X05: Crackdown First Look

The new crime-busting, free-roaming shooter from Real Time Worlds promises an unprecedented degree of freedom. Will it deliver?

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Crackdown (2007)
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AMSTERDAM--So-called sandbox games are a dime a dozen these days, but does this supposedly open-ended genre really offer the freedom to do whatever you want? Real Time worlds thinks not, but the developer does think it can do better with Crackdown, its own take on the go-anywhere, fight-or-commit-crime model. We caught a demo of the game today at X05 to get a glimpse of just some of the things you'll be able to do in your quest to clean up one decaying urban sprawl.

The gameplay is paramount in Crackdown, and it seems that the game's storyline exists primarily to drive that gameplay. You'll play the roll of a lone supercop, given incredible powers by the mysterious organization known as the Agency and tasked with ridding the city of crime. This is a last-ditch attempt to remove 21 kingpins who are sapping the metropolis of its remaining decency. The police have failed, and you'll be playing the role of the one badass powerful enough to do what an entire force of blue shirts couldn't.

Your imperative is to clean up the streets, and it seemed from our demo that you'll be able to pursue that objective in just about whatever way you want--regardless of legality. The game takes place in one massive world with no loading, and you'll travel around the map, looking for missions to undertake that will eventually lead you to one of the 21 kingpins. In keeping with Real Time Worlds' goal of unfettered gameplay, you won't have to challenge the kingpins in any particular order--you can take them out as you see fit. Interestingly, each of these boss characters will control a different aspect of the city's criminal operation. One may specialize in weapons distribution, for instance, while another might supply fast cars to the thugs. If you take out the former, you'll see the armament of your subsequent foes become noticeably less powerful; kill the latter overlord, and your enemies won't be riding in quite the same style.

The Agency has given you superpowers through experimental drugs and other conditioning, and you'll be able to take those uncanny abilities and considerably beef them up depending on how you play. Your skills are broken into five categories--athletics, strength, shooting, explosives, and driving--and each stat will increase individually as you, well, kill people with that method. So if you choose to eliminate most baddies with melee combat or by throwing projectiles, your strength will rise, and you'll see your character visibly get bigger, while also gaining the power to pick up and throw cars and other large objects. An increase in athletics will make you able to jump higher, run faster, climb up higher ledges, and so forth. Interestingly, the designers didn't make the driving stat relevant simply by easing up on the handling of any cars you jack. Rather, they implemented "Agency vehicles" that will be upgraded as your driving stat goes up. The sports car we saw actually got bigger and also gained mean-looking armor plating as it levelled up, in addition to its increased speed and handling. SUV and even big rig-type vehicles will also be available from the benevolent Agency.

We didn't get a chance to play Crackdown ourselves, but the developer says to expect extremely simple controls, in the interest of smoothing gameplay. You'll perform generally all your abilities using only the two analog sticks and the left and right shoulder buttons. Moving around and fighting looked like it ought to be familiar to anyone who's played GTA and its ilk, though the gun targeting does bear some explanation. Essentially, when you paint a target with your reticle, you'll get a sort of soft lock, in that your aim will generally stay on that target. You can then hold the left trigger to establish a hard lock, which will actually hold your reticle and the camera directly on the enemy. Once you've got a hard lock, you'll see small boxes appear on the head, torso, and limbs of the enemy, and you can snap your aim to each of these points in order to disable the foe's arm or leg, or go for a headshot.

This generalized damage model doesn't apply just to human enemies. You can also use it against cars, for instance. You might shoot a speeding car in its tires to slow it down so you can catch up, or you can hit it right in the gas tank (if you're good enough) to achieve an automotive headshot of sorts, sending it sky high in flames. All of the objects in the game are physically modelled and can be picked up and used as tools. For instance, we saw how your character could rip the door right off a car and use it as a shield, before throwing it as a weapon. And since you'll be able to complete any portion of Crackdown's single-player missions cooperatively via Xbox Live, we imagine the possibilities for open-ended, creative gameplay are many indeed.

Crackdown's visual style isn't quite what you'd expect to see from a game in the Grand Theft Auto vein--it's brightly lit, colorful, and features some stylized architecture. Its characters feature outlining and shading reminiscent of the cel-shading technique. Real Time Worlds is apparently trying to achieve a graphic-novel look for the game. The city itself features an interesting design, too--it's essentially built upwards, much higher than in your typical free-roaming action game--some buildings seem to be tens of stories high. In fact, the developer claims that 50 percent of the game's action will take place above street level, and given your character's potentially superhuman abilities of jumping and grappling, we'd believe it.

Based on our first look, Crackdown seems like it'll give Grand Theft Auto fans the kind of gameplay they're looking for, while providing a little bit more to those who wished that they, as Tommy Vercetti, could just pick up that car and hurl it at pedestrians. The game is due out in 2006, and despite its early state, it was running nicely during our demo. We'll chart Crackdown's progress over the coming year and deliver more information as we have it.

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