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Critical Reception: Microsoft's Crackdown

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Microsoft's Xbox 360 action title Crackdown, called "the best, if not the first, online multiplayer sandbox game on a console" with strengths in its effective and addictive chara
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Microsoft's Crackdown, a free-roaming action title with strengths in character advancement and in online multiplayer modes. Crackdown faced controversy in the weeks prior to its release, when it was announced that all retail copies would come bundled with an invitation to the Halo 3 beta test. Some criticized the move as being unfair to consumers, noting that the allure of an early opportunity to play one of the Xbox 360's most anticipated upcoming releases would inflate sales of what could potentially be a mediocre product. As a result, Crackdown met with close scrutiny from critics, none of whom had the opportunity to be swayed by the as-of-yet unavailable Halo 3 beta test. Even without the advantage of a Halo tie-in, however, Crackdown still manages to rank in at an impressive 84% average review score ratio at Gamerankings.com. 1UP.com's Scott Sharkey was especially impressed with Crackdown's "cop-with-superpowers" gameplay hook, which he claims had an even greater impact thanks to the quality of its execution. "Spot-on control, slick physics, and perfect animation combine to make your supercop feel like both an acrobat and juggernaut," he says in his 9-out-of-10 review. "Better yet, he's still somewhat vulnerable and has lots of room for self-improvement. Spend enough time doing something you enjoy -- be it Tick-like rooftop leaping, reckless driving, or just exploding the hell out of stuff -- and your agent quickly gets better at it." "Yeah, Crackdown's a little like Grand Theft Auto and its ilk," Sharkey admits, addressing a common complaint many critics had with the title prior to its release. But: "So much of the bulls*** has been stripped out, however, that Crackdown is barely in the same genre," he adds, noting that, "You'll find none of GTA's railroading here," with regard to mission structure. "Crackdown's multiplayer is at once both the simplest and most satisfying of any game in its genre," Sharkey notes in particular. "Rather than offering the usual lineup of competitive modes or a few separate co-op missions, Crackdown simply drops both players into the same single-player world to do whatever the hell they want." "In fact," he continues, "there isn't any actual difference between single and multiplayer. When beginning or continuing a game, the player has the option of confining who can join in." "If Crackdown were nothing more than a GTA-ish game with the fat trimmed away and some insane physical abilities, hell, that'd be something to be thrilled about," Sharkey concludes. "That it represents the best, if not the first, online multiplayer sandbox game on a console is just gravy. Here's hoping the Halo 3 beta-invite pack-in drives sales enough to warrant a sequel." Douglass C. Perry at IGN scores Crackdown at an 8 out of 10, and agrees that the title offers an enjoyable, if flawed, experience overall. Perry cites the sense of character advancement as being particularly effective and addictive. "Collecting green agility orbs quickly becomes a mad, wonderful, psychotic obsession," he notes. "The more you collect, the higher your agent jumps. The higher he jumps, the more orbs he can see and collect, enabling him to jump higher and see and collect more." However: "While everything else in Crackdown feels really good, the driving suffers the most both mechanically and from a design standpoint," Perry warns. "For starters, the civilian cars drive like Big Wheels in mud," he explains. "Second, the car races are purely laborious. The only reason to play these is to earn Achievements." "Crackdown won't last that long, it's uneven, and the story and the music are weak sauce," Perry summarizes. "Some things are great while others areas fall flat (even the bosses are predictable and easy after a while)." On the other hand: "The smart blend of collecting orbs in a wildly vertical setting while constantly feeling the reward of powering up creates an unbeatable sensation of addictive fun. You'll have a blast, even if for a short while." GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann, meanwhile, is also puzzled by the rift between Crackdown's fun and its failings. Gerstmann takes particular exception to Crackdown's lack of focus on story, which warrants a rating of 7.8 out of 10. Gerstmann explains that most "sandbox"-styled free-roaming action titles actually have a very rigid storyline structure, which is a characteristic lacking in Crackdown. This has its merits and its drawbacks. In Crackdown's case, "The result is an open-world game that feels more open ended than any other game of its type," according to Gerstmann, "but that lack of structure makes the game feel half finished and shallow in a few spots." Crackdown's gameplay is often fun enough to distract the player from noticing its weaknesses in story structure, however. "The weird part is that none of the story really matters," Gerstmann writes, "because the whole point of the game is to provide open-ended freedom and a large, interesting city to explore. And on the gameplay side, Crackdown works." In the end, however, "Crackdown feels unfinished," in Gerstmann's opinion. "It feels like the developers sat down and crafted a wonderful-looking city and carefully considered how the gameplay and abilities should work, and then they didn't have enough time to plug in enough activities to take advantage of it all." "While you'll certainly have a lot of fun playing Crackdown," he laments, "it's hard not to get the distinct feeling that it was on the cusp of being so much more." Critics are almost unanimous in their agreement that Crackdown offers a fun enough experience for its short duration, though whether this amount of fun is worth full purchase price is another matter. Still, Crackdown has apparently managed to craft a unique, worthy experience all its own, and those concerned that the Halo 3 beta invitation was being used to mask a subpar game should now have their fears put to rest.

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