Crackdown: Police Brutality with a Superhuman Edge

I haven’t dabbled in the world of sandbox games since the days of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Although not much has changed since then, this game takes a refreshing step in a new direction.

Crackdown borrows heavily from the conventions of the GTA series in much the same way most new shooters borrow heavily from Halo (don’t mess with something that works). Although you now play the role of a law enforcement agent instead of a criminal, little has changed in the mechanics and conventions of this game. While you can’t pay and then kill prostitutes in this game, you can appropriate any vehicle you please as long as you stop it or catch up to it.

There are still radios playing in all the cars you take, providing the soundtrack for the game. For instance, in the area dominated by the Latin gang, the majority of the cars will have Latin music. Not tejano or mariachis, but some of my personal favorites like Molotov and Control Machete, two deliciously heavy Latin bands.

The main objective of the game is to pick apart and eventually destroy the local criminal organizations. You are regularly given information about the location and activities of the leaders of the local gangs. You essentially have to take out, by any means necessary, all of the underlings in the local gangs. Each one is surrounded by a posse of their soldiers intent on keeping you away from your target.

At first these hits are a cake walk, without much difficulty involved, but by the time you work your way up the gang chain of command the battles can become pretty intense.

The objectives are simpler than in many sandbox style games, which can be both a blessing and a curse. There are no truly unique objectives to complete, which can make the game redundant at times, but this redundancy is compensated for by allowing you to complete your objectives any way you see fit. You can scout around for a good vantage point until you see your target and then snipe their health away, or you can kill everyone who’s in your way until you reach the gang boss and then take him out from close range with a few shotgun blasts. Even the way you approach your targets is entirely up to you. You can walk in the front door or you can travel from rooftop to rooftop and drop in unexpected.

You can also select which part of the body to direct your attacks toward. If you need to disarm your opponents, you can shoot them in the arm. If they’re trying to run you down in a car, you can aim for the tires and possibly flip their car.

This brings up one of the coolest features of the game: Your character has a set of attributes that you can improve over time. Depending on the actions you perform, your character earns ability points in the form of different colored icons that improve your skills. On top of many of the buildings in the city are agility markers. There are a total of 300 to find; these help improve your running speed and increase the height you can jump and the height you can jump from.

Kill enough people with a gun and your shooting skill goes up, improving your accuracy. Crush them with your bare hands and your brute strength goes up, allowing you to lift heavier objects and defeat your enemies with fewer punches.

Points can be lost, however. If you run over a civilian or shoot one by accident, you will lose ability points in driving or firearms, respectively. Your style of play completely determines your strengths.

The main character of the story doesn’t have much of a background, and this disappointed me. I’ll grant that it’s fun to run around the city killing people in the name of the law, but it’s not enough to really immerse me in the game. Why did he join the Agency? What keeps him going in his Dirty Harry-esque rampage through the gangs? These are questions that need answering to bridge the gap between a true story and merely a casual game with plenty of violence to sate your baser urges.

The controls and camera tend to be a bit wonky as well. Too often I find myself targeting a car instead of a hostile gang member—or even a gang member instead of an explosive tank next to said gang member that will take out a large crowd of them. The game allows for lock-on targeting but won’t allow you to cycle between targets in the immediate vicinity. Also, if you’re a shotgun fan like me, you’ll find yourself getting close to your enemies but be unable to lock on to your target because of the poor camera control. The thing goes all over the place. Further, there’s no option to increase your look sensitivity in the options menu. Thankfully, you can at least invert the y-axis.

The last major complaint I have about the game is the seemingly broken online play. First of all, I can’t connect to anyone else’s games and, second, whenever someone else joins my game I can’t find them for the life of me. Maybe my microphone’s broken, because I don’t hear anyone else talking to me and they sure don’t show up on the map to help me locate them.

Don’t let these minor flaws stop you from getting this game, though. Crackdown has turned out to be much more than a vehicle to launch the Halo 3 demo.