I’ll be the first person to tell you I think the GTA games are garbage. Beating women and killing innocent bystanders is just pointless trash. However, I’ll also be the first one to tell you I have the utmost respect for series’ technological contribution to emergent gameplay. So when Microsoft announced Crackdown, an open-world cop game from one of the original GTA masterminds, I was a bit on the skeptical side. Would it go the route of the trashy content or focus more on the technological potential? Having played through Crackdown’s campaign three times now, I’m here to reassure you it goes for the latter, making it one of the best superhero-style games to ever release. It’s especially unfortunate, then, that a few irritating bugs and content holes keep it from reaching superstardom.
The best way to describe Crackdown is to imagine Activision’s second Spider-Man game had a love child with Ubisoft’s XIII. From top to bottom, skyscraper to street, Crackdown lets players explore an entire city as a genetically enhanced cop tasked with taking down three crime syndicates. The game is organized so players can tackle the gangs in any order, even to the point of going directly after each kingpin before even eliminating the seven “mini bosses” beneath him. However, each of the seven mini bosses is in charge of a particular aspect of the gangs’ respective arsenal, so if you take them down before going after the kingpin, you’ll face foes who are weaker, smaller in number and carry less-powerful firearms. In other words, there’s a logical order to the game, even if you choose to ignore it.
Taking down the first seven bosses and kingpin is fun enough, but once you venture from Los Muertos (the logical starting point) and go for the Volk and Shai-Gen, you soon realize that the gameplay is identical from gang to gang. True, the Volk have heavier artillery, and true, the Shai-Gen often require rooftop attacks, but by and large the tactics and gameplay remain the same. That’s where the Spider-Man aspects come in.
As in Activision’s game, Crackdown players are encouraged to explore the city looking for orbs. Some of the orbs enhance your agility (speed and jumping height), while others are simply hidden bonuses that slightly boost all your stats but otherwise do nothing. Unlike Spider-Man, however, players have five key skills (agility, firearms, strength, driving and explosives), each of which levels-up based on how players tackle the bosses and individual gang members. So, where Spider-Man was all about exploring for orbs alone, Crackdown is about exploring not only for collectible orbs, but also for ways to boost your stats by driving, tossing grenades or sniping from a rooftop.
At first blush this sounds pointless and repetitive, but the Achievements are allotted in such a way that you’ll actually want to explore the game and boost your skills to see what crazy thing your abilities will let you achieve next. Will it be a long jump? Killing five enemies in a single jump? Maybe jacking 100 enemy vehicles? The Achievements are all fun, all attainable (some harder than others), and all conceived to be the most replayability-enhancing Achievements on the Xbox 360. Believe me, there will be many a night where you’ll tell yourself “just one more skill boost” and find yourself playing well through five more.
Playing with a partner through the campaign only boosts this “one more time” desire, but several things hold back the online co-op. For starters, Crackdown’s co-op is not a seamless affair: if you want to join someone’s game (or they want to join yours), both players are booted out to the main menu. There’s no “hop-in, hop-out” co-op as in Gears of War; Crackdown’s co-op is a jarring affair. In addition, the co-op portions of the game suffer from some horrible lag, even when both players have just come from a lag-free romp in another game. But by far the most unforgivable issue is the random disappearance of certain bosses while playing co-op. One minute you’re in a heated firefight and die, but when you re-spawn from the nearest supply point, you may return to a hideout that’s mysteriously missing any semblance of enemies. Or maybe you’ve discovered a Volk boss’ hideout in one area of the map, only to head for that area with your co-op partner and discover, inexplicably, that the hideout has somehow “teleported” to a completely different location.
Fortunately, since the campaign is so repetitive, you’ll find yourself playing through the so-called story (it’s a pretty slipshod narrative) less and less, and just exploring Pacific City’s nooks and crannies. Truly, Crackdown is less about going through a set mission structure than it is about virtual urban spelunking, and just seeing what cool/crazy/wacky things you can do next.
And that, really, is why Crackdown feels so much like the Spider-Man games. Players can explore almost every inch of the city, from top to bottom, like a superhero who just so happens to have a massive arsenal. The side missions are remarkably few in number, but the upgradeable skills and consequential stunts you can do keep you coming back for more. The game’s arguably light on content, and the horribly annoying co-op bugs keep it from scoring higher, but for pure superhero-style fun, Crackdown is hard to top. It may not generate as much consumer demand as the next Grand Theft Auto, but I’ll tell you this: it has still managed to set the bar for multiplayer options in an open-world game, and if GTA IV doesn’t have online co-op, it will be a sheer disappointment — with nothing but Crackdown to blame.
- Overall: 8.4
- It’s the best “superhero” game ever made, but the lack of side missions and its annoying co-op bugs hold it back from greatness.
— Jonas Allen