Do you play games in God mode? Are the designers’ attempts at real world rules and physics mere annoyances to you? Would you rather be able to run as fast as you want, jump as high as you want, hit people as far as you want… in other words, do whatever the hell you want?
Then Crackdown is for you.
You don’t even need cheat codes to play it, because your action hero - a vigilante cop protecting the futuristic metropolis of Pacific City - is super powered from the get-go. Want to rocket through the streets, on foot, at inhuman speeds? Check. How about kick a flailing thug across the block into the dead center of a billboard? Check. Effortlessly leap five stories into the air, pirouette 180° to snag a nearby ledge, pull yourself onto the roof of a towering skyscraper, grab another criminal lowlife, toss him over the edge and then plug him full of bullets as he plummets to the pavement below? Check, check, check... oh, you get the idea.
All of these amazing feats are not only possible in Crackdown, they're the norm. We cannot emphasize enough just how liberating this feels, to be able to influence and move through the game's environment however you see fit. The entire world is your steroid-fueled playground.
Equally empowering is your hero's development and its natural extension from your playing style. If you enjoy climbing and free running your way across the urban landscape to collect agility orbs, you'll be rewarded and encouraged to continue with a nimbler character, one that can then reach even more precariously placed icons. Prefer simply shooting people? Spray enough deadly bullets and your aim will improve to the point where you can pinpoint specific body parts. Which, of course, makes it easier to shoot lots more people and increase your targeting skill even further.
The agent's other attributes - strength, driving and explosives - all grow in a similarly logical manner. Before you know it, you've got your own personalized, custom-built Spider-Batman... or Incredible Flash... or some other bizarre comic book mash-up. It certainly beats ending up with a buff guy or a fat guy in the latest Grand Theft Auto.
Unfortunately, once you begin making the GTA comparisons, Crackdown loses a bit of its initial wow factor. Although the game bounds ahead of the rest of the sandbox genre in one HUGE aspect - the hero's abilities - it comes up short on many of the smaller details. The music is forgettable. The graphics, while technically gorgeous, lack personality. Likewise, the city itself is extremely well designed and laid out, but it's never the living, breathing entity that Vice City or Liberty City was.
Most importantly, it lacks a compelling story and robust mission structure. The plot is told only through pop-up briefing windows - never in the game itself - and you'll probably skip through even those. Why? Because no matter which boss they're introducing, which hideout they're detailing or what strategy they're recommending, the mission will almost always play out the same way. Rush in... shoot, kick and explode indiscriminately until you notice the leader's slightly longer life bar... run past anything and everything to get to the leader... kill the leader. Repeat.
Fortunately, Crackdown has an excellent solution for when kicking your umpteenth thug or scaling your umpteenth building just doesn't excite anymore. Invite a friend into your game with the elegantly executed coop mode and, suddenly, everything seems new again. Driving through town is a thousand times more fun when you've got another agent riding shotgun, shouting in disbelief when you pull off a particularly gnarly stunt or laughing when you accidentally plummet into the water. So is collecting icons when you're competing to see who can snag the most.
Even the boss battles are more exciting because, once victorious, you and your friend can play catch with the leader's body. Or juggle it with your rocket launcher. Or parade it through town on top of a semi truck. Putting two people together in the same city inevitably leads to insane brainstorming sessions where you come up with ideas and activities that you never would have thought of on your own. Hours can go by happily without a single mission tackled or a single goal met.
You'll often find yourself looking around in Crackdown, wondering "Okay, what should I do next?" The game's one flaw is that it doesn't provide much guidance to that question. Its greatest merit, however, is that you and a friend will have no trouble discovering plenty of spectacular answers on your own.
The superhero powers and coop mode alone make Crackdown worth recommending. Next time, throw in some more structure - or at least some more gadgets and toys to wreak havoc with when there is no structure - and you'll have a classic must-buy franchise.