Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Is the "new GTA" all it's cracked up to be?

I played the demo of Crackdown just now on 360 (it's going on 2am) and have to say that the tech is really, really great - incredible in places and utterly rock solid, its been a while since I've seen something so solid, fluid, detailed as that, despite my usual problems with default camera directional panning.

It's certainly everything GTA was and is and much, much more. It's very seamless and spectacular throughout with an impressively destructive, interactive terrain.

It's by the team who did the original GTA and boy can you tell. It kicks Saint's Row's arse by a country mile and you can smell the work, effort, love and expense lavished upon it.

However, despite all this and really wanting to love it up; I just can't get into the futuristic plot - it's too hackneyed and whilst it's a great premise to show just what they can do with the tech (jumping around, explosions, destruction and chucking lumps of world about) - and they can do tons - it doesn't have the vibe that a more real world setting may have and I just can't identify with it, from the pacey techno to the cel-shaded future-cops. However, its also the case that I also had the same problem with the darker, broodier San Andreas.

It sounds a bit mean to have a pop at the game for this reason and I guess anything other than wildly visually different to a 80's/90's setting had to be the aim otherwise there would have been a big problem.

I'm not sure how well the actual GTA brand will survive this bout of newcomers; Saints Row was fun - but certainly not anywhere as well executed as this and the next GTA is going to have to be absolutely breathtaking to eclipse this tech - but I feel it's got more of a chance in the identity stakes, in terms of vibe and atmosphere - not to mention music, which is the defining highpoint of the series for me with Vice City.

Crackdown's world is dark, techno, chaotic and full-on, with hardly a chance for you to take in the abilities you have or to explore the world in your own time - a firefight is always just around the corner. Maybe it's just me being an old fart again, or playing too late after one single malt too many, but it was too much, too intense. I played for almost an hour and whilst I got more bearings the longer it went on, the sandbox nature of the world provided almost too much to do, see and attack - so much so that it all kind of merged into one with no driving plot; I hope the full game is a bit more focused in terms of objectives at least, but good demos are hard to do - a very difficult balance between teasing and hooking - and not putting people off, or providing too much fun that they don't want the full game. Giving people a full hour of this may be enough to hook people and it may be enough to satiate them, we'll see. I reckon many will love it and some will try to (like me) and probably find that the demo is enough. Microsoft are being quite clever raising the profile of the full game since some copies give players the chance to take part in a Halo3 beta-test, but I'm no great Halo fan either.

I really do hope it does well commercially though, the dominance of the GTA brand hasn't (in my opinion) been entirely beneficial to the industry and having some very serious competition can only help. It's also another notch in the 360's catalogue since I believe this is exclusive on the machine.

Good luck Realtime Worlds, there's some spectacular amount of effort gone in there - that much is evident, just a shame it wasn't my bag. But then I was playing Fishing Frenzy earlier...

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