Crackdown (Xbox 360)
Posted by Kuang on Tue, 10 Jun 2008.
Sandbox games – games where the action takes place inside a large functioning environment such as a working city – have become more common as gaming technology has improved, and can offer the player an incredible amount of flexibility and freedom when deciding how to approach the activites and challenges on offer. Crackdown is one of the earlier sandbox titles on the Xbox 360, but is still arguably one of the best.
Crackdown is set in the fictional Pacific City in the near future. The three wards of the city have descended into chaos, with a different gang running each ward, and the law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep up. In an attempt to get the city back under control a project to create genetically enhanced law enforcement agents is instituted and you play one of the first of those agents. You’ll need to explore each ward of the city thoroughly and locate all of the hideouts used by the bosses for each gang, and then take them down one by one. If you attempt to go straight for the gang leader then you’ll last a few seconds at best, so you’ll have to improve your abilities and think carefully about who to target first.
When you’re first thrown into the third person perspective world you start out with the same abilities as a normal person, but you have the potential to boost your stats in five categories – agility, speed, explosives, firearms and driving – and each stat can be increased in different ways. Explosives and firearms are relatively simple – just use the relevant weapons and your stats will rise, with bonus points for multiple kills with a single shot. Strength can be increased by hand to hand combat and throwing items at enemies, and driving by running gang members over, pulling off stunts around the city and completing street races. Agility is increased by collecting glowing markers scattered over the rooftops – the higher the marker, the more points it scores –by accurately shooting enemies from high vantage points, and by winning a series of running time trials involving checkpoints spread across the city. If you find a hidden bonus orb, it boosts all stats by a small amount. It’s up to you to decide which stats are worth boosting, and you can do so at any time.
This may seem like a lot of work but the benefits are huge. Once your agility stat is full you’ll be able to jump across the rooftops and clear entire buildings without stopping. A full strength stat enables you to pick up and throw trucks hundreds of metres with pinpoint accuracy. Firearms ability allows you to lock on with greater speed and pick people off mid flight as you’re leaping across the city, and a full explosive stat creates devastating amounts of damage from even a single grenade. Your driving skill is unusual in that it directly affects the way agency vehicles will behave – as you increase your own stats you’ll see your agent getting bigger and chunkier, but the same also applies for the cars you take from your home base. Once you step into an agency car (either sports, SUV or truck, each with their own benefits), that car will mutate in front of your eyes to match your driving ability. The sports car starts out looking like an Audi TT, but when you’ve maxed your ability will flip and expand until it looks like a cross between a stealth fighter and the batmobile.
Once you’ve got some stats under your belt it’s time to head for the gangs. Each gang will have members roaming the streets who’ll attack you on sight, but they’re just cannon fodder – the real targets are the gang bosses. Each boss will be hidden away in their own area surrounded by bodyguards, and they’ll do their best to make sure you don’t get near. When deciding in which order to take them down, you need to look at their specialty and what they bring to the gang – if you take out the weapons supplier first, all of the other gangs will only have weaker guns to play with, and the same applies to the vehicle supplier, the fitness trainer, the tactical advisor, etc. Attacking the leader who represents the approach of the gang (eg. The car dealer in the petrolhead Los Muertos gang) is tough, but can often reap huge rewards in later conflicts. It’s also worth watching what they leave behind, as you can take captured weapons and drop them off at your supply points, where they’ll be added to your arsenal for later use. Hitting a weapons dealer hard and early will frequently gain impressive ordnance for later missions, even though going up against the best armed gangs will require a careful approach.
Crackdown moves along at a hell of a pace and has wonderfully responsive controls to help you stay ahead of the gangs. There’s a subtle auto aim built in to the gunsight which can be combined with a target lock button, but is instantly overridden if you choose to use a scope and take your own shot. Whilst you’re bouncing around, make sure you take time to appreciate the huge customizable soundtrack, and the crisp and detailed visuals. Pacific City goes through day and night cycles (and looks particularly impressive in the early hours as the sun rises) and all of the characters and objects have a subtle dark border which gives the impression of cel shading and helps characters to stand out. There are plenty of pyrotechnics on offer with the associated plumes of smoke and flying debris, and despite all of this the graphics engine seems to motor along at 60fps with almost no trace of slowdown. Even though it’s an aging title, there are still few third person games that can match the sense of speed and scale.
Crackdown is a true sandbox game in that it encourages exploration and creative thinking. Taking the gang leaders out can be done ‘by numbers’, eg take the obvious firearms path through the territories and work your way up to the big boss, but there are often more effective ways to approach situations. If your agility skill is very high you can scope out attack routes from surrounding buildings and bounce your way in past the first few layers of defence before they know you’re coming. An agent skilled with weapons may want to take the high ground and fire rockets in to clear the immediate resistance before going in through the front door. Extremely strong agents may take a speed run through narrow and restrictive parts of the complexes, only pausing to kick and thump the opposition out of the way. Working out how to approach an enemy boss with minimum damage and maximum effect is one of the joys of the game, and the best players will never take the obvious approach without a little espionage first.
I rate Crackdown as one of the best third person shooters ever made, and played it until I’d found almost all of its secrets – I actually had an Xbox Live related mishap just after completing it which resulted in the loss of my profile and saved games, so I went straight back and completed it again in a fraction of the time. Even now I tend to fire it up and have a blast using the ‘Keys to the city’ mode, which offers a God switch and unlimited everything. If you have an Xbox 360 you really should have this title as it manages to recapture everything that’s fun about explosive exploration