Catching up on games I foolishly missed when I first upgraded to the 360, my first impression of Crackdown is to compare it with Sony’s Infamous on the PlayStation 3. I think this is the earlier release but almost certainly they were both secretly in development around the same time unbeknownst to one another.

Like Infamous this is a slightly cartoonish take on the GTA III open world formula using a similar cell shaded 3D art design, flamboint over the top action and a superhero flavour to the action. Where Infamous focuses on the superhero with super powers and the player becoming either good or evil with their new found talents, Crackdown put you firmly in the role of the police cleaning up the city. However you are no ordinary police officer. You are a specially designed cloned officer with enhanced abilities, especially leaping tall buildings in a single bound, that grow as you progress.

The major difference is Infamous sticks closer to the GTA format where Crackdown veers back towards the run’n’gun action of the likes of Metal Slug. Indeed while it is certainly a full open world game, the actual design of the world feels more like an arena in a first person shooter like Quake. Pretty much the entire game is running and shooting while leaping from platforms and dodging rocket fire.

Rocket fire itself really is the big annoyance in this game. You get hit and the rag doll physics over exaggerates and sends you bouncing around the map. Half you health gone almost always the NPC would have reloaded in this time and have sent the second shot of to completely dispatch you before you’ve recovered and was ready to fire back.

Ultimately the game itself is very shallow and missing any real plot to properly tie the whole thing together.


Gears Of War

Oh dear! This game stands in start contrast to the last. Hidden And Dangerous was (or at least looked) a really good game that was very badly executed. Gears is the exact opposite, a really bad game design executed to the highest standards. I mean I seriously can’t fault the quality of the workmanship here. I just wish the developers spent all that labour time on something with a bit more depth.

Unfortunately what we have here is a game where you walk away feeling like you’ve played yet another generic first person shooter aimed a very certain audience. And if you are that 12 year old boy who likes the testosterone leaden design ques then you probably come away happy. For everyone else it’s probably not what you’re after when you think of playing a third person cover shooter.

The moment to moment gameplay is just far too simplified and bland. Run, hide, shoot, run, hide, shoot. There’s nothing about the enemies or the locations that break up the pace or offer any meaning variety in experience. It’s really just a fairly generic run’n’gun that isn’t a million miles away from Metal Slug or Virtual Cop. And that would be all fine and dandy if the art direction and story pulled what little is on offer together.

The location design is stunning. The world you are running through, while littered with cover locations that would feel at home in an Operation Wold remake, feels like a decaying old world empire that you can almost feel at home in. This is then overlaid with a character design and dialog that is cringeworthy. It’s all overly macho and the product of steroid abuse. These square jawed meat head Schwarzenegger types descend far to quickly into parody for a game that feels like it wants to be serious.

And it’s this unfortunate combination of stagnant gameplay mechanics with locker room jock characters that just kill all the developers hard work stone dead.


Die Hard Trilogy (Part One)

I actually still have a copy of a contract signed with my younger brother back in April 1997 whereby we agreed to fund the purchase of a brand spanking new Sony PlayStation along with five whole new 3D games. Tomb Raider was, obviously, the entire reason for the enterprise. But what of the other four titles? Well, yes, Die Hard Trilogy was there on the list!

As per the title Die Hard is a compilation, a trilogy, of games based around the three hit Bruce Willis Christmas movies. When the disc first loads you select which of the three games you want to play. This review is for the first, best, and most played of the Die Hards (much like the movies really).

Anyone unfamiliar with the films should disconnect from the Internet right now and go watch the first two (only the first two mind, they jumped the shark after that) before coming back. But, if you insist, you play NYPD cop John McClann (Bruce) on hols visiting estranged wife working in LAPD (way out of your jurisdiction). You roll up in front of her workplace in a limo hoping to rekindle the marriage. Unbeknown to you German thief (not terrorist) Hans Grubber (Alan Rickman) has other ideas with the company high rise.

Loosely based on the plot of the film you start exiting the limo in the garage (car park) beneath the building and have to shoot you way passed waves of mobsters, rescuing the odd hostage on the way, to get to the top of Nakatomi Plaza and rescue your darling wife. Each level of the game comprises of a single level of the skyscraper you need to clear of goons before rushing to a lift to disarm a bomb before the time goes off.

The game is a open area (non linear) third person 3D environment. The camera follows John from a fixed position behind and up in the ceiling somewhere. Being confined to a traditional D-pad movement is the traditional tank system but given the nature of the game and the positioning of the camera actually does work surprisingly well here. Character positioning is still often a pain but since you’re mostly running forward the tank controls don’t become cumbersome in the same it does in contemporary titles like Resident Evil.

In play it’s just your standard run and gun affair like Turrican or Gryzor just transposed into a 3D environment. The demands of 3D processing makes everything less detailed than contemporary 2D equivalents but the speed and fluidity of the 3D movement, and just having an open 3D space to explore, more than makes up for what’s lost in definition.

Where the game starts to full down is that it is a pure traditional arcade game. Arcades are designed to get you pumping coins in to the machine. Die Hard follows all the same design mechanics which leads to plenty of frustration on a home system. Shooting is a little difficult to line up with no crosshair and relying on positioning Johns body correctly using the tank controls. Getting through a level requires finding the power ups dotted around to replenish health. But worse is to come. With no game saves die at any point and it’s instant death. No lives, no second chances, no restart current level. And this includes not getting to the right lift with the bomb within the prerequisite 30 seconds at the end of each level.

Die and it’s back to the very beginning to do it all again from Level 1. Thankfully modern emulators allow us to bypass this flaw. The only way I was seeing Level 3 was hitting the emulator snapshot button on completing Level 1 so I didn’t have to constantly redo that level every time I failed Level 2.