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Xbox 360 Review: Crackdown

Players: 1 [2 player coop via Live]

Price: $59.99

Platform(s): Xbox 360

Developer: Realtime Worlds

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

ESRB: Mature (violence, sexual themes, strong language)

Website: CrackdownOnCrime.com

Rating:

While the Crackdown hype machine has been growing and growing over the past few months, I think some misconceptions have gotten into some gamers heads about what exactly Crackdown is. To be brief, it’s spectacular.

That’s a little vague though, so what exactly are you getting when you open up your wallet at your local games retailer? Are you getting another sandbox Grand Theft Auto clone? Ha – GTA wishes it was this much fun. Are you getting some mild distraction to tide you over until the Halo 3 Beta comes around? No way. Crackdown isn’t just fun, it’s the best superhero game you will ever play. Well, that is until Crackdown 2 comes out. But that's another story for another time.

Crackdown takes place in the fictional metropolis of Pacific City, where gangs have taken over the three main islands that it's comprised of. Our protagonist is a genetically altered experiment being used because the last bit of order The Agency has left in the city, is about to come out from under their control. That’s pretty much where the setting and story end. They’ve set you up to take down organizations filled with bad guys, and now it’s your job to flush them out, any means necessary. If you’re thinking that sounds overly simplistic and lacking, then you’re clearly underestimating the amount of fun a person can have leaping from the top of a skyscraper, while causing massive explosions with a heat-seeking rocket-launcher.

After all is said and done, that’s exactly what this game is all about – giving you a massive and beautiful world and seeing how much fun you can have destroying stuff within it. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Electroplankton. There is definitely a very clear set of goals and objectives, but the freedom comes in allowing you to achieve those goals in whatever way you see fit.

The reason this formula works so well is because of the amount of power you’re given. By the midpoint in the game the abilities you will have attained would put you on par with some of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel or DC Universe. Don’t feel like shooting a group of enemies? Then pick up a car and throw it at them! Kick them into the ocean! Blow them to freaking Tartarus! Jump from the top of a building onto their heads and squash them to jelly! Crackdown's playfield of destruction leaves you with near limitless amounts of brutal justice.

There are other things to do besides shoot bad guys, but not that much. Eight hundred hidden orbs are tucked away in the cityscape and sniffing them out offers a decent diversion if you want to get away from the main mission for a while. There are also a series of races that are simple checkpoint-to-checkpoint tests of agility. Some races are standard via automobile, and the other much more fun kind are rooftop races, where the player leaps from rooftop to rooftop in a simulated escape. The last resort for players looking to stretch every bit of mileage out of this game are the achievements, which are pretty well laid out. You’ll probably collect less than half just by playing through the main game and not experimenting, but to get them all will take quite a bit of work.

Graphically, Crackdown is not Gears of War, but it’s just as good as anything else we’ve seen. The heavily stylized cel-shaded graphics further lend to the game’s comic book superhero feel. Never before has cel-shading been done so well. Even when you get really close to something it always looks like it’s stripped from right out of a comic book. Some of the views of the city a player can get by climbing to the tops of a skyscraper are also truly beautiful. And the eight available agents – while a bit mundane at first – look menacing and domineering when fully leveled up. And each one has his own distinct look and style. If you get the chance, swing the camera around to check out their faces and appreciate how much care went into creating each agent.

Audio on the other hand, leaves a giant gaping hole where something ought to be. There is literally no music unless you are in a car or on the opening start up screen, the rest of the game…nothing. This omission isn’t that big of a deal though thanks to the Xbox 360’s ability to import custom soundtracks. (Thank you custom soundtracks!)

There’s no quick fix for the problem surrounding the rest of the sound though. While some explosions will rock your socks with reckless abandon (especially in surround sound,) Crackdown has a nasty habit of drowning out the noise of some explosions as if they were 200 yards away – even though they may happen right in front of you. The guns as well are hit and miss. Some guns sound good and substantial, others like the shotgun and sniper rifle sound like trinkets, while still others fade in and out like the explosions.

The only other fault the game has, is that it can be a bit frustrating in the later stages. Jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper in the final area is a blast, but when your enemies have heat seeking rocket launchers one hit can force you to repeat a sometimes very arduous journey.

Overall, there's some darn good things about Crackdown and some minor downsides as well. But when it comes down to it, Crackdown is like a bottle of Sunny Delight. When you really think about it, it’s not entirely that great, but it’s so smooth that you can’t stop drinking it.