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Crackdown demo (and minor game theory discussion)

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By now almost anyone interested has probably downloaded and played (the shit out of) RealTime Worlds’ Crackdown demo for XBox 360. If you’re one of said folks, please nagivate elsewhere – I doubt I’m about to tell you anything new. Anyone else, please do continue.

Crackdown is (yet another) open-world/sandbox game. I don’t blame you for getting glazed eyes at that; even before the much-touted next installment of the GTA series, the 360 isn’t exactly hurting for this sort of content. So why should you care?

The essential dialectic of many – most? – successful games is the balancing of two factors that are simple to categorize, but often quite tricky to execute. On the one hand, you want the player to feel empowered. On the other, there has to be challenge. Essentially you want to make your player feel every inch the bad-ass… but you also want him/her to need every inch of that bad-assery to survive in your world. In the GTA series, empowerment comes from a sense of lawlessness; in games like Burnout or Ace Combat, it comes from successively faster and more intense rides. Themes like this are traceable everywhere you look; from Halo’s 7-foot cyborg protagonist to Kratos’ swirling fury in God of War. The most abstruse applications are things like puzzle games, where empowerment is more just a sense of freedom from anything resembling the ordinary world (though I might want to be careful with that example).

Crackdown (remember Crackdown? The article’s about Crackdown) essays both these elements with ?lan. In an about-face from the typical thug-dominated sandbox genre, Crackdown casts the player as a cybernetically enhanced supercop with powers straight out of a Matrix movie. Add the Terminator’s weaponeering skills with the agility of Ang Lee’s take on Hulk and you’re getting close. The game’s catalog of influences is long, compassing the aforenamed Matrix films, adrenaline-racers like Burnout, and (of course), the grandpa of open-worlders, GTA itself. In fact Crackdown and GTA share DNA, seeing as David Jones founded the companies which responsible for each game. Admittedly your enemies are still thugs, but since you’re (technically) on the side of the angels this time, the rules are a little different. The local (unenhanced) fuzz are actually your buddies, at least at the outset. This can be handy in the early stages, since though you’re enhanced from the get-go, you get A LOT more powerful as your Agent advances in skills.

There are a lot of great things to say about Crackdown (and this is just the demo!), but you can read all of them elsewhere if you look about. The most summative comment I can offer about the game at this point is that, maybe more than any other game I’ve played in a few years, is designed to be fun. That’s an element desperately needed in the next-generation race, and one that gives me a lot of hope.

Honestly I’m a little divided about Microsoft’s distribution lock on Crackdown. It’s nice to see a game of this quality buffing out the console’s growing catalog of solid titles, but at the same time… this really looks like it’s going to be a superlative game. I’d love to see a PS3 release after a period of exclusivity, and maybe even a Wii version as well (though the graphics would surely suffer). I doubt any of that will happen – but that we get the game at all is damn good news. I hope I’ve interested a fence-sitter or two. We are just speaking of the demo at this point, but if the full version conquers as much ground as its teaser cousin claims, this will be the kind of content that deserves nearly unalloyed support. Bravo RTW!

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