Crackdown – Underdog Game of the Year
D: First off, I’m not really comfortable calling Crackdown the best game of the year. I’m not sure I can call any game Game of the Year. For one, I only have two consoles, so I’ve never played more than an hour each on the Wii, PS3 and PSP, and with no PC I can’t be considered too knowledgeable about PC games. And really only game journalists and the fabulously wealthy are remotely able to judge, or even to benefit from cross-platform Game of the Year lists. Beyond that, I’m not sure what exactly the criteria are. Is it the most moving experience? The game that most advances the art of games? The game that will be most influential?
Fuck knows. All’s I knows is: Crackdown is the most fun I had playing games this year. It’s also the most I’ve written about a single game. It’s not the most original game in the world, but what Crackdown is to the Grand Theft Auto series is what Syphon Filter was to Metal Gear Solid or Silent Hill to Resident Evil. They are derivative games that improve upon their progenitors to an extent that they are more fun to play than the more artistically compelling original experience.
Crackdown’s story and main storyline missions are some of its least interesting parts. They’re like the arms on a T-Rex, shrunken and feeble because they’re no longer needed. The meat of Crackdown is sheer adult playtime: sandbox gaming with no real rules other than the odd pissed-off copper. Let’s see if we can get up there. Let’s see what happens if we fill the highway with exploding barrels. Hell, let’s just kick some cars around. It’s exploration, experimentation and it’s Just Plain Fun, gosh darn it.
So Nadine? What say you?
Nadine: My reasoning for why Crackdown is one of the best games of the year (not the best but one of the best) is simple. When we were all waiting around for the next big game to hit we heard tell of a game called Crackdown that was supposed to be some cop clean-up, runaround shoot-em up and the collective sound heard from gamers worldwide was: “Meh”. But then the Halo Beta was coming, how could we get in easily and without much effort? Buy Crackdown! Get a Beta Pass! Easy Halo money!
So I did, and others did, many others did. What we found was a hyper-addictive-Spiderman-meets-The Punisher experience. Suddenly, walking down the street to work made the mind jump to thoughts of climbing up ledges and hurling yourself across rooftops. I couldn’t look out my apartment window without thinking in Crackdown gravity terms. It was maddening. It was seductive. It lasted for months! A good two months at least. Then the developers released that super cheat code and the fun was back again!
For me, a game that has no hype on it at all, save that there’s a free pass to a beta of a bigger game, that can take so much of my time and bend me to its playing will can only be described as one of the best games of the year. It’s one of the best because I played it the most and I had no intention of doing so. That is unexpected. That is underdog. Unexpected enjoyment, prolonged enjoyment, in a world where I traditionally wait to see if my hopes will come true. I had no expectations for this one and it blew me away and I wasn’t alone it that super fun time.
So that’s my answer to that!
D: Underdog indeed. There was a lot of resentment about the Halo 3 beta pretty much requiring you buy Crackdown, but it turned out to be a great thing. And yeah, when a game is engrossing enough to invade your dreams and your everyday perceptions (people always say this about Tetris, about envisioning everyday things as blocks that need to be rotated), you gotta give some respect.
So here’s a couple other things I wanted to mention about Crackdown that I don’t think we have yet, despite all the words we’ve expended so far.
One: the achievements. There’s an art to crafting good achievements, and Crackdown excels by awarding achievements not just for completing the game and maxing out attributes, but for pulling weird stunts that you might not have otherwise thought of doing. There are a bunch of vehicle-related achievements, awarded for flipping a certain number of times, getting a certain height, etc. and they drove me (cough) to play with the vehicle side of the game which until then I had largely ignored in favour of rooftop climbing and jumping. But the vehicle play is fun, especially once you get that dreamy maxed-out SUV that can jump and drive up walls.
Two: as you mentioned, Nadine, the downloadable content was not only a stellar example of breathing new life into a game that was starting to gather dust, it was at great value. There were new race modes. New competitive orb-gathering modes. A bunch of great new vehicles, and some insane weapons (harpoon). But most important to me and Karim (my #1 Crackdown partner in crime) was, yes, the God mode cheat, where you could instantly and repeatedly spawn any item in the game. We concentrated on the good ol’ exploding barrel, but became master painters with it, and the highway was our canvas. Picture dominoes, except with a lot of exploding, and you get the idea.
A question for you. I know we’re not calling it the game of the year, but: are we setting our sights too low? This game is a boatload of fun, but shouldn’t we be looking for something that moves us, makes us think, or (that old standby of games-as-art) makes us cry? Or is fun enough?
Nadine: If we’re talking story, then Crackdown was predictable (giant watch tower in the bay…never a positive sign…) but it was still fun. You didn’t play Crackdown for the story. Take away story from the criteria you’ve got gameplay and sound and effects yada yada yada. I think we’ve established that Crackdown was fun fun fun fun fun (I swore I just heard Winnie the Pooh…) and yet also not super stellar in any of the above mentioned areas. It’s a solid game, not groundbreaking in any way save for the way you feel jumping from building to building, thems gravity effects were mighty tasty. So if you take away all the shine and leave only the fun aspect then Crackdown is a contender for best game of the year, but it was not the most fun so it can’t win even by those standards.
If we’re talking the most fun, well, that’s so subjective and we already know where I got the biggest happy from (RATCHET! CLANK!) but Portal was sexified perfection as well…still not the most fun though. Halo 3 was the big damn of fun! Halo 3 made me feel everything so really I guess Halo 3 should be my game of the year…but like when Xena ended…I need some time to absorb that experience.
Bioshock was…intense. Was Bioshock fun? You know I don’t even know if I could classify that as fun. Isn’t that odd? Bioshock was a challenge, one simply had to master it. Bioshock fulfilled a need for…something primal and violent and beautiful. I know, I’m being a cryptic mystic about the whole thing but really Bioshock lends itself to that way of thinking.
So in terms of the most fun game of the year which could also be considered the best game of the year Crackdown is top five for sure…I just don’t know where in that five it should be placed.
D: I know what you’re saying, and I guess you pretty much answered it there. I think we know we need games that are more than just fun, and Crackdown is not that game. It’s pure fun. Whether it’s more or less fun than Halo… the Halo single player was more intense in every way, but also waaay shorter. Halo lives on still for me, though, in matchmaking and forge and so forth (see other article). Crackdown’s love was long and broad. Eugh, sorry for that sentence.
Back to the story for one last point here. Yeah, playing through this whole game, like many other before it, the left-wing gamer tends to cringe at all the half-baked fascist fantasies going on. Destroy this or that ethnic gang BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. So what if some civilians get clipped, can’t make an omelette… So the ending made me do a bit of a turn (SPOILER PARTY!!!):
Now a minute and a half of sudden reversal doesn’t make up for a game’s worth of cliched and unmemorable characters and boring writing, and I know they added this for the sheer narrative shock value of a last-minute plot twist and not because they’re all Chavista World Bank haters with “Bush Knew” t-shirts, but still, it qualifies as at least mildly subversive. So the superman uber-agency cultivated all those gangs as an excuse for the titular crackdown? So by obeying the authoritative-sounding voice and doing good, I was actually sorta doing bad? If we crow about the oh-so-meaningful surprise twist in Bioshock and the things it says about the nature of playing games, surely we should also mention what Crackdown does as well, that it highlights the dark side of the power fantasies we engage in. I mean, my agent mostly jumped around collecting orbs, but still.
Nadine: Wait, you’re saying there’s a darkside to my power fantasizing? And wait again, are you saying that playing these games means I’m engaging in a fantasy of power? Well, damns. I never thought about it that way…God, what does that say about me…I always thought that I played these games because in the back of my mind I secretly wished to be recruited into some galactic conflict ala Starship Troopers…Seriously. If Asland came up to me and said “Come My Child and you shall lead the armies of Narnia to freedom” but then a shuttle landed and Michael Ironside stepped out and said “It’s true Nadine, I am that cool and yes – we’ve got a war to fight in space” I would totally go with Ironside. But that is besides the point. The point is Crackdown did cool things this year but not enough to be the best. And I also forgot about Rock Band…but I’m not going to include it for 2007 because it’s not even in Canada yet.
And that’s the end of that sandwich!