Monday, 18 February 2013

Replay: Crackdown Review

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Realtime World's 2007 Xbox 360 exclusive Crackdown is a hard game to review. On a technical level the game never excels and in terms of world design the game never excels and yet it is one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played simply because it is so much fun. The game is flawed but still awesome even though it relies solely on the repetition of a single concept throughout the entire game. You find the gang leaders, kill the gang leaders and gather any agility/hidden orbs that you see. Finding the gang leaders in itself is not interesting, you just wander around, looking for areas that stand out. The fun comes from the fact that you are a genetically enhanced super solider.

The game's story focuses on you, simply called Agent. You were engineered by the agency and given the task of destroying the three gangs that have occupied the city. They are Los Muertos, The Volk and Shai Gen. Each gang has several leaders and as you kill each one your odds of defeating the king pin of that gang increase, you are informed of this after each boss is killed by a percentage meter increasing. Each gang occupies an island and each island is more challenging, with more gang members and higher buildings than the one that came before it. The difficulty curve is actually managed quite well as you scale up just enough for the fights to be manageable but still challenging if you rush in against greater numbers. As you clear out a gang leader's base Peacekeeper's (essentially the Police) come and occupy it. There are also agency supply points which you must access to liberate from gang control in order to store weapons you find from gang members and replenish ammo. This isn't as interesting as it sounds, all you have to do to liberate a supply point is climb a building and go into the supply point, there are occasionally gang members to kill but never enough to make it interesting.

This probably sounds insanely repetitive, which it is, but it never gets dull. As a super solider you can jump ridiculously high and run crazily fast, you can also shoot with a ludicrous amount of accuracy, cause massive explosions and lift and throw cars. You also have an agency vehicle which evolves as your driving skill grows.To improve these core skills you find agility orbs or hidden orbs around the city rooftops or simply use the skills you have to gain experience from the gang members you kill. It's this insane sense of power that you have that makes the game so fun. Unless you get yourself surrounded by dozens of men you are virtually indestructible and jumping across rooftops never gets boring. There are rooftop races and car races to distract you from the repetition but neither are particularly engaging and it's more fun to drive freely and jump freely if you want to navigate the city or improve your driving/agility skills.

Weapon wise there is a lot on offer but they are all standard guns that you would expect like heavy machine guns, shotguns, pistols, rocket launchers etc. The same goes for grenades. Still though the guns all feel pretty powerful and aiming can either be done manually or by using a lock on feature. When locking on you can also choose to target specific body parts, which gets easier as you level up your firearms skill.

The graphics for the game are a bit of a mixed bag. Your character looks great and the rag doll physics make it so that getting blown off of a rooftop is actually an enjoyable experience but the buildings all look quite bland, despite the use of vibrant colours and a cartoonish style that is vaguely reminiscent (even though this game preceded it) of Borderlands. The draw distance is fairly impressive, it isn't jaw dropping but it is good enough to never cause issues. The biggest problem is that there is a lot of slowdown. Whenever an agency update or something like that has to load, the game slows down. Whenever you blow up a group of cars or people, the game slows down. The action for the game has to be big, you're a super solider after all, but the graphics engine and the frame rate just can't handle it.

There are also problems with the actual design of the world. Most of the buildings are designed in such a way that climbing them can be challenging if they are particularly tall but they are all manageable and fun. Some of them though, quite frankly far too many of them, are designed in such a way that they are covered in awkward lips and ridges that just make climbing them frustrating. For a game that is based around jumping across rooftops it does a pretty good job of stopping you from jumping. This is hardly a deal breaker but it is a near constant cause of frustration when playing.

My other big issue is with the sound, the voice acting is fine, as are all of the sound effects but the soundtrack is awful. There is some variation but most of the songs on offer In the vehicles just aren't very good. It's like they've tried to make a GTA style track list and just totally missed the mark. This means that driving in cars is irritating because you have a constant drone of bad music to go along with the otherwise awesome roar of your engine. This may not be as big of a problem for some, some people may even like these songs, but for me it's a real issue. Even if you don't have a song on you have the problem of driving without a cool song, and GTA proves that driving to good music is great fun.

So like I said at the beginning of this review, reviewing Crackdown is hard because its hard to give the right impression of what I want to say. The game is full of flaws in almost every facet of its design but it is a must buy game if you are a 360 owner because, despite all of its problems, the game is incredibly fun to play and you can spend countless hours just charging around the city, hunting for orbs and killing bad guys. If that doesn't sound appealing to you then don't buy this game. It's as simple as that really.

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