Crackdown Cooperative Hands-On
The raucous sandbox action game from Microsoft and Realtime Worlds will let you fight crime in Pacific City with a friend. But we had more fun trying to kill him instead.
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Ever wondered what Grand Theft Auto would be like if you didn't play a common mob thug, but rather a genetic superman who could hurl entire cars and leap over buildings? GTA creator Dave Jones and the team at Realtime Worlds have, and they've put all their ideas into the upcoming Crackdown, a futuristic free-roaming action game for the Xbox 360 that will cast you as a super-agent making a last-ditch effort to cleanse the fictional Pacific City of crime where the regular police have failed. Unlike most games of this type, Crackdown will even let you and a friend join up to take down the game's 21 crime bosses as a team--although you might end up trying to take each other down first.
As we've reported previously, Crackdown's gameplay revolves around a five-way skill system. As you run around Pacific City and fight crime, you'll gain bonuses to your strength, firearms, driving, agility, and explosives skills by taking part in the corresponding activities. Kill enough enemies with firearms, and when you hit the next level on your firearms skill you'll become more precise. Rank up in driving and you'll gain better versions of the high-tech vehicles offered by the crime-fighting agency that dispatched you to Pacific City. The one exception is agility, which you'll increase with pickups rather than usage. Just about every object in the environment can be picked up and thrown, and as you gain strength, you'll start tossing crazy stuff like cars and dumpsters around with abandon, which is about as entertaining as it sounds. And when your skill levels increase, your character's appearance will also become appropriately ruder.
At any rate, Pacific City's underworld is split up into three factions--a street gang called the Los Muertos, the high-tech Shai-Gen corporation, and the Volk organized crime syndicate--and your primary occupation in the game is taking down the seven crime bosses (six generals and one kingpin) that run each of these nefarious organizations. You could do that all by your lonesome, sure, but it'll likely be a lot more fun if you join with a friend to clean up the city cooperatively via Xbox Live or system link. Even when you're playing a single-player game while logged into Live, anyone can request to hop right into your game world with you and start tearing it up. The host's progress will determine which bosses are alive or already defeated, and any further progress made during the co-op session will only be applied to the host's game, but any skill points accrued by the second player will carry back over into his or her single-player game later on.
Joining a cooperative game is as easy as selecting it from a list and having the host approve your entry. Once you're in the game, your GTA-style minimap will show an icon indicating where the other player is, so you can team up for some assisted heroism. But you can't turn off friendly fire in two-player games, so you'll have to be careful you don't blow up or shoot or run over your teammate. Then again, given that we could kill our teammate in the co-op game we tried, we figured we ought to give it a shot. Turns out, trying to take each other out is at least as much fun as (and a lot goofier than) pursuing your actual objectives. In fact, as producer Phil Wilson put it during our demo, "The problem with co-op is it's not very cooperative."
Basically, the action got utterly ridiculous during our demo, and we don't mean that in a bad way. We were running around, leaping 50 feet into the air, throwing police cars at crooks, blowing up an entire intersection full of automobiles with a single grenade, and a lot of other totally wild stuff. It was all good, crazy fun. At one point we roundhouse kicked a car into the air, and if that doesn't speak for itself, what does? The game did a good job of chaining explosive objects together, so that anything that can blow up that's within a certain distance of an explosion will blow up, so you get some really impressive, enormous destruction going on. Couple all this madness with the cooperative/competitive nature of the two-player game, and we could see a lot of lasting entertainment value here.
Crackdown has been shown a number of times since the first time we got to see it at X05 way back in October of 2005, and the game has certainly shaped up from a visual perspective in the intervening months. It has a brightly colored look that you might immediately identify as cel-shaded, though the guys at Realtime Worlds are quick to point out that the effect is more akin to a graphic novel, with its harder outlines and such. At any rate, we like what the team has done so far to freshen up the free-roaming action formula, and we'll be interested to see how it comes together in its final form sometime next year.