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Game Profile
Xbox 360
Real Time Worlds
GENRE: Action
February 20, 2007

Crackdown 2

 Written by Glenn Wigmore  on January 25, 2007

Multiplayer Hands-On: A ?sandbox? game? with superpowers.

Crackdown has long been trumpeted as one of the flagship titles for Microsoft Game Studios. Peter Moore has often mentioned it alongside blockbusters like Mass Effect and Halo 3, and this obviously puts a lot of pressure on the people at Real Time Worlds to deliver a game that appeals to the core audience for the Xbox 360. This pressure is somewhat assuaged by the inclusion of the Halo 3 beta invitation, but nevertheless, MGS has to attempt to further the notion that it's more than just a Halo factory.

Playing Crackdown back at E3 2006 gave a pretty good flavor of what to expect from this open-ended action title, but the game was definitely a work in progress. The co-op action that could be a huge draw for the game was nowhere to be found, and the defined ?edges? to the characters that give them a graphic novel-esque feel was not implemented as completely as it is now. The main action of the game was satisfying, though, and the ability to jump high in the air and rain down grenades and gunfire was immediately appealing. Even then, the freedom of expression found in the game through platforming, feats of strength, and brute force was clear, and this remains Crackdown's biggest asset.

With the new Marketplace demo for Crackdown, it's easy to see what David Jones and his team at Real Time Worlds were talking about for the last 12 months, as the game ? while not without its demerits ? plays like a fun mix of Mercenaries, Psi-Ops and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.

The demo allows for players to play through the first few sections of the game at an accelerated pace, meaning that genetic powers of the super-agent protagonist(s) will level up quicker than usual so that you (and a friend) can enjoy the fun that is scaling skyscrapers and chucking around the odd Honda Civic. The compromises Real Time Worlds made in order to have a large and truly ?free? game world are obvious ? simplified character models, generic building textures, basic geometry ? but this was certainly a smart decision. Because of the sacrifices made, the world of Pacific City feels huge and vast (with some spectacular draw distances) and can be populated with tons of people, cars, objects and buildings. Don't be surprised to see big clusters of people on the sidewalks, trash blowing on the streets or cars funneling down freeways, as Crackdown is full of stuff to use and abuse.

The main areas to develop your character are strength, guns, explosives, agility and driving. Each of these will be upgraded by completing the task associated with it, as well as by collecting various color-coded orbs throughout the city. The driving is quite good in Crackdown, and the cars move at a good pace and deal out the damage in a hurry. The cars available are quite varied, with some pretty decent textures applied to make them sleek and appealing. The gunplay is also solid, but it won't satisfy you quite like the shooting in something like Saints Row. You'll have a good selection of weapons to choose from, including stalwarts like pistols, shotguns, automatics and grenade launchers. As a nice touch, it's cool to be able to target specific body parts on enemies, and this is accomplished by locking on with the left trigger and then moving the right thumbstick around until it targets a hand, kneecap, whatever floats your boat.

But once again, the demo proves that the agility and strength portions of Crackdown are really where the fun is to be had. Once you start upping your agility and strength, you'll be able to run faster, jump higher, and throw things further. Initially, you might only be able to lift a trashcan, but eventually you can lift a downed streetlight or even a dumpster. Eventually, your character will be able to lift cars and trucks, and it's quite entertaining to load your buddy into a police cruiser and then send him barreling down the freeway. Just the same, the ability to jump quite high can facilitate some further agility orbs, which in turn allow you to jump even higher. Before you know it, the game has you distracted as you try and reach various orbs that are scattered up some building that looks like a demented game of Jenga, and you're desperately finding ledges that you can jump to in order to reach the top ? and what a view it is from the top. Once again, the action and driving are solid, to be sure, but the platforming and car throwing of Crackdown are the height of superhero bliss.

Playing Crackdown in co-op seems like it's really the way to go, and the demo allows for two players to clean up the streets, all the while competing against each other in a lighthearted way. It's fun to boot your buddy around with a melee attack, and it's equally pleasing to drive over him in a truck. It was fun playing with a buddy online and looking over an expanse of water split by a bridge, and I could see him bounding towards me and, just the same, he could see me. There's something intrinsically awesome about seeing some tiny dude flying through the air at the other end of a city and then have him slowly start to bound toward you as he hops from rooftop to rooftop. Performance of co-op was perfectly acceptable, with only the occasional lag spike or frame hiccup coming into play ? and usually only for a second or two. It seems that Crackdown is suited to become the new sandbox-style chat room, as users will likely have a blast just screwing around while cleaning up the occasional mob stronghold.

Crackdown ships next month and looks like it could be just the right game that Microsoft ? and Microsoft Game Studios ? is looking for to get rid of the early year blahs. The art style of Crackdown won't be appealing to everyone and the story may not really matter all that much, but the pure freedom and possibilities of the world are promising, to say the least. And hey, let's be honest, a Halo 3 beta is a nice bonus for those (and by those, I mean 99.9% of you) who are looking for it.

Final Thoughts
Crackdown looks like it could provide a dose of inspiration into the open-ended game world with its comic book trappings and co-op hijinks.

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