Remember in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie finds the Golden Ticket, and everyone's so excited that they forget all about the sweet, sweet candy that the Ticket came with?
That's sort of what Crackdown is like: everyone's so busy salivating about the inclusion of a Halo 3 beta code that they're overlooking the deliciousness that's sitting right under their noses.
Day-Glo Disaster Area
PROTIP: Look for the explosive scenery marked with an exclamation mark, but even a car's gas tank will do if you've got the skill to hit it.
By now, we're all familiar with the go-anywhere, do-anything style of gameplay that was popularized by the Grand Theft Auto series. Much of the pre-release hype surrounding Crackdown pegged it as the "GTA...of the future!" and in many ways, they were right.
But whether it's the game's comic book sensibility--brought to life by its vibrant visual style and subtle use of cel-shading--or the fact that your character can jump buildings in a single bound, Crackdown does a lot to differentiate itself from the granddaddy of all free-roaming games.
You take to the streets of Pacific City to "crackdown" on the unlawful shenanigans of three gangs which exert a virtual strangehold on the different districts. You create a character, decide on a starter set of wheels, and dive into the deep end of a world on the brink of anarchy. Your charter is to bring peace to the streets while punishing the wicked and protecting the innocent.
Locked and Loaded
Damn near everything in Crackdown is handled well. The aforementioned graphics are stellar, and in a pleasant twist, the game's audio pulls its fair share of the weight. An absolutely killer soundtrack keeps you in the mood to wage war, and great attention is paid to aural combat cues, making Crackdown a must-see and must-hear experience.
PROTIP: If dealing with explosives, keep in mind the nearest water source; there's no 'stop, drop, and roll" in Crackdown.
Finding your way around the intricate environment is also one of Crackdown's greatest joys. You're like a post-modern 'roid rage Prince of Persia, working your way from ground to sky in the time it takes mere mortals to put their shoes on. This incredible sense of exhilarating freedom is engaging enough to make for a worthwhile game in its own right.
An ability upgrade system also sees your goon graduate over time from mildly impressive freak of nature to absurdly nimble human tank, and ever-present icons and meters on the left side of the screen keep you informed of your progress. Collect agility orbs from rooftops to jump higher and run faster, master the use of firearms and incendiary devices to improve auto-aim functionality and blast radii, pound mercenaries into hamburger until you can throw trucks life confetti, and upgrade your driving skills with stunts, races, and vehicular homicide.
Making a Dent
I could find things to complain about--there's the wonky rag doll physics, the way gang hit squads sometimes materialize out of the ether, or the fact that every last baddie in the city knows exactly where you are at all times--and certainly, these shortcomings would cripple a lesser title.
But the explosive run-and-gun action, dynamic firefights, and vertigo-inducing high jumps absorb most of the frustrations before they can find a foothold. Besides, those are all things the developer can iron out in the all but guaranteed sequel. Crackdown is ridiculously fun, and that Halo 3 beta code might go unused for longer than you think.
Pros: Fantastic presentation and gameplay. A killer addition to your 360 library.
Cons: A few minor issues that don't detract from the gaming experience.
PROTIP: If you've got good cover but little ammo, sometimes the best thing you can do is swap your empty machine gun for a corpse's pistol, and go for head shots until you can build up a stockpile again.