Crackdown’s aimlessly emergent leap of faith

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Occasionally, I will pop into Crackdown, kick a few gang members in the gut, leap up like a European tree frog to the top of some buildings, and collect a couple of Agility Orbs. If I get lucky, I’ll also take out a gang leader or unlock another agency supply point, which acts as an ammo-refilling and fast-travel hotspot. Given the size of the map for Pacific City, these waypoints are vital to getting around quickly, in spite of the fact that, eventually, the agent you’re playing as should be able to leap over entire buildings. Until then, it’s a much slower-moving game, and I still find myself uninterested in driving any kind of car because of that, y’know, Doc Brown quote.

By far, the best thing about Crackdown, which came out in 2007 mind you, is that it drops you in its open world and immediately lets you do whatever you want. Sure, there’s some guidance with map icons and your commander giving you directives in your ear, but you can completely choose to ignore all that and go on a gang-related rampage, test your might in some land- and car-based races, or experience the dopamine release that comes with finding an orb that increases your skills at a molasses-like pace until you get enough to upgrade. This sort of “totes on your own” mentality can be good and bad; at first, it’s liberating, not having to worry about running over to start some trivial quest, just bounding from one area to another and seeing what unfolds. However, after some time, it becomes boring, especially now that I’ve collected about half of the Agility Orbs in the game, which just leaves behind an empty husk of a city.

Alas, that’s where I’m at now in Crackdown: a bit bored. When it comes to main missions and, uh, actually playing the game, you’re tasked with taking down three different criminal organizations each operating in a separate region of Pacific City. Each organization has multiple lieutenants and minor bosses that can be erased from digital life in any order. You can also eliminate the organization’s kingpin at any time, though those at the bottom of the ladder drastically lowers the firepower and abilities of the kingpin’s guards. Reaching some of these big bosses requires planning and the navigation of large buildings, so you’re better off waiting until your powers have grown, allowing you to jump higher and dish out more damage. I think at this point I’ve killed maybe three to five lieutenants, certainly no major crime-lords yet, and I don’t even know where I should be focusing my attention. Seems like everywhere I go in Pacific City, some bad guy/girl is up to no good and surrounded by goons with guns all aimed at me. Really, it’s just easier jumping from roof to roof.

Visually, Crackdown is no Saints Row: The Third or Grand Theft Auto V. I mean, how could it be? I ask thee again–how? The year 2007 did what it could, and the focus here was more on tall buildings and a sense of openness, a freedom to go left or right or even very high up. That means that when you’re running around on the streets below, everything is bland. Flat and lifeless. Cars are chunky and blocky, and these bounce off other vehicles like bumper cars at the summer festival, occasionally emitting some smoke. I’ve done only a handful of stunts with cars and don’t expect to do any more as they all handle like garbage, even the much-hyped “Super Car” from the Agency. Civilian life in Pacific City consists of groups of five to six people–most who are clones from other groups of people–walking around and running the second they see the Agent coming their way. But that’s all they do, is walk around, just walk, walk, walk. Strangely, and maybe this is the loner in me speaking, but life is better way up high, where silence lives.

Combat is no step up either. You can throw objects like cars or gas tanks, you can kick with your kicky stick (leg), or you can use one of two carried weapons to pierce flesh with bullets. The left trigger locks on (when it feels like working), and right trigger fires. Alas, the shooting feels light and ineffective, especially when up against bosses that have multiple health bars. It’s akin to shooting a bag of sand, except that bag of sand no longer remains unmoved, it’s also firing back your way. It gets even worse the farther away you are from the target, though the Agent’s shooting skills should advance at some point, so maybe it’ll be easer then. Oh, and you can toss grenades, which explode with the impact of a big fart that could no longer be held in. It’s not great, and my tactic involves shooting a guy until I start to reload and then running into them with a jump kick. Rinse and repeat, as well as run away when you lose too much health.

Like I said, I’m getting bored with Crackdown, so I’ll probably do another round or two of running and jumping around in hopes of nabbing some more Agility Orbs with the hope of stumbling upon a boss and, if the wind is blowing my way, putting him or her in the ground. I’d like to progress a bit more only to see the Agent grow in strength and ability, not because the story is some compelling piece of literature. This is truly the definition of a sandbox title, and I’m just about done playing.

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