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Friday, February 23, 2007

Game Review:Crackdown

Crackdown is the second sandbox-styled game to hit the Xbox 360 after last year’s Saints Row. Being a gamer whom has not been exposed to these types of games before, Crackdown is certainly a fresh experience for me. Promises of open-world freedom, superhuman powers and great explosion effects made me take a rest from the usual FPS and racing games and persuaded me to try my hands on Crackdown. So, how did Crackdown fare as a whole? Read on.

Basically, Crackdown takes place in a fictitious location known as Pacific City, which is currently being controlled by 3 major gangs consisting of 7 gang leaders each. The game puts you into the shoes of a superhuman cop and your main objective is to send all of the 21 gang leaders to their demise so that order is restored to Pacific City. The story is very vague, actually, and it is only told through 2 cut scenes, one before you even started playing the game, and one after you have completed the game. The story is shallow, mostly negligible since Crackdown does little to provide further explanation to the story once the game commences.

As mentioned before, you are in control of a cop with superhuman powers, but it is not something that you start with in the game. In order to gain more power as you progress further into the game, you are required to increase the skills ratings for each attribute of your character, namely strength, driving, firearms, explosives and agility. There are various ways to increase the skills ratings for each attribute. For example, to increase your agility, you need to collect agility orbs or you can choose to kill enemies from a height that is higher than theirs. I find that collecting agility orbs and hidden orbs, which expand your skills ratings for every attribute, can be quite addicting in the game as well. Get past the first few parts of the game and you will find that you will start enjoying the game more. Jumping from roof to roof becomes the norm as your agility skills ratings reach 3 stars. Similarly, you will gain the ability to carry huge vehicles around and hurl them at enemies or kill them each with one kick starting from a skills rating for strength of 3 stars. The overall experience of the game is considerably fun and satisfying, to say the least.

Another thing I like about Crackdown is that you can drive any vehicle that you encounter. Instead of some haphazard development work from the developers, I can actually feel that each vehicle handles differently and uniquely, not to mention appropriately. Music only starts playing when you are in a vehicle, but it is mostly forgettable. With an increased skills rating for driving, Agency vehicles also perform transformations, weapons included.

Crackdown, like any other sandbox-styled games should, also does well to provide you with some interesting side missions that include road races, which simply requires you to drive from one checkpoint to the other and rooftop races, which are similar to road races, except that the checkpoints are not on ground-level. Although they do not in any way contribute to the accomplishment of your main objective, I find them fun to attempt. Either side mission will earn you extra points for the respective attributes.

Crackdown implements something unique known as the supply points as well. These are your respawn points in the game. For example, if you die in the game, you will respawn at one these points – with your weapons all intact and reloaded. Reclaiming more supply points open up several shortcuts in the city, making teleporting from one portion of a city to another a simple affair.

Finally, the explosions in Crackdown are just amazing and spectacular. A grenade thrown near a vehicle may blow it up into the air, with smoke, of course. Pile some vehicles together, and then use a rocket launcher to hit the pile, after which you should enjoy what happens. Your character performs a long distance fly too if he has been hit by a rocket. It all adds up to explosion effects that are almost of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition’s calibre. Besides the explosion effects, you can also admire the water in Crackdown. A large white glimmer or myriads of sparkling diamonds on the surface of the water when it is a sunny day? It is realistic and beautiful.

However, like many other games, Crackdown does have its shortcomings. For a start, I feel that the game is somewhat linear. There seems to be fixed procedure to go about in the game and you will hardly find yourself getting stuck (which means you will never need a game guide): Drive around or just explore. Want to know where a particular gang leader is holed up in? Spot any large or complex building that is out of the ordinary and approach it. Before you know it, an icon representing the gang leader will appear in your HUD. All you need to do now is to track that icon down and kill the gang leader. Silenced the gang leader and you are done? Repeat the above steps. Disappointingly, the core gameplay of Crackdown has been summarized in just one paragraph. The only variety it offers is that you can select the order of the gang leaders whom you want to tackle first and that there are various ways to enter a gang leader’s residence.

Your colleagues (the cops) are also extremely ineffective at stopping the gangs, made balanced only by the relatively brain-dead enemies. Gang leaders pose little challenge; he/she is merely an ordinary hooligan with a bit of extended life and whose presence can be detected by the dozens of thugs surrounding the gang leader.

The sound in the game would not win it any awards because it is quite standard. Expect what you would expect from any typical action shooting game. To make matter worse, the announcer in the game (also your employer) often repeats the same tutorial-like advices throughout the entire game, and some of which are even irrelevant to the current situation.

The game is also a little short – well, if you just want to rush through it without unlocking most of the achievements. Personally, I feel that you can extend the game by finding more agility orbs and hidden orbs or unlock all the supply points in the city to gain more achievements. Other achievements include jumping to the top of a tower and then proceeding with jumping down into the water below, juggling a car in the air with explosives for 7 seconds, killing 5 enemies at one go while airborne, to name a few. Co-op play (no split-screen, though) and time trials, where you try to beat your previous timings for fights with gang leaders, extend its replayability a little.

Final Comments
Although Crackdown disappoints with its shallow story and linear gameplay, it makes up for it with its you-must-increase-it skills ratings system. The enjoyment of the game grows as the skills ratings for each attribute increases. The explosion effects are just great and the water is remarkable. Overall, Crackdown is a fun and satisfying experience, albeit with a few flaws here and there, and ultimately, is a good addition to your Xbox 360 games library.

Overall score: 8.2/10

What’s good: Skills ratings system, each vehicle handles differently and uniquely, side missions are great distractions from the main game, supply points open up shortcuts throughout the city and they store weapons as well, explosions effects are outstanding and the water beautiful, unique ways to gain achievements

What’s not: Shallow story, linear gameplay, gang leaders pose little challenge, brain-dead friendly units and enemies, sound is fair at best, game is short, no split-screen co-op


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