Mo’ (than a) Beta Blues

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.

26 thoughts on “Mo’ (than a) Beta Blues

  1. That’s exactly how I feel about GTA/Crackdown, and it becomes particularly noticeable in how you can tackle the objectives from literally any angle. I’ve heard of friends that choose to be all gung-ho and charge headlong into a boss’ stronghold, mowing down armies of footsoldiers with little regard for personal safety. At the same time, I can find alternate, hidden routes that can let me drop in (or jump up) behind the same boss, who remains blissfully unaware of my presence till I start dropkicking him into oblivion (those of you who’ve found the hidden “?” orb near Diaz’ stadium know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.) Times like those feel as though someone had dropped Solid Snake in a futuristic city.
    A Solid Snake that can drop a bus on his enemies’ heads, anyway.

  2. I think the thing that impressed me the most about the demo was that after a few agility upgrades you could go all Super Mario on everyone and just jump on their heads to kill them.

  3. I’m going to be picking up Crackdown today probably. Parish, add me to you friends list so we can tag team some no-goodniks. My gamer tag is the same as the name below, I already sent an invite. Thanks!

  4. I always thought that the fix to GTA made the game more fair. Sure, it stopped you from stacking odds in your favor, but the limitation they set on there was to make sure that you don’t do so prematurely. Technically, within the context of the game, your character doesn’t know the specifics of the mission until he has it, right?

  5. Right. And there you have a perfect example of where “good design” and “fun design” diverge.

  6. So? It’s a game, not real life. Once you’ve failed a mission, you should be able to try new things. I think the “mission reset” issue is at the heart of what’s wrong with GTA, honestly. Rockstar gives you this incredible, open, sandbox world in which to do whatever you can imagine… but then you get to the missions, which are restrictive and limiting. It’s almost like two different games, one wonderful and fun, the other as broken and annoying as any other.

  7. Rants against numeric scores are common on this site, but this is the first time I’ve heard you worry about the potential of “complex numeric scores”. That oughta be fun. “This game received an 8.3 + 2i. 2i? What the hell? Is that even positive?”

  8. More like where “realistic design” and “fun design” diverge.
    I think several game developers feel that certain unfun aspects of a game have to be included to get across the intended experience.

  9. re: Mission Reset in GTA

    Could that not just be a memory limitation on the PS2’s part and not an actual conscious decision to make missions more “fair”? If I recall correctly, they started getting pretty ambitious with buildings, cars, pedestrians, etc by Vice City, right? Without a standard hard drive there’s not nearly enough space to keep track of every random abandoned car in the PS2’s memory.

  10. Crackdown: Proof that bulky main characters CAN haul ass. After playing the demo, I’m convinced that the days of slow-moving meaty characters need to be over.

  11. Jumping Flash!! I’ve been interested in the things said about Crackdown for a while now, but that just about nails it. I’ve been thinking about that feeling of “exhilaration and vertigo” for a while now, how it is a feature of platform games, the tensing in your muscles when the character’s jump arches downwards, and missing from a game like Super Mario 64, even with its flying. Xbox 360 keeps building up a very commendable library of games while us late adopters wait for that price drop or the elusive redesign.

  12. “Times like those feel as though someone had dropped Solid Snake in a futuristic city. A Solid Snake that can drop a bus on his enemies’ heads, anyway.” Wait… You mean Solid Snake can’t do that?

  13. No, he can. He just wants to give his enemies a fighting chance. If he didn’t, he would be so badass that the enitre universe would collapse under his gaze.

  14. I don’t know who you are, but you’re a real dead ringer for love, a real dead ringer for love.

  15. Uh… I was thinking Snake-Eyes when I wrote Solid Snake there. Oops. Can 80’s nostalgia bloom even in the battlefield of my mind? Getting your references straight is half the battle.

  16. Like most retards out there, I get an incredible amount of juvenile pleasure from completely missing the point.

    E.g. After reading your article on Crackdown, my response was, ” Oh, ‘HOLY CRAP’ You mean a, ‘9’? ”

    I think that this practice may have had some ill effects. I mean, I’m pretty certain that I’ve deviated from the prescriptivist use of quotes in text in just about every way possible in this comment.

    EDIT: When you make comments about say, a Halo beta, I suddenly need to know what, why, how, and, “BUT CORTANA!!!”

    EDIT EDIT: Actually, for whatever reason I never found myself excited by the concept of Cortana. A girl, who is also a computer, and makes no demands for gifts, girly movies, or tampons? It just seems too artificial (lame pun intended) to be anything but a cruel yank at where my heart/balls would be if I were just a little less of a horrible misanthrope.

  17. Well, Cortana’s easily explained: her programmers were pervs and made her avatar female and nude despite the fact that she’s an AI and doesn’t have a gender.

  18. E.g. After reading your article on Crackdown, my response was,
    “Oh, ‘HOLY CRAP’ You mean a, ‘9’?”
    No, Classic. I think he means an 8.5!

  19. Y-You’re right!!! HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO BLIND!!! I guess my reading was off, becuase it really felt like he wanted to give an 8.7. But I boneheadedly forgot to round down! Curses!!!

  20. Y’know Jerry Berry, while Crackdown definitely isn’t the most progressive game, I think you might not have picked on it’s subtle satirical vibes from the last paragraph in the article. I mean…there’s a scene where your contact goes “You hear that agent? It’s music. Clearly this is an attempt to distract you from ongoing criminal activity!”

    I half expected him to bitterly bemoan “Next they’ll be dancing…” Just goes to show that Rockstar doesn’t have the the trademark on subversive humor

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