Skills For Kills, Agent!
I've been playing a great deal of Sunset Overdrive recently. My hands are tied until our full review goes live next week, but for now, I can confirm our earlier assertions that it feels like an outrageous and anarchic mash-up of Crackdown and Jet Set Radio Future. Only twice as meta.
Ah, Crackdown and Jet Set Radio Future. Two truly excellent Xbox exclusives from generations past -- has it really been seven and twelve years?! -- that I'd dearly love to revisit. If only we had some sort of semi-regular article format where we glorify classics from yesteryear and explain why they still have a place in our hearts through rose-tinted spectacles.
Oh wait. We do. It's time to reboot Blast From The Past, and I think there's only one place to start. We'll cover Jet Set Radio Future next week... and start with one hell of a super-sandbox, agent.
These days, super-sandboxes are all the rage, from inFamous to Prototype, Saints Row IV and now Sunset Overdrive, but a decade ago things were very different. Beyond fantasy RPGs, most sandbox games cast us as regular humans in big crime spree cities. We could drive cars. We could run people over with the cars. We could shoot them and shoot the cars. There was crazy fun to be had, but the likes of GTA were flat and two-dimensional, forcing us to stick to the streets beyond a couple of moments spent in clumsy planes and helicopters.
Crackdown changed all that and kicked down the doors for a new kind of sandbox.
Cast as a lone supercop deployed into a city run by well-equipped criminal gangs, it was up to us to enforce order in the most violent manner possible: killing all of the grunts, murdering their lieutenants and finally taking down the kingpins with an array of massive guns and transforming vehicles. The vibrant cel-shaded visuals were like nothing we'd ever seen before, and the scale of the city allowed us to take it at our own pace rather than being shoehorned into story missions, choosing exactly how we wanted to use our ever-increasing superpowers to devastating and satisfying effect.
However, we had to earn it, and Crackdown delivered one of the most nuanced progression systems to ever grace a sandbox game. At the start, our avatar was just a tough cop; capable of dishing out damage, driving vehicles and soaking up punishment, but still vulnerable and relatively weak. As such, we took to the streets and engaged in fierce claustrophobic street warfare, often being forced to win through by the skin of our teeth or even retreating; vowing to return to a particular area once we'd become tough enough. In stark contrast to the auto-levelled games of today, Crackdown wasn't scared of letting us enter a situation we just couldn't handle.
But practice makes perfect... and kills beget skills. Every shot we fired improved our mastery with weapons. Every rooftop we climbed and glowing agility orb we snagged made us more agile. Every roadkill and race buffed our driving skills. The sandbox was exactly that, a sandbox full of ridiculous toys to play with at our own pace, explosive barrels on every beach, races on every corner and orbs on every building.
Oh yes, those Orbs. Those luscious, delectable, addictive orbs. Truly one of the most compulsive videogame collectibles ever created.
And then we grew. After a few hours, we were suddenly able to leap over entire buildings, turning the game from a flat 2D shooter into a crazy 3D funhouse. Instead of kicking gangbangers and throwing them at each other, we threw cars. Speaking of cars, our vehicles literally transformed into incredible new forms when we took the wheel, taking our breath away as a speedy roadster transformed into a minigun-equipped wedge o' death and an SUV turned into an impenetrable jumping tank. Rather than just being passive avatars, our chosen cop literally evolved as our skills increased, turning an Asian operative into a legendary armoured sensei and an optic-equipped soldier into Goonhilly Earth station.
Then, powered up, we returned and wreaked absolute havoc, smashing down from skyscraper rooftops, targeting petrol tanks and causing enormous pileup explosions, ramming supercars through enemy formations and generally having more straightforward honest-to-goodness fun than most entire series deliver. Just thinking about that massive fairground battle and all the explosive barrels lined up on the boardwalk and pier bring a big silly grin to my face.
And that's the point, really. Fun. Crackdown wasn't perfect, and plenty of other games refined its addictive collectibles, superpowers and legendary narrator into more well-rounded experiences, but few managed to quite match the sheer ridiculous cel-shaded fun factor that Realtime Worlds brought to the table so early into the console generation. Hell, even the sequel couldn't manage it.
We're delighted that Crackdown 3 has been announced for Xbox One, but there are a number of potential pitfalls facing Dave Jones and the team. Not only has their CG trailer already raised our expectations to insane levels, but Police policy, integrity and accusations of brutality is still a hot button issue across the globe. Here's hoping that the sequel will deliver regardless.
For now, hopefully you picked up Crackdown in the Games With Gold promo if you didn't own it before, and make sure to share your thoughts and memories of this utterly bonkers trendsetter in the comments.