Celebrate your birthday, Agent.
This week marks the 10 year anniversary of Crackdown, a fairly early Xbox 360 title. Of course, you wouldn’t know that, given that for whatever reason Microsoft has been completely mum on the game’s anniversary or its upcoming sequel. It’s more than a little troubling, considering the fact that the company is still promising that third game is in development and on track for this year. So one would reasonably think that something related to it would’ve come out on the series’ 10th anniversary. But for some reason, Microsoft has done nothing to acknowledge the milestone that the series has made, not even so much as a tweet (heck, even the game’s actual Twitter didn’t say anything). This is especially odd when you consider that Spencer has also talked the game up fairly recently. January wasn’t their best month, given the news of Scalebound’s demise, and it doesn’t exactly scream of the Xbox having its “best console generation.” Crackdown is one of their most important exclusives of the year, and at this point, they need to take any chance possible at reminding people it exists and this series should be on their mind.
The last time we saw a Crackdown game was the second game in 2010, a considerable gap compared to the three years between the first pair of games. Part of what made the original noteworthy at the time was that it had the benefit of gaining a foothold on the then next-gen consoles along with Saints Row because Rockstar had yet to make the leap to the 360 and PS3. There was a void that needed to be filled, and this game did that by simply being fun as hell, both with the base game, and later with its DLC.
Like the original Saints Row, the game makes no attempts to hide that it’s blatantly ripping from the GTA playbook. You’re in a densely populated city going up against rival gangs with an assortment of weapons and have the ability to steal vehicles and cause tons of chaos. Alongside the console leap, the expansion from the GTA formula came with two player co-op aside. Tooling around Pacific City with a friend was just a blast, and the fact that you weren’t bound to each other in any way made it all the more desirable. Being one genetically engineered supercop is fun, but two of them is a party. The emphasis on verticality also made it a different beast from other open world games, and the world becomes a jungle gym once you’re allowed to stretch your legs and explore it.
Pacific City is set up so that the Agent can tackle the different gangs in any order he wishes, with the Voice of the Agency suggesting ways for you to handle these gangs without getting ganked. Creativity is the order of the day here when it comes to killing generals, and the game shines when you combine your skills to dispatch enemies like jumping while gunning down fools or running them over. Your actions with each gang constantly affects the world in different ways, from less equipped grunts to weaker defenses. Hit squads will come after you, and with each general you kill, your percentage of going up against the Kingpin successfully goes up. The percentage tracking is a good motivator that helps remind you of why you go around the city messing around, which is definitely good design.
As an Agent, you start Crackdown at level one, with the most basic weapons at your disposal, and your skills are just passable. Like an action RPG, your skills improve over the course of the game with more use, the game subtly showing your improvements with an increase in muscle and in the way your character moves. Save for a five second moment of you expelling green energy like a Super Saiyan, the game doesn’t waste time in giving you a checklist of ways you’ve improved or ask you to choose between skill trees, you just know you’re getting better and have complete control over it. It puts you in control and doesn’t wrestle it away from you at any moment, and you can feel the change in your bones.
Nowhere is this clearer than with the Agility skill. Crackdown was also one of the first games to really nail how collectibles should be done. Agility is the only Skill in which the Agent has to do work outside of combat to really gain any improvement, with Agility and Secret Orbs littered all across Pacific City. While the Secret Orbs contain energy that’ll distribute fairly evenly across the different skills, Agility Orbs make up the bulk of collecting, with 500 of them scattered across the three islands. Simply put, it’s just fun to waste hours going around the city and collecting Orb after Orb. It’s still something that many current games have trouble with, and it makes the collecting feel like a chore. There’s no real story justification for getting these Orbs, they largely exist just to exist and make you better at something you already do. As Samurai Jack says, you just have to jump good, and the draw and satisfaction just comes from hearing that sound effect upon collection.
It’s genuinely surprising how Microsoft has done nothing to celebrate the game’s anniversary. Leaving aside the fact that it’s a beloved game, it was also really influential for plenty of games. You can see the way that its approach to superpowers and collectibles have influenced Infamous and Prototype, particularly with the former. Red Faction Guerrilla partially borrowed its emphasis on cartoonish destruction and penchant for explosions. And then there’s Saints Row 4, which basically just combines it with Infamous’ superpowers and almost feels like a more of a Crackdown sequel than the actual sequel that released in 2010.
Crackdown 1 was a great game that honestly did better than most were expecting, given that its biggest draw was the beta for a game that wouldn’t come out until months later. The silence surrounding its birthday may seem minimal, but when combined with only the vague promises of how its next installment has been coming along, that’s not a good sign. If this is indeed one of the three exclusive games (that we currently know of) meant to drive the Xbox One hype until the Scorpio’s release, the silence surrounding it isn’t doing a good job at convincing us. At this point, anything as simple as making the first two games backwards compatible would do to build up hype, but until then, it looks like the Agency is still biding its time.