Summary: If Jet Set Radio Future and Mercenaries got it on, their kid would be Crackdown.
Recommendation: Buy, if only for the Halo 3 Beta.
Review: Crackdown (Xbox 360, M-Mature) is yet another offering in the "sandbox" genre of games made popular by Grand Theft Auto 3.
However, as opposed to such games which restrict your gameplay to the normal laws of physics, Crackdown lets you stretch your legs, so to speak, by making you into a genetically engineered super-cop.
What that translates to in gameplay is the ability to jump buildings in a single bound, well, three story buildings. The taller ones you'll have to climb.
And that's where the fun of this game lies: navigating the city.
Much like Jet Set Radio Future tasked you with finding orbs at dizzying heights, so to does Crackdown. In fact, you can jump onto and climb almost any building in the game, precariously hanging from window sills and building ledges, in an effort to find Agility Orbs; which increase your jumping height and running speeds.
Although increasing skills is secondary to the actual missions of taking down 21 crime bosses, finding ways to improve your weapon skills, explosive skills, driving skills, agility skills, and strength skills is more than half the fun.
Doing so, of course, makes it easier to take down the crime bosses. For example, getting into a protected building is quite a bit easier from a rooftop rather than a full on frontal assault. Also, having the blast radius of your explosives (rocket launchers, grenades, etc.) be upwards of 30 ft. sure makes life a lot easier and much more entertaining thanks to some great rag doll physics.
And thus you can see the basic gameplay dynamics, which draws the comparison to Mercenaries.
There are twenty-one bosses, seven in each of three gangs. Each island of Pacific City is controlled by one of the gangs. It's your job to take out the six under-bosses and then the kingpin boss of each gang.
Of course, some plans work better than others (LB Crackdown walkthrough and strategy guide).
Taking down each of the under-bosses makes taking down the kingpin that much easier. For example, one under-boss may control a weapons cache or a ready supply of reinforcements. Take down that boss before going after the kingpin and the kingpin will not have that resource available to him.
As opposed to Mercenaries, which was a free-for-all game which required you to take down an entire deck of cards (52 bosses, like Bush's terrorist cards), Crackdown finds the right balance between difficulty and the number of enemies you encounter.
It is clear during the game that you have the advantage, be it with over-the-top weapons (like a homing rocket launcher) or the ability to sustain massive amounts of damage.
It is this cartoony sense of realism, this disregard for physics, that makes this game ultimately a ton of fun.
A quick note on multiplayer: this consists of co-op play. In other words, friends from around the world can help you take down the bosses or simply wreak havoc in the city, but there is no "traditional" capture the flag-type of online multiplayer.
All in all, from the graphic novel styling of the game to the silly and fun gameplay, this game is definitely worth a buy, even if the only reason you buy it is for the Halo 3 multiplayer beta invite.