I threw our friendly neighborhood news editor for a loop today when I told him that I’m completely insane for Crackdown — in fact, I spent pretty much the entirety of Saturday and Sunday playing. I’m down to just a few more missions before I’ve finished the game, but I need to start over. I’ve been playing a pre-release review copy and keep unlocking all these achievements that won’t transfer to my real account, and that’s annoying. Luckily, I don’t have the slightest reservation about starting a new game from scratch, because it will be a completely different experience from what I’ve already played. Such is the power of an insanely open-ended game.
Luke, I suspect, was surprised because I’m the classics-and-portables guy at 1UP. We all tend to get pigeonholed, I guess, and I’ve been my own agent in locking myself into my speciality niche because at the time they weren’t really getting their due. That’s not so much the case now, but I’m happy to keep working with handheld games and lauding the old stuff. Because, really, modern console games do get bogged down with an awful lot of BS, and I’m a man with far too little leisure time to deal with that kind of nonsense.
But Crackdown — there’s a game that cuts through the crap with a fiery knife. If you’ve played the demo, you have a pretty good idea of what the full game is like. Which should be enough to make you realize that it’s pretty freaking awesome. I even took time out of my holiday to write something about it. (The thing I alluded to earlier. I actually did finish it, shockingly.)
The thing that struck me most about Crackdown is that it gives me the same sense of exhilaration and vertigo that Jumping Flash! had — you fly high, high into the air, recklessly high, but it’s a rush and you never feel out of control. Why has it taken 12 years for someone to capture the essence that made a first-generation PlayStation game good? I don’t know, but Crackdown has it.
The second thing that struck me was that it reminds me why I liked Grand Theft Auto III so much — it offers an unbelievable sense of freedom and versatility lacking in the series’ most recent entries. No one can deny that San Andreas was a colossal achievement, but the fun was diluted by Issues more often than not. And while GTAIII had its share of problems, there was enough newness about it that you didn’t mind.
And even though it was a smaller game, it was a lot less limiting — the world didn’t automatically reset when you initated a mission the way GTA games do now, so you could stack the odds in your favor. One of my favorite GTAIII moments was an early mission in Chinatown where you have to take down a street vendor who makes a break for it as soon as you come after him. After failing my first few attempts, I decided to cheat and leave a damaged car in his path. Then, when he cheesed it, I’m pumped lead into the car so that it exploded as he ran past. Instant win. Try to do that in a newer GTA, though, and you can’t. Rather than rewarding players for coming up with clever ways to achieve their goals, Vice City and San Andreas expect you to work within the limits Rockstar sets as mission parameters — which is silly, since it flies in the face of the game’s open-endedness.
Not Crackdown, though. It pretty much lets you go to town on the bad guys however you want. And I appreciate that fact, and hope Real-Time Worlds builds on it in sequels rather than stripping it away.
So yeah, I hope you will join me soon on XBLA as I blow the almighty crap out of things. And as for the Halo beta: pfft.