For as undeniably brilliant as Grand Theft Auto is, it always lacked the little touches. Five years ago climbing from flaming police car wrecks was all we needed to entertain ourselves, and the plain and ordinary streets of Liberty City were there simply for us to get away with all those hoodlum-ish desires we couldn't in real life.
But after shooting, driving and leaping around Crackdown's beautifully crafted world, Grand Theft Auto's locales all of sudden look slightly mundane and limited - a bit like real life.
Just like Splinter Cell had us planning airvent stealth-trips to the office toilets, and those infamous Goldeneye 007-inspired strafe-routes around Tesco, Crackdown too has invaded our heads in a way Rockstar's crime-em-up never could. (Just think of the money we'd save from Ken Livingstone's antique train service if we could simply leap along the District line like some kind of eastend Morpheus).
LEAP OF FAITH
But don't let us get ahead of ourselves; Crackdown isn't better than Vice City or San Andreas - far from it. But it isn't another hapless clone either. For all the GTA pretenders that have come and gone; Saints Row, Just Cause et all, Crackdown is the first free-roaming action game that doesn't feel like a cop-in to Rockstar's baby - it truly marches to its own beat.
Play Crackdown and you'll see its unique stance on progression and structure, and a distinguished graphic novel style that's a real breath of fresh air from the other gangster-'em-ups we've annually shoved down our throats. The sheer vision and ambition poured in to the project provides some truly brilliant moments, but it doesn't bullseye every mark.
Upon jumping in you'll be amazed to find that there's no overly-lengthy cut-scenes or wealth of backstory to distract you from the carnage, just a friendly announcer (who wouldn't sound out of place reading the scores in Unreal Tournament) dishing out intel on Pacific's three gangs, and occasionally piping up with the location of one of the 21 gang lords you need to dispatch.
From the very beginning none of the city's three districts are locked off. This leaves the potential for mischief and general arsing-about wide open, and indeed we'd packed in plenty of hours before we even sniffed the game's main objectives.
The first thing you'll notice when you strap on your super-boots and steam head-first in to a gun fight is, well, you're a bit rubbish at everything. Starting off gunfire is about as accurate as SCE's shipping estimates and you can't even jump high enough to sniff Michael Jordan's 'fro. Nope, to improve those skills you'll have to partake in the age-old RPG tradition of grinding.
But thankfully increasing your leap distance doesn't require World of Warcraft-levels of effort and upgrading early abilities can be achieved quickly.
This is something Crackdown does very well; you're constantly drip-fed a sense of satisfaction when you manage to upgrade your agent to the point where he can access that previously-inaccessible area.
Hopping across the rooftops like Batman on Red Bull offers fun as pure as anything, with the added bonus of increasing your agility by collecting scattered orbs. Amazingly we found more fun in Crackdown attempting to scale its stupidly-massive skyscrapers than cleaning up the streets.
The main super-structure the Agency building took us a full hour to climb, requiring the exploitation of every nook and crany to get to the top. And our reward? Some achievement points and the chance to point-jump into the sea. Worth every minute.