I think by now Crackdown’s reputation is well known. It was a game that most people bought merely to get into the Halo 3 beta (ah the old days). When they played it, they were shocked to find something enjoyable. I was among those people. Still, time has passed, and now it is backwards compatible, so I decided to sit down and play it again, with the intention of beating it this time. So without the exceedingly low expectations and the addition of plenty of age is Crackdown still something special? Well, my answer to this question is not straightforward.
I think it’s impossible to separate how little people cared about Crackdown before release from the eventual response to it. If you go somewhere and order a burger thinking it will be meh and just want the fries anything but meh from the burger will astound you. I believe that the low expectations for Crackdown served it well. Crackdown had to offer basically anything to be more than what was expected. In playing it again recently it has shown a few problems and ones that weren’t so glaring at the time. Some of them are due to age, a few are issues that existed when the game first came out it was just easy to ignore them.
I suppose I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. If you don’t know, Crackdown has you playing as an elite member of The Agency. You are tasked with taking down three gangs that have been harassing the city. Your character starts with only the basics, and as you progress they level up into an insane almost super soldier. Your skills are agility, strength, firearms, explosives, and driving. Each time you successfully use a skill you get orbs that give you progress and each time you level your character gets better at those skills. This is awesome in theory and almost great in execution; however, some of the skills at low levels are nearly impossible to deal with. Explosives and driving are basically worthless until you get at least one star in them, but you are faced with the challenge of needing to use them to get a star. Your health is tied to the strength skill so that encourages you do go in and fight criminals in close combat, but this will eat the little health you have quickly. Dying takes a large chunk of progress away from the skills, so you end up stuck. You need to use the skills to grow them, but because they aren’t growing, they are more of a problem than helpful. This is more of a design flaw than something terrible though. Once you learn how to work around the issues, you will see significant progress, and it will become easier to grow skills over time… all except one skill.
Driving is pointless. Driving at low levels is nearly impossible, and simply driving around does not grow your skill only hitting enemies, enemies who are super amazing at dodging. Growing your driving skill is also a complete waste of time. As you grow your agility, you will begin to run super fast and have realized how much fun it is to super jump around the city. By the time I had not only beaten the game, but done so two times over, my driving skill was still around 1-2, and I had to put in a lot of effort to even get it that high. Whereas the other skills are a challenge to level driving has no point to it, and the grind gets annoying. Even more annoying is that you lose a lot of progress on your skills when you use them to harm civilians, while enemies will dive away from your car with ninja skill, civilians do not. In the earliest stages of the game for every two gang kills I got I would get at least one civilian kill making it nearly impossible to level. This is not something that can be blamed on age, when the game was new I remember thinking “why is the driving skill so hard to level especially considering that simply running and jumping around the city is so much fun?”
The other issue with skill development is you can feel stuck at times. How difficult the game will be is based on your skill’s level, naturally. However, you might not realize that once you clear the first island that it will no longer have enemies. Needing to grind early in the game will be important for some gamers, but there is no real warning that you will need to do that. You will reach a point where you might feel overly challenged but don’t have enough options to help you grind skills. If you know this going in you can plan, and once you do you will be able to overcome.
Still other than the glaring issue with driving the game is just damn fun. There is a decent variety of weapons (though it’s started to feel limited now) and interesting ways to kill all the gang members. Want to get up close? Do it. Want to snipe? Go for it. Want to just blow everything up? Hell yeah! The only thing stopping you is skill limit, but you can get around that with time and learning the game.
The game also feels a bit small now. Three islands with multiple people to take down was a decent amount when Crackdown came out; now it’s a bit limited. There is the ability to reset your progress with the gangs without resetting your character, but you will still likely be fully maxed by the end of just 2-3 times of doing this. Not only that but your second time playing the game will likely be half the time it took you the first time with how skilled you are. There are higher difficulties, but in reality, this is an age problem. We’ve gotten so used to games having more to them now that almost no game gets away without feeling this sting of age. That being said it’s not so short or small that the game is bad, just something you might notice.
The only thing I can’t comment on is co-op. There is no couch co-op (boo), and not a lot of people are rushing out to play the game. I have not experienced it so I won’t even attempt to talk about it.
All in all, Crackdown is an early year experience that I am glad I went back to. As I said I hadn’t beaten it the first time I played, and I am glad that I did this time so many years later. Some parts of the game are showing age, some were not that great from day one, but it is still a solidly entertaining experience. Having such low expectations did help it when it first launched, but even now so many years later it’s still a bit of a treat. If you never played it you might want to, it is relatively cheap and a good little experience. If you have played it, you might want to give it another go. Hopefully, we will hear news about Crackdown 3 sometime shortly as well.
What do you think? Had you played Crackdown before? Do you want to play it now? Do you think the low expectations helped the game or that it stands on its own? Let me know!