Crackdown (Xbox 360) review
"A lot of hype has been slapped upon non-linear sandbox-games as of late, but any disconcerting player can see through all the buzzwords and deduce that all your Deux Ex's, your Lost Cause's and your Knights of the Old Republic's all walk you towards a set destination – they just offer differing and often intertwining paths in which to reach them. In this regard, Crackdown’s really no different; however, how it manages to take a step above the majority of’ ‘open’ games is in just how many different paths it presents."
A lot of hype has been slapped upon non-linear sandbox-games as of late, but any disconcerting player can see through all the buzzwords and deduce that all your Deux Ex's, your Lost Cause's and your Knights of the Old Republic's walk you towards a set destination – they just offer differing and often intertwining paths in which to reach them. In this regard, Crackdown’s really no different; however, how it manages to take a step above the majority of ‘open’ games is in just how many different paths it presents.
Colonel Axton Cowell lives in the Central Point building, a futuristic skyscraper with an expansive marble-floored lobby, deluxe double-wide elevators (complete with executive muzak) and a gargantuan pair of sculptured, winding staircases that lead to the building's summit and Cowell’s plush office. While the tower fronts as a centre for legitimate business, it's no more than the HQ for the military kingpin of the SHAI-GEN mafia’s heavily-armed elite guardsman.
Which makes it the perfect building to storm. Spend a few minutes on a nearby building's roof with a sniper rifle, and you can slowly cut away at the sharply-dressed thugs armed with stub-nosed machine guns who react with desired amusement should you deposit a 7.62mm slug in their testicles. As long as the obstacles in your way are quietly disposed of, and no one is left alive to raise the alarm, an agent is free to stroll nonchalantly through an empty lobby and into the elevator unharmed.
If you lack the patience, break out the heat-seeking missile launchers and raise the alarm yourself. Summon forth a string of eardrum-bursting blasts as your rockets zero in on targets, sending the oblivious guards flying aflame into the air, splattering against walls and smashing through windows. Dropping the stealth quadruples the numbers, and heavies flood out of the building, sidestepping the charred corpses of their former allies, scanning the horizon for their target. Bullets ping off the metal air-con unit stationed on the roof that you use for cover while you reload your rocket launcher, but this gives more time for wave after wave of enemy to surge from the building. By the time you leap from your snipe spot to try to reach the lift, the lobby is packed with pistol-wielding grunts and shotgun-packing thugs. High-ranking goons stand in the corners with levelled grenade launchers, pinging pineapples at you with reckless aplomb, their mocking gloats lost in a sea of explosions and screams.
Make the lift through either method and you'll find the ornate spiral staircase that winds its way up half a dozen floors is built with your foe's advantage in mind. While it's possible for a stealthy agent to sneak their way though, relying on silenced weapons to pick out those they can't creep past, the stairwell allows guards both above and below to spot you with ease. The odds are you'll get drawn into a desperate firefight while you sprint from floor to floor, using ornamental fountains and mammoth works of modern art as temporary cover. A deadly game of cat and mouse is played until you reach the summit and scale the side of the building to root out Cowell’s stronghold on the roof.
A silent assassin or a crazed, homicidal maniac always makes for an exciting path in their own unique ways, but neither treads particularly new ground. Slightly more unique is option #3. Surrounding the Central Point building is a veritable forest of corporate buildings, theatres, warehouses and apartment blocks, and your agent has the ability to make superhuman leaps from rooftop-to-rooftop, using outcropping window ledges and drainpipes to drag himself higher and higher. A careful eye and well-planned route can lead you to but a single, harrowing leap away from your target's roof place hideout, bypassing all but Cowell’s few (but very well armed) personal guards. You'll absorb significantly fewer bullets, but one badly-timed jump, one missed ledge or an unseen sniper sinking a bullet in your flank mid-leap will plummet you several stories to a messy death below.
If brain, brawn nor finesse interests you, then there's always some crazy, unorthodox method to revel in. Take a stroll back to The Keep, a luxury hotel turned police fortress, and pick up your custom-built 4x4 from the vehicle lot. You can use this all-terrain vehicle to mount the steps leading to the building entrance, smash though the modern, all-glass front and catch the defending forces with their trousers down. That extra-wide elevator just happens to be oversized enough to fit a full-sized jeep in, and those spiral staircases are seemingly purpose-built for a hulking off-road vehicle to surge up at full speed. The goons inside even have the decency to look surprised as they peek around a corner and get a face full of radiator grill. The last climb onto the building's roof is made substantially easier to undertake when you're not leaping from ledge-to-ledge under heavy fire and have instead parked your truck beneath the raised platform and have climbed upon its roof.
Taking your preferred route will siphon more attributes into your chosen skills, but Crackdown makes it so it’s never too late to beef up neglected traits. Going in heavy with the firearms gradually improves your aim, while wading into thugs with melee attacks eventually boosts your strength. Keep whacking this stat up and you’ll reach the point where you’ll effortlessly lift artic trucks above your head and hurl them at anyone not smart enough to run away screaming like a little girl. Agility is gained by exploring the highest rooftops and obtaining semi-hidden experience orbs, while your vehicular skills are raised by doing insane stunts or running down hostiles. Gain prestige by crushing scum beneath your tires!
But Crackdown’s real beauty is when all these actions are combined. It’s about making that last-minute leap of faith between rooftops fifty stories off the ground while sniper bullets ping past and tracking rockets turn in mid-air to try to engulf you in flames. It’s about pulling out that assault rifle and taking down your over-confident assassins with a hail of bullets in mid-leap. It’s about the concrete flooring of the roof splintering into a sea of cracks as you land, still firing into the well-dressed Yakuza agents in wrap-round shade and packing Uzis. It’s about standing amidst a mountain of dead bodies and looking down at the street below as cars pull over onto the sidewalk and swarms of enemies flood the streets. It’s watching them gather like ants, taking pot-shots at you and doing battle with the friendly police units that converge on their position. It’s about wondering where that grenade came from as its explosion hurls you from your perch and splatters you on the unforgiving asphalt below.
It’s pure pick-up-and-play at its most addictive, and even death is only a minor setback. Liberate save points held by enemy forces and use them not only as respawn points but as handy shortcuts around the mapscape. Explore the huge and open-planned Pacific City, survive the war zone it has become and do battle with three very different factions; weed out and eliminate twenty-one kingpins and visibly see each force weaken every time you strike a blow to one of their figureheads.
The Los Muertos are a huge Mexican gang that survives off mass drug deals and black-market firearm sales. They steal civilian cars, spirit them away to unknown workshops and modify them into armoured rides with which they patrol the city in droves. Weed out their hidden garage and run in, all guns blazing, using the bullet-ridden husks of stolen cars as cover or jump into the driver’s seat of a working model and introduce head mechanic, Rafael Diaz’s, face to his own recently-converted grill. Invade Jose Guerra’s isolated nightclub and deal the group’s financial assets a huge blow by shutting down the barely hidden drugs lab that’s run within and see the quality of the gang’s equipment drop dramatically. Every head you take reaps rewards, but every bullet you fire reaps consequence. The more havoc you cause, the more thugs, hitmen and crazies get thrown at you.
Crackdown prepares you for their onslaught. But its biggest strength is that it makes it so damn fun to commit citywide genocide in the name of the law.
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