The Game: Crackdown (2007)
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
System: Xbox 360
Buy It On Amazon: HERE
Buy it on Xbox Marketplace: HERE (Free to download for XBL Gold members until August 15)

The Premise: You’re a cybernetic agent tasked with systematically cleaning up crime-stricken Pacific City. Hop from island to island, decimating the major gangs one General at a time, then take out the mysterious Kingpin running the show to rid the city of perps once and for all. Big jumps and bigger explosions mandatory.

956125-crackdown_1Is it any good: In 2013 terms, Crackdown is a fairly simple game. Taking its cue from early sandbox milestones like Mercenaries and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, it pares back everything except the mechanics and tunes them to razor efficiency. There are no story missions because there’s no actual story, and the nearest thing this game gets to dialogue is your supervisor’s insistent voice, and even that barks instructions at you incessantly. Crackdown’s brief is simple: kick the shit out of crime, get stronger, kick the shit out of more crime.

In a way, however, it’s this one-eyed focus that has kept the game fun. It’s feverishly addictive stuff, mostly due to a levelling system that’s still arguably not been bettered in sandbox games. Your character’s traits are improved in several key areas as you exercise each skill, releasing glowing orbs that raise your ability level – so, kills with guns and explosives earns you points in those skills, melee and lifting objects improves your Strength, while kills and stunts while driving raise your driving level.

crackdown_carliftWhere Crackdown still excels above most is the sense of feedback. You actually feel yourself become stronger and more capable as your bullets get more accurate, your leaps get progressively higher and you swat those perps harder and harder, and the environment opens ever further. The first time you manage to kick a car into an enemy is one of those golden gaming moments that tells you that you’re playing something you’ve never seen before, and the rate at which your power grows makes for one of game design’s most giddily compelling carrot-and-stick mechanics.

The most notorious orbs, however, are those that boost your agility (increasing your Agent’s ability to run, jump and swim). These things, seductive little cracknuggets that they are, sit at various high points throughout the city. The more you collect, the higher your Agility gets, the higher you can jump and the easier you can navigate the almost puzzle-like architecture of the taller buildings to grab the really juicy ones at the highest, most difficult to reach peaks. Collecting all 500 almost becomes a game in itself, and are a clear inspiration for the feathers in the Assassin’s Creed games. What Ubisoft missed, however, is the gut-level satisfaction you get as you see each orb directly make you more powerful.

crackdown pac cityAnother nice touch is the way your progress hampers the gangs as you work through each island. Each General has a specialty of which the gang as a whole is deprived once they’re dead. If you take out a General who supplies weapons, the gang population will become more poorly armed and fire fewer shots; if you rub out the guy in charge of recruitments, this thins the perp population, making exploration much easier. It’s a wonderfully rewarding feedback system that, unfortunately, could stand to have been imitated more by other developers.

That’s not to say the game isn’t showing its age in spots. While the game’s lack of clutter is refreshing, it also means it’s fairly repetitive and works best when played in small doses. If you think of it as a palette-cleanser between longer sessions with more in-depth games it works a treat, but extended sessions can result in a bit of burnout. The driving skill also stands out as slightly problematic in that it always tails far behind the other skills in terms of progress. Put simply, in a game that lets you literally leap tall buildings in a single bound, who gives a shit about driving? It also leads to design issues with many of the stat-boosting races peppered around the city, which can often be far too demanding for the level of control you have over your vehicle at that stage.

The controls and animations also feel a tad spotty these days, with the clunkiness of close-quarters navigation making aiming for ledges while climbing an occasionally hit-and-miss affair and rendering the rooftop races a bit of a chore. Also jarring is the way that race start points and waypoints not only use the same marker, but routes often cross over with the start points of other races of the same kind so you find yourself heading for the wrong marker and failing the race. It’s a weird oversight in an otherwise immaculately-designed game.

crackdownjumpOverall, however, Crackdown remains one of the 360’s must-plays. It’s not the best-looking game in the world, and these days not the most elegant, but it’s a major stepping-stone in the rise of the superhero sandbox genre. Where your Prototypes, InFamouses and AssCreeds often clutter things with feature bloat and scads of pointless collectibles Crackdown still excels with a purity of form that still makes it a ton of fun to jump into and wreak havoc, especially in co-op. And with it being free to XBL Gold members until August 15, now’s the perfect time to dive in.

Bonus Points: Crackdown has gone down in history as the Trojan Horse of the Xbox 360’s early years. Five years in development and beset by a string of delays, expectations for the game were rock-bottom on its release in 2007, but it sold like hot cakes thanks to the bundled-in Halo 3 beta. However, the game started to win the hearts of gamers, resulting in a growing reputation and sales of 1.5 million by the end of that year. It is, arguably, the first game to become a sleeper hit after topping the charts, and one of the games that truly kicked off the new generation.

Elements of the game can be seen in a plethora of later titles, with the Assassin’s Creed franchise aping the collectible system and the Prototype and InFamous games using the superpower mechanics. It’s something that developers still draw on today, with the upcoming Saints Row IV owing a great deal of its aesthetic and abilities to Realtime Worlds’ games.

For such a wildly influential game, it’s odd that it’s only received one sequel, 2010’s Crackdown 2. Unfortunately, the game showed a disappointing lack of progress from the original, save for a new zombie-type enemy that bogged down the flow of the game. However, eagle-eyed fans did spot what looked like an agility orb in one of the slides used during Microsoft’s conference at this year’s E3, sparking rumours that a new Crackdown game may be coming to Xbox One. At this time, however, these rumours have neither been confirmed nor denied.


MOAR LIKE THIS PLZ: The Assassin’s Creed series, the Prototype series, the InFamous series, Mercenaries, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.