First Impressions: A hot time in the old town tonight?
Are you ready for the ultimate next gen sandbox? As a huge fan of the GTA series, I've always enjoyed the free-roaming aspects, which clearly resonates as a major innovation of this generation. The ability to go anywhere and do anything whenever you want in a huge, interactive clockwork city has broad appeal and as the new, more powerful hardware hits it's interesting to see where the industry can go with the idea. Look no further than the grandfather of the concept David Jones, the man who created the GTA series. His new studio - Real Time Worlds - is hard at work on Crackdown for the Xbox 360 and it looks to take the concept of free roaming to dizzying new heights, both figuratively and literally.
Crackdown places you into the persona of a super-soldier working for The Agency ? a shadowy government organization up against several massive criminal factions that run the enormous metropolis the game is set in. As an Agent of Justice, you'll be pumped full of experimental pharmaceuticals and uber-steroids that make you the equivalent of a one man police force and let loose upon La Muerta, the Volk and the Cai-Shen Corporation. These gangs control the streets of the city (though each has its own varied and brutal methods for doing so) and it's up to you to take them down. To this end you'll be endowed with all manner of super-human abilities that make it possible for you to take on dozens of thugs at a time. Though you won't start out with every power available right away, as the game progresses you'll earn new abilities and upgrades simply by participating in the activities you enjoy doing. In other words, the game rewards you in several key areas (agility, strength, explosives, driving and firearms) by upping your abilities as you play. Want to be able to leap across town, jump over buildings and hoist cars over your head? Start working on strength and agility. If you want to become a weapons expert, use guns to take out your foes, or become a better wheel-man by snatching civilian cars and doing as much driving as you can. While you can help yourself to any vehicle on the street, there are three official Agency vehicles that you can use - a military SUV, sports car or massive, armed semi. When you jump into the Agency rides, they take on different appearances based on your ability and level, and they also take on physical characteristics that make them infinitely more powerful and able to be put to plenty of practical use. Very sweet indeed?
Each of the 3 gangs you'll be tasked with destroying sports 7 key lieutenants and killing them one by one will weaken the organization's ability to rule its territory and maintain control. How is this reflected in actual gameplay? Kill the guy who recruits new members and you'll start to notice that you're facing off against less of these particular bangers than you normally would, or ventilate their weapons specialist and watch as the guns used against you go from high-tech to Saturday night special in a New York minute. The main objective, regardless of the gang you're going after at that moment, is to take apart the structure of the organization, wipe out all 7 lieutenants and finally, infiltrate the gang's base of operations and kill the crime boss to complete the crackdown. Of course, you'll have to spend a substantial amount of time at the start of the game building up your abilities in order to have the necessary tools to find and confront the gang's council and finally the kingpin. Also, as expected, you'll have to mow through legions of foot soldiers in doing so ? but that's the fun part, right? It's also what hones your combat prowess until you become savvy enough to take on the key figures in each gang. Good stuff.
The developers have designed the city in ways that make it essentially one huge, vertical training ground. In emphasizing the rooftops, fire escapes, ledges and balconies the team has created an incredibly cool, virtual jungle gym for your Agent to jump, climb, shimmy and stalk ? all the while increasing their abilities without even thinking consciously of it. As your power increases, you'll be able to effortlessly hang from ledges, swing from cranes and other suspensions high above the street, jump across chasms from building to building and perform other incredible acrobatics. As well, continued training in weapons and driving will mold you into an incredibly destructive force that tears through enemies like an ill wind. While the main focus of Crackdown is the freeform play (not to mention dismantling the criminal organizations and icing their leaders) you'll encounter unique mission challenges that you can participate in as you roam around between gang hits. Races, acrobatic tests and escort duty are just a few of the things you'll come across during routine play. Sounds fantastic, and it's all in the name of giving the player loads of content to interact with.
Crackdown looks amazing, and while it doesn't exactly feature photo-realistic visuals the art style of the game emphasizes vibrant color and multiple detail maps that give very clean, sharp edges to the character models and environments creating a gorgeous, quasi-real, graphic novel look to the game. The city streets are populated with pedestrians and vehicles that are randomly varied so you won't see the same people or cars all the time, and the NPCs will react realistically to the world based on the time of day and events going on around them. Of course, as an Agent of Justice you shouldn't intentionally target innocent bystanders, but that collateral damage is a bitch, isn't it? So yes, sadistic players can hurl cars into crowds and target the gas tank with their weapons ? but you'd never do that
, would you?
The developers at RTW have created a system that will show visual representation of your increased skills by altering the appearance of your character. As an Agent gets stronger, they'll bulk up. The more powerful firearms an operative has access to is a direct indication of proficiency with weapons, and agility is represented by sleeker costumes. Basically, the more your stats go up, the more badass you look. Which brings us to the online play?
Yes, Crackdown will feature full co-op play for you and a buddy over Xbox Live. While more detailed information on the full range of multiplayer capabilities is still under wraps, what we do
know at this point sounds very, very exciting. You can contact a buddy on your friends list and actually call them into your game to lend a quick hand, or you can use the game's unique ?Absorption? feature which allows you to tap into a fellow Agent's DNA and utilize their experience and skills for a short time. You'll also be able to take on the full single player campaign or just go roaming around the city with a friend. You can take on missions and other activities side by side, or just go off in opposite directions and mess around, all the while remaining in contact via the Live headset. In addition, gamers will be enticed to explore the achievements found within Crackdown, as a plethora of them are just waiting to adorn your Gamer Card. Using something called Agency Vision, you can scan the billboards of the city as you move amongst the rooftops and see challenges and accomplishments performed by other Agents. In this way the developers hope to foster a huge sense of community as you hear of the exploits of your fellow players and face off against them for bragging rights. Friend's achievements will be sent directly to your game so you can compare and try to best their accomplishment. Between the single player game, the co-op and the additional multiplayer options yet to be announced, Crackdown appears to be the complete package and should please fans of action gaming and free-roaming play. I know I'm already intrigued by it.