“Crackdown,” the new Xbox 360 game from Real Time Worlds, has ambition.
The cops-and-thugs adventure contains a promising mix of successful genres and features. You can engage in gun battles with criminal scum as you climb and leap from skyscrapers. You can recruit a buddy for online co-op play. You can sculpt your character to your heart’s content. Throw in the “Halo 3” beta, which ships with the game, and you’ve got a winner. Right?
Wrong. Everything that “Crackdown” has under its hood has been done before — and has been done better. Despite being a next-gen game, “Crackdown” feels hollow, lacking visual polish and that sense of your virtual habitat being a living, breathing world. That, and a story.
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The threadbare tale that is “Crackdown” barely expands beyond the “You are a space marine” plot device. The generic (and surprisingly small) Pacific City is overrun with a trio of gangs. The police are doing their best, but it isn’t enough. The legal system is gone. It’s now cops versus robbers, and anything goes.
Into this muddle steps you, a superbeing made up of the best DNA the police could scrape together (a perfect metaphor for the cobbled-together feel of the game). You are charged with cleaning up the town by any means necessary. And off you go, smacking around your first gang members.
You fight to gain weapons and experience in your core skills: driving, strength, agility, firearms, and explosives. The more you use a certain skill, the better you'll be at it. Shoot a lot of criminals, and you'll be a deadly shot as an expert in firearms. Pick up the ability-increasing orbs spread throughout the city and you'll buff up your skills, too.
That’d be fine if Pacific City wasn’t such bland battleground. The city looks impressive in panorama, but up close most of the urban areas lack character. The manic-depressive citizenry have a handful of skins, all of them boring or downright whorish. Add in a fussy camera and a twitchy combat system and you’ll find yourself fighting “Crackdown” more than its thugs.
“Crackdown” isn’t a long game. The anemic “go here, kill this guy” storyline will take the average player about 15 hours to play through. You can tack on a few more to max out all your stats, but why bother?
Halfway through the game, especially in the easy mode, you're untouchable. Nothing can stop you, except for the game designers, who keep you locked into the constant push of frontal assaults. After a while, the thrill is gone and the attacks become a empty grind of who has the most bullets. That was fun with “Doom” nearly 15 years ago, but gamers have evolved.
Does “Crackdown” do anything right? It’s easy to get into. The first time you leap between skyscrapers will feel pretty great. Add a heat-seeking missile launcher and you can waste packs of gang members in one wicked explosion.
Also, when players are able to take over special nodes called supply points, they get two bonuses at once: They get an instantaneous way to move around the city, and a refill on any weapons you have stored there. As more of Pacific City opens up, both become invaluable.
But when you think it’s fun, you realize once again: There's nothing new here. If you forgot about every game from the past six years, or if you have a short-attention span, you’ll enjoy “Crackdown.” For the rest of us, there’s always that "Halo 3" beta.