When it comes to open world sandbox games it seems like the only one that can get it right is the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series. Over the past six years dozens of companies have tried to recreate the magic of Rockstar's crime simulator, but none of them have been very good. Perhaps with the release of games like Saints Row and Crackdown that cliché is finally losing some steam. That's not to say that either of those two games are of the same quality of the Grand Theft Auto series, but it's starting to be that there are some similar games that are actually worth your time and money.
While it's easy to compare Crackdown to the Grand Theft Auto series doing so completely misses the point (and appeal) of Microsoft's first sandbox game. Outside of the fact that both games take place in a huge sprawling environment that you can explore as you see fit, these two games have very little in common. Crackdown is a more free experience, you are literally plopped down in a world and free to do whatever you want … which includes taking on enemies and missions in any order you see fit.
You play an agent tapped to help clean up the streets of Pacific City, a fictional futuristic city full of large buildings and plenty of gang activity. While it might seem a little unfair to have one guy going up against all of these different criminals, the truth is that the various gangs should fear you more than you fear them. You see, you are a genetically enhanced agent who can run fast, jump high and beat the crap out of just about anything. And best of all, you the more you play the game the stronger, faster and more agile you become. Eventually you are able to pick up cars, survive falling off of a 50 story skyscraper, and kill a man with just one kick. Without putting too fine a point on it, you become a one-man killing machine. A superhero, if you will.
Unfortunately that is the extent of the story; you pretty much enter a city and kill a bunch of bad guys and gang leaders. Then when you're done with that, you move on to the next gang and the next boss, and so on so forth. From time to time you may get a brief explanation of who these targets are, but you never really know much about the back story and there's absolutely no character development. This is not a story-based game; instead it's all about action and just having a great time in this virtual city.
The good news is that you can have a lot of fun tooling around Pacific City. The world, while not as diverse as what we've seen in games like San Andreas, is definitely fun to play in and full of possibilities. The city it split up into three different islands each with their own ethnic-based gang: Los Meurtos is the Mexican gang, the Russians are known as Volk, and Shai-Gen is an Asian gang. Each of these gangs has seven bosses each with their own task (weapons, security, etc.). You can tackle them in any order, and once you've crippled one aspect of the gang it will hurt all of the other arms of that gang.
Going around and killing the various gang bosses is really the crux of the game, you won't find any escort missions here, it's just you against a bunch of Mexicans, Asians and Russians. In a lot of ways that frees you up to experiment and just explore the city. You don't even need to kill the bosses if you don't want you, you could have a lot of fun just co-existing with these criminals and looking around the city. In fact, I'm of the mind that the whole killing gang members thing is probably the least interesting part of Crackdown … and that's saying something.
The real star of Crackdown isn't the story or the missions; instead it's all the crazy genetically enhanced stuff you are able to do. Although you start out kind of weak and not very exciting, you quickly build up your character and become one of the greatest action heroes of all time. When your stats are maxed out you are able to jump from building top to building top without batting an eye, you are able to pick up cars and throw them at whoever is unlucky enough to be in your way, and you can withstand dozens (if not hundreds) of bullets without dying. You become everything that is cool about comic book heroes, only this time around you are that character and it's your story that is being told.
You can upgrade your character in a number of different ways, both from items you collect and from just using your abilities. Scattered around Pacific City are 500 (yes, 500) Agility Orbs that you can collect, these green glowing orbs help increase your various stats (which include driving, shooting, explosives, strength and agility). Most of these green orbs are in easy to find locations, usually on the tops of buildings. And unlike the hidden items in other open world games, these Agility Orbs are easy to spot from a distance, especially at night. Of course, these Agility Orbs aren't supposed to be hidden … that's what the 300 hidden orbs are for. Needless to say, if you want to collect all 800 orbs found in this city you are going to have to set aside some time to devote to the hunt.
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