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Crackdown Review | A Cracking Sandbox Superhero Playpen

Felix Kemp
Action Games, Crackdown, Games reviews, Xbox 360 games
Xbox 360

Crackdown Review | A Cracking Sandbox Superhero Playpen

Launching myself into the air, I leap across the chasm between two Pacific City high-rises, spraying a clip from my machine-gun at the assembled goons below. They simply gape as I plummet from the air, crashing into their midst, before unfurling and letting fly with a devastating roundhouse kick. The unfortunate recipient cartwheels off the rooftop. I mop up the rest by placing an explosive charge on the floor and clicking the detonator.

Explosive is an apt summary of Crackdown. Not just in reference to the range of possibilities in which you can make things explode, but the general experience itself. It's a concussive, free-form exploration of what is possible when you plunk a player in a wide open space and release their restraints. But with a rich legacy to live up to - Dave Jones, creative director, designed Lemmings and the first Grand Theft Auto - is Crackdown a leap forward or a stumbling step back?

Welcome To Pacific City, Agent

Crackdown Review | A Cracking Sandbox Superhero Playpen

The premise of Crackdown is simple; Pacific City, a once glorious and peaceful metropolis, is in a three-way struggle for power. On the one hand, you have Los Muertos, a ruthless cabal of gun-toting criminals controlling a specific portion of the city. On the other, the Volk, a formidable Eastern European force ruling over the city's industrial district. And finally, Shai Gen, a rich and well-equipped faction overseeing matters from their luxurious high-rise towers.

Enter you; the Agent. A genetically-engineered super being, the Agent is dispatched by the appropriately titled Agency to reclaim Pacific City from the warring gangs, once and for all. Instructed by your handle, the Voice of Agency, the entire three-island sprawl of the city is open from the very beginning. However, in order to win back each district, you must eliminate their kingpin by systematically removing his lieutenants, each of whom control their respective gang's weapon shipments, vehicle importing and infantry numbers.

It's simple set-up, and perfectly demonstrates Real Time Worlds' approach for Crackdown. No fluff, no filler; just a playpen, an arsenal of toys and you. It has no cutscenes, other than an animated segment at the very beginning, and control of the game is never removed from your hands. Events unfold before you, and you can either choose to watch, intervene or simply wander off to find another exploit to fill your time. However, therein lies Crackdown's greatest flaw. It has no scripted events nor narrative tug, resulting in quite a bit of repetition creeping in towards the latter stages of the game. While I applaud Real Time World's free-form approach to design, a few bombastic events or just one mission that doesn't yet again including offing a few henchmen then kicking a kingpin as they crumple up on the floor would have been nice.

Skills For Kills

Crackdown Review | A Cracking Sandbox Superhero Playpen

In Crackdown, you're always evolving, forever growing stronger. With each enemy slain, you earn orbs pertaining to the manner in which they were killed. Gunned them down? Then you'll fill your Firearms meter. Kicked them a hundred yards into a brick wall? Strength meter, then. You also have Explosives and Driving.

Earn enough orbs in each skill-set, and you'll upgrade that power. At the beginning, you might be able to lift up a traffic cone and hurl it at a Volk rifleman. But by the end, you'll be hefting an eighteen-wheeler above your head, bristling with proximity mines. It's a simple, elegant system and wonderfully rewarding. Just hearing that sprinkling chime when you detonate a grenade in the midst of a dozen goons is fantastic.

It's bolstered by pitch-perfect controls and wonderfully refined gameplay. Crackdown doesn't feature a cover-system or a complex array of hierarchical enemies, but it is ludicrously fun and incredibly open-ended. Pacific City is huge and varied, and if you want to assault Volk or Shai Gen forces on the ground, in a car or on-foot, you can. You can also drop in from the sky, ascending a building and leaping off. The choice is yours, and Crackdown is never low on options.

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Crackdown Review | A Cracking Sandbox Superhero Playpen

While the combat is great, the driving fun and the ability to hurl cars like The Hulk fantastic, Crackdown's appeal can be boiled down to two simple words; Agility Orbs. Scattered across the sprawl of Pacific City, either in plain sight atop a building or hiding in the odd nook and cranny, the pulsating little orbs upgrade your Agility meter and allow you to run faster, jump higher and eventually feed into reaching other, more lofty Agility Orbs.

I can't explain why Crackdown's Agility Orbs are so special. After all, they're passive little pick-ups that upgrade your Agility at a decidedly slow rate. Maybe its the pulsating audio cue you hear when one is nearby, or the actual journey to reach it? I've gone to extreme lengths, setting up piles of cars and trucks to reach just the right height to touch an Agility Orb and adsorb its tinkling joy.

Crackdown is a fantastic new approach to open-world games, eschewing linearity and narrative in favor of empowering the player as a tool of justice. You create the stories within Crackdown, not the designers. However, such freedom can result in quite an oversight when it comes to content. Crackdown is decidedly lacking in variety, and with multiplayer reduced to an -admittedly excellent - co-operative feature for two Agents, the overall package is lacking somewhat.


  • An open world free for you to explore
  • Pitch-perfect gameplay
  • Collecting orbs is joyous fun


  • Sags in the latter stages
  • Story is forgettable and ends on a bad note
  • Not nearly enough variety of content

The Short Version: Crackdown is an explosive, open-ended experience packed with fun to be had and things to be blown up. It's overflowing with possibilities, but lacking in real game-defining objectives. The missions stagnate quickly, and if it weren't for the plentiful distractions like Orbs and whatnot, Crackdown might not score as high. However, it coasts on its merits as a true exponent of the fun!

Crackdown Review | A Cracking Sandbox Superhero Playpen

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