If GTA really is a genre - and it must be, with so big name titles like Saint's Row and Just Cause jacking a ride on Rockstar's gravy train - then it really needs a new title. 'A GTA clone' is inadequate, not just because it puts the game in question right on the backfoot from the get-go. And in the case of something like Crackdown, it just gives you the wrong idea entirely.
GTA comparisons are inevitable at the best of times, but when the title in question is designed by GTA's creator, well, you'd think the two games might as well be fused together for all eternity. But the only real similarity here is that both games take place in a city. If you had to press something against Crackdown to see how it measures up, you'd find Prince of Persia is a more accurate marker.
"We want people to ask the question in future; why can't you go up?" states Real Time Worlds founder Dave Jones, and Crackdown certainly isn't afraid to ask its own questions on how to advance the so-called GTA genre. Every single building is a puzzle in its own right - there to be scaled, with the largest building in the entire game, teasingly, being the agency HQ, standing at a legitimate half a mile high. It takes even an accomplished expert nearly four minutes to scale the tower - an impressive statistic when you consider that a fully powered-up agent is able to leap from rooftop to rooftop with ease. But to begin with, your avatar is a skinny runt of an agent, so the only way to build up your stats is to explore Pacific City. This is difficult, because half the general public are firing at you (no wonder they had to genetically modify their police officers!), but collecting the 600 agility orbs that are lurking around the city is surprisingly addictive.
JUMP! FOR THE LOVE
Once you're levelled-up, you might want to actually get on with the game. There's no solid plot - all you have to do is take down 21 kingpins littered around the city. There's nothing to stop you tackling them in any order you see fit. There are also ammo dealers to take out, and while these aren't the easiest, if you gun them down early, you'll find the remaining targets have to defend themselves using tiny pistols, which makes your job a lot easier. So to an extent, it is freeform. Every action has a reaction, and you can progress more easily if you tackle each objective intelligently.
There are problems, sadly. The kingpins don't roam freely - they're trapped in their home area. There are multiple entry points to each 'level', which could have resulted in some tasty Hitman-esque reconnaissance before you get ready to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, there's no real room for tactics - enemies will shoot on sight. Your tactical decision-making basically just amounts to getting as close to the target as possible before your gangs notice you and open fire. Real Time Worlds are fiddling around with the AI, however, with a promise to tone it down before release, and we hope against hope that they get the balance spot-on in time.
FUNS FOR HIRE
Potentially samey? Definitely. But on the other hand, it can be a gonzo amount of fun. The exaggerated physics engine makes the online co-op mode an exercise in hilarity. Throwing cars at each other, roundhouse kicking each other off tall buildings and generally leaping around Pacific City like a pair of demented superheroes is fantastic entertainment. Perhaps you'll never get round to actually playing the campaign in this way, but as a way of killing a few minutes it's right on the money. Even better news is the proposed 16-man Deathmatch, which won't be available out of the box, but we're promised will be available as downloadable content within six months of release...which we're told, rather cryptically, will be in 'the holiday period'. Christmas? Halloween? Easter?.