Sunday, February 25, 2007

Crackdown (360)

I really wasn't sure if I'd buy Crackdown, up until about two days before release. I'd played the demo a few times, and enjoyed it once my character built up to a suitably super-hero level of ability, but I'd always had the nagging feeling that maybe I'd already seen everything the game had to offer.

Unlike with Call of Duty 3, this time I was sort of right.

It's a game designed with Halo's "30 seconds of fun repeated" mantra firmly in mind. The little things keep you amused: seeing an agility orb and working out how to get to it; throwing objects (or maybe even their own cars) at attackers; dropping down on an unsuspecting enemy and kicking them off the building they're guarding; even jumping towards a building and just falling short then plummeting to the floor is fun.

My main pre-release worry was that, in the demo you're able to increase your abilities quickly, and can end up with many of your skills at level 4 by the end of the 30 minute cap. With slowed-down progression, would the game be as much fun? Thankfully the skill system seems to be weighted almost perfectly for me - within a couple of hours I was at level 2 (moderately-superhero, if you like) on all skills, and reaching levels 3 and 4 takes more dedicated carnage.

The actual content of the game is a bit less interesting, though. Once you've fought your way to one gang warlord, you'll realise that most are the same thing just in different locations. Occasionally you'll have to perform another task (such as destroying some switches) before the target will present themselves, but it's never anything too far out of the norm. Successful tactics for assaulting their fortresses are quickly established too - go around the back and then jump in, avoiding the bulk of their guards as you make a bee-line straight for them, then kick them until they die (while being kicked they can only rarely fight back). Each encounter quickly melts into the next.

There are a few side missions in the game - on-foot and in-vehicle checkpoint races, and some stunt markers to drive a vehicle through - but they seem fairly poorly thought out, especially in the case of the on-foot races it's possible to undertake a race that you simply don't have the agility to complete, so you're left minutes into your endeavour getting frustrated at a checkpoint that's out of your reach while the race slowly times out.

Co-op seems like a bit of a mixed bag, too. I'd read somewhere that it was drop-in, drop-out, but that seems not to be the case, which is a shame. The host's city is used for both players where gang targets are concerned, and any killed will also only register in their world. So the benefits for the client are just that they get to keep any weapons or skill upgrades earned during the jaunt.

The few times I've tried it both me and my friend experienced very bad lag too, with the game often pausing for 5 - 10 seconds to resynchronise, which made precision jumping quite frustrating. Edit: On further attempts it seems that this was down to the internet being busy on a Saturday morning. The next day it was smooth and very playable, which is even more impressive when you think of the amount of information it must be throwing about - players can be very far from each other, and the world keeps working as in single player.

The thing is, for all its shortcomings, you forgive it because the basic actions are just great fun to do, both in single player and with a friend. I hope for the promised downloadable content they come up with some truly unique missions, though - using your superhuman abilities to dash across town, pick up a missile truck just before it hits town hall, and then throwing it into the sea, is the sort of memorable moment that right now you have to invent for yourself.

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