A first crack at ‘Crackdown’

I dreamed about jumping over rooftops last night. When a game makes you dream about it, it’s got to be doing something right.

After pouring a little more than a day into ‘Crackdown’, I still don’t want pull myself away from it. I’m not talking about an addiction — I’m not like I’m going to start twitching in a corner because I’m not playing it. The bottom line, at least for me, is that it’s fun. Pure, mindless, goofy fun. It’s the equivalent of picking up a really cool toy and playing with it for hours.

“Crackdown” is growing on me. When I first played the demo, I immediately thought it felt like “Just Cause,” but with a more diverse range of minority groups. I was still the superhero-caliber protagonist, capable of crushing small armies of enemies by myself. The basic goal of the game? Make everyone dead. The end.

Then I started to upgrade my crimefighter. In the demo, upgrading was accelerated, so I saw muscles grow before my eyes when I worked on my strength. I witnessed some pretty amazing explosions the more I worked on my explosives abilities. I even watched my car pimp itself out when I was juiced on driving ability (I mean, you’ll see your police car turn into the cel-shaded equivalent of the Batmobile. Never gets old.) The demo was also timed, so you had to rush through everything or play it several times to examine different elements.

With the finished product, I actually found the experience a lot more fulfilling with the “normal” pacing of the upgrade system. Sure, you still have no idea what the name or backstory of your character is, but that didn’t stop me (or other people) from hunting for agility orbs for hours. The game almost forces you to take ownership of your agent and practically cultivate him … sort of like a plant. A really violent plant. With grenades and rockets.

However, the real fun is found in co-op play. I managed to play with a couple of people on my Live buddy list, and I can honestly say it’s the most fun I’ve had in years. It’s not the emotional, competitive grind that Gears or Rainbow Six multiplayer can be. Playing “Crackdown” essentially feels like goofing off, the next-gen equivalent of playing paper football with your cubicle mate. If you don’t want to take down gangs, you can orb hunt together or just generally play with the city around you. The game is so free-form that with a little creativity, you can even put together some odd games of your own — especially when your abilities are jacked up.

For instance, this morning, me and a buddy (lets call him Bloodshot) were driving around Pacific City, trying to find our way to a particular part of town. We were going the wrong way. Bloodshot spotted a freeway overpass (or bridge, whatever it is), which was the right way to go. Instead of backing up and driving all the way around to the overpass, I got out of the car. Bloodshot stayed inside. Then I picked up the car over my head — I was going to toss him onto the freeway above. The first time, I screwed up and ended up just chucking the car (and Bloodshot) 30 yards in front of me. The car landed right side up, and Bloodshot simply drove the wreck into a better position. Then I picked the car up again, timed it right, and voila … we’re on the overpass. I just used my super jumping ability to hop onto the bridge.

You might ask, “Why didn’t you just jump onto the bridge and take a car instead of playing ‘toss the vehicle’”? Well, what fun would that have been? Plus, we kind of liked the car.

It’s that kind of spontaneous nonsense that could make a game like Crackdown worth purchasing. I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at some of the wondrous (and sometimes stupid) things your superagent can do. You’ll also find some of the most satisfying explosions on a console, and it’s still fun to hurtle through the air across a city skyline.

That doesn’t mean the game is without flaws. It’s got plenty, which I’ll get into later. Could all this fun run out in hour 10 or 12? Maybe. But I’m having a lot of fun waiting to be bored.