Crackdown scores high in that hard to define fun factor category
Crackdown (2007): 7 out of 10: Crackdown came to prominence because of Microsoft’s decision to package the Halo 3 multiplayer trial with the game. To everyone’s surprise, the actual Crackdown game turned out to be a very fun (if somewhat flawed) open-world action game.
In Crackdown, one plays a genetically enhanced super-soldier called The Agent for an organization called The Agency run by a disembodied voice known as The Director. Through both your actions and the collection of orbs, you increase your powers to where you are a true badass jumping around the city (surprisingly not called The City, naming things not being Realtime Worlds’ strong suit).
The game’s city consists of three islands, each controlled by a different gang with your headquarters on a fourth smaller island in the middle. The gangs are Los Muertos (Your standard South American Drug Cartel), The Volk (Your standard Russian Mafia), and The Shai-Gen Corporation (which represents Sony).
The graphics are a colorful cell-shaded affair that fits well with the chaos and the ever more outrageous powers you will achieve. The sound (with one notable exception detailed below) is also good with the hum of the agility orbs almost being hypnotic (and yes, you will see agility orbs in your daily life and hear the hum in your sleep.) There are two bits of genius in Crackdown. The first and most obvious is the combining of item collection and powers. The powers are more than mere stat boosts as there are both visible (You crackle with electricity when you level up a core power) and quite fun (You can roundhouse kick a mack truck and leap from skyscraper to skyscraper).
The other brilliant move is the structure. In the game, they task you with taking out the three gangs as you see fit. Each gang comprises a boss and various sub-bosses that specialize in various tasks for their boss (such as training bodyguards or providing weapons). By taking out the sub-bosses, you weaken a certain part of the bosses’ defenses, making him an easier target. It’s a brilliant structure that gives a real sense of accomplishment in an open world environment.
The game also doesn’t skimp on weapons with the harpoon gun and the five-shot at a time homing grenade launcher being particular favorites of mine.
It is a good thing that Crackdown is such a well structured and fun game because the game has a bunch of flaws that easily would be game-breakers in almost any other adventure.
For starters, there is combat. There is a reason my Agent maxed out his punch people in the face ability first. Now hand to hand combat has its own set of issues. (Mainly facing the wrong way and missing enemies outright while jamming the B button.) Compared to the auto-aim on guns, hand to hand combat is of a Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix caliber.
Auto-aim has two favorite targets: civilian vehicles and dead guys. Crackdown loves shooting dead guys, perhaps as a forerunner to the zombies in Crackdown 2, one might muse. Getting your targeting off the dead guy and onto the guy with a rocket launcher is challenging.
Fortunately, the above mentioned homing grenade launcher renders many of these problems somewhat mute towards the end of the game. Though they still seem to pop up every once in a while.
Part of the challenge of the game is making seemingly impossible jumps to grab onto a distant ledge. Unfortunately, sometimes a ledge looks like a ledge, quacks like a ledge, and yet your agent plummets eighty stories to his demise. While the parkour in Crackdown is fun and one of the game’s selling points, it isn’t what I would call fine-tuned.
Speaking of both out of tune and poorly tuned, we have the vehicles. Driving is one of your abilities in Crackdown and in theory, when one reaches the highest level, one’s car becomes a super-powered monster. I say in theory because there is no need to power this up to defeat the game. Once your all-important agility power has a few stars under its belt, cars are superfluous since you can now jump from rooftop to rooftop.
And thank God for that. For such a relatively small map, Crackdown’s streets are a confusing labyrinth. To add to the mess, the in-game map has no custom waypoints. Strangely, the Agency claims they want you to capture enemy vehicles and bring them back to headquarters. However, the entrance to headquarters is unmarked on your map, almost impossible to find, and is disguised like the Batcave entrance from the caped crusader’s sixties TV show.
Also, the way you increase your driving skill is by winning races (easier said than done and hardly a fun pastime in this game) or running over gang members. Gang members, however, seem to metamorphosis into Cirque du Soleil performers the minute you point a car in their general direction.
The final nail in the driving coffin is the in-game radio. One joy of open-world games is cruising around the city listening to the radio. I would purchase a downloadable version of GTA Vice City right now just to cruise the streets of faux Miami in a red convertible, listening to the tunes. The song selection in Crackdown is bottom of the barrel awful. The kind of generic, barely licensed tunes you would have a hard time finding on even Spotify.
Thankfully, despite the control problems, some features either missing or broken and a soundtrack from the depths of hell, Crackdown scores high in that hard to define fun factor category and when it comes to games, that is always the deciding factor.