at shooting and blowing stuff up, but there's no reason to shoot anyone after you have two stars in explosives and a rocket launcher. Finally, driving is the skill that gets left behind. It starts so low that maneuvering the beginning vehicles is never as effective as just running and jumping to a criminal hideout, and the only ways to raise your stat is to mow down bad guys or finish tedious races. Every time you run over a civilian, GTA style, you lose precious skill points, and they seem to like herding together in front of your speeding SUV. When hurtling over buildings is so much fun, why bother with automobiles?
None of this kept playing Crackdown with Certis from being fun, but it started leaving me with a feeling that all the potential this title held had been squandered. After six hours, finishing off bosses started to feel like something we were supposed to do, not something we wanted to accomplish. And without anything else to do, the game's shiny polish started to dull. Moments like the race to the top of the Agency Tower, scaling a monstrosity of a building only to dive off the top into the water below, were overshadowed by the tedium of blowing up more cookie-cutter mobsters, controlled by criminal masterminds whose brilliant plans always involved standing at the top of a building or the back of a cave. It would have been brilliant if the designers put us up against a super-villain, someone just as powerful as us instead of hordes of trash mobs. The fun I had wasn't because of the game but what Certis and I could do in it, something that became more apparent as I went back and tried playing alone.
Realtime Worlds had an opportunity to create something unique, a real breakthrough title. They succeeded in making a fun game, but didn't give it the legs to last. If they get an opportunity to try a sequel, and the odds are looking good, maybe they'll be able to deliver a game that lives up to the hype. Crackdown is a good try, but it's not there yet.