Down with ‘Crackdown’?

After a few hours of downloading, I finally got to sink my teeth into the massive demo for “Crackdown,” the next big release for the Xbox 360. And I … I don’t know.

If you’re unfamiliar with this game’s story, it’s essentially about blasting the crap out of thugs using genetically enhanced supercops. There’s no centralized “franchise” character you use — instead, you get to pick from a stable of superagents with varying ethnicities. It’s a rainbow coalition of violent crimefighting.

I was intrigued by the game’s cel-shaded, cartoony visage. At the very least, it looks different than the games it’s going to be compared to, GTA and Saints Row. However, it’s not like cel shading is new — you’ve got “Okami,” “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “XIII,” “Viewtiful Joe”– so let’s not pretend that “Crackdown” is offering us anything revolutionary.

Also interesting was the concept that your character “beefs up” as you wreak havoc in the city. You’ll see your agent evolve from a slender, athletic rookie to a yoked-up, hulking beast. The same even goes for your cars — they pimp themselves out the more damage you do. Since your agent is genetically enhanced, he can do stuff like pick up cars and toss them, or jump extremely high — kind of like the Incredible Hulk. With an assault rifle. And grenades.

I spent a few hours tearing through squads of gang bangers, essentially feeling like Rambo — you know, one man killing 50 with a machine gun. It got a old after a while, even with the ability to chuck cars and even corpses at the enemy. It’s an open-world title, so I was hoping for some kind of “waypoint” system for the maps, much like Saint’s Row. Didn’t happen … I had to settle for the traditional “drive toward the dot and guess” method.

If there’s one thing the game knows how to do, it’s explosions. It’s satisfying to see one of your grenade blasts launch a car (and the fools surrounding it) 70 feet into the air. It’s not quite the Gears chainsaw, but it’s a hell of a sight nonetheless.

However, I found myself getting bored very quickly. I spent the next few hours finding little things that annoyed me: goofy camera, relatively brainlocked enemies, and not being able to enter buildings. Apparently, Mr. Superagent has to jump and climb into everything instead of opening the door, which results in you running around to find the right ledges and stuff to jump on. That’s irritating.

I also can’t help but think the game may have touched on a bit of unintentional humor … the voice that informs you of your progress conjures up images of a propaganda poster with a drawing of a smiling, stone-jawed militiaman giving you a big thumbs-up. What if “Crackdown” ended up being a parody of other open-world games, much like “God Hand” poked fun at fighting games? That wouild be some next-level thinking, and personally, ensure the game a place in my library.

I’m not sure I was feeling the whole “respawn in a different spot after you die” mechanic in the demo. It makes the game feel like a single-player deathmatch, where all you have to do is kill everything on the screen. There’s no fear of death … and if there’s no fear of death, what’s my motivation to play the game the right way?

So many questions … all in all, I want to see more of the game. I’m certainly not going to condemn it, but I’m also thinking that access to the “Halo 3″ multiplayer beta is going to end up being a big help after all.

I’m taking a break from the demo and firing up the PS2 to try out “Rogue Galaxy,” an RPG that was released first in Japan, then remixed and retooled for the Western gamers. The Japanese gamers who have the original need not fear … the verson we got is going to be re-released as a “director’s cut.”

And in case you’re wondering … yes, there’s cel-shading in that one too.