It's easy to call Crackdown the Xbox 360's answer to Grand Theft Auto. It's a free-roaming game set in sprawling fictional city. You can go anywhere, drive anything, and shoot at whoever you want. And the Creative Director at Crackdown's developer, David Jones, worked on Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2 before the series went into 3D on PS2.
But it's not quite as simple as that. For a start, Crackdown casts you as the cop trying to clean up the streets, rather than the thug trying to dump them in the dirt. And while Grand Theft Auto let you muck around as much as you wanted, Crackdown positively rewards you for doing it by evolving your character and offering you Achievements.
So Crackdown isn't just a GTA knock-off. Since we got hands-on and had the game demoed to us by David Jones at E3, another of our worries disappeared: the game looks much better in real-life than it does in screenshots. The cel-shaded visuals look a little underwhelming in stills, but when you see it moving it comes together in a cool comic book style that suits the super-powered action.
Phew! Those worries aside, we sat down for a chat with David Jones at E3 to find out if Crackdown is the gangbanger to keep us going until GTA IV drives-by next year...
The first thing that strikes about Crackdown is the visual style. Did you make a conscious decision to move away from a very realistic style?
David Jones: Yes. A lot of people are doing really realistic games as you saw at E3. That's not what we're about. We're about dynamics, we're about huge populations, and we're about making the game completely free for the player to do whatever they want. Because of that we made the choice not to go super realistic. We wanted our own visual style to suit the over-the-top gameplay, and we felt that going for a graphic novel style would be ideal for the experience we want to offer.
When the first Crackdown screenshots came out a lot of gamers said that they didn't think the graphics were very good. How did that make you feel?
David Jones: I think they're missing the point, but then we knew that was always going to be the case. Graphically we will not stand up against somebody who wants to have a single level that's the same every time and has six characters in it. Obviously, they can spend their entire budget on graphics. We want to spend our budget on an amazing city and an amazing gameplay experience. That's our heritage, and that's what's important to us.
Just how big is the city?
David Jones: Miles by miles. It's huge. Plus we've built the city on the vertical axis as well as the horizontal. It rises about half a mile into the air, and you can get onto the top of every building in the game. That's actually an Achievement, and it's great fun to try and complete it. The views alone are worth it, if you don't get vertigo...
Let's talk storyline. What's the premise of Crackdown, and is the story told with cutscenes as the game progresses?
David Jones: You play a member of a futuristic Agency charged with cleaning up the streets of the city. There are three main gangs causing trouble, and it's up to you to figure out the best ways to take them out. We do tell the story with cutscenes. Every cutscene is done in the game engine. Each of the 21 Kingpins has his own Dossier with a cutscene that explains who they are, which gang they're affiliated to, what their speciality is, and how it'll affect their gang if you take them out. That's how you can really start to chip away and weaken the gangs at street level, and that information is always there for the player.