Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
3/09/2007 05:32:00 PM
Review: Crackdown (Xbox 360)
By Lee ClontzCrackdown, better known as "the game that comes with the Halo 3 beta" is a sandbox-style, violent crime game that takes place in a large city where you hijack cars, battle gangs and cause mayhem. If that premise sounds novel to you, you probably stopped gaming sometime before the 2001 release of Grand Theft Auto III.
GTA has spawned countless imitators and, at first glance, Crackdown seems like little more than one of them. Sure, you're a cop instead of a criminal, but the basic mechanics look the same: hijack cars and blow up bad guys. To make matters worse, Crackdown lacks most of the factors that make the GTA series so distinctive -- top-tier voice acting, a great soundtrack and a wide variety of creative and often humorous missions and sights to see. By comparison to Liberty City, Crackdown's metropolis is downright bland and repetitive. You'll spend the first hour watching the cheesy opening cinematic, attacking repetitive criminals, driving awkward vehicles and wondering how long until the Halo 3 beta opens up so you didn't totally waste your money.
Crackdown :: Microsoft Game Studios
Then you'll pick up your first agility orb, and you'll be hooked.
After many hours of Crackdown, I'm convinced that the marketing for this game is completely wrong. This is not a sandbox crime game -- it's actually a 3-D platformer dressed up in Tommy Vercetti's clothing. Think GTA crossed with The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and you're starting to get the picture.
You see, you're not just a cop; you're a super cop, able to jump from rooftop to rooftop and eventually, across large parts of entire city blocks. At the beginning of the game, you can't pick up a trash can. A few hours in, you'll be picking up cars. You build up various attributes -- strength, explosives, firearms, driving, and agility -- by doing crazy car stunts, using explosives, using guns... and picking up agility orbs from the tops of buildings.
Forget the story arc of this game. Forget the driving, forget the combat. The real fun of this game is building up your character's agility and leaping across rooftops hunting for the 500 agility orbs perched atop hard-to-reach place throughout the city.
With the possible exception of the Burnout series, I haven't found a single game mechanic this addictive in a very long time. The first time you leap across a street from the top of a building, catch yourself on a windowsill, vault yourself up the side of the building and blast a rocket into an unsuspecting enemy standing on the roof, it's almost impossible not to laugh out loud. Once you've leveled up a couple of skills, the game opens up and the addiction sets in.
Crackdown :: Microsoft Game Studios
The game's visuals don't impress at first, but they're more than adequate and the draw distance when you start spending time on the rooftops is impressive. Your character model in the game is nicely detailed and animated, but the other humans you run into have little personality. The villains are equally nondescript, identifiable only by the gang sign floating over their head like an "I'm Thinking Arby's" hat. If only actual law enforcement was so easy. The bosses are even less interesting and hunting them down is pretty much the entire core game.
The online mode of the game is just as disarming as the single-player campaign. At first, it doesn't seem like much, but you have to play it to truly appreciate it. You can bring a friend into your game and shoot at each other, play the campaign together, collaboratively collect orbs or roam off in different directions while you chat. There is no lag to speak of, and it's easy to while away hours showing off stunts and looking for cool stuff to do.
There are definitely some flaws that I hope are rectified before Crackdown 2 (which seems a certainty). As much fun as two player co-op is, four-player would be even better, as would some missions that actually benefit from having multiple players. It'd be great to be able to drive your co-op player in the passenger seat of a car you're in. Actually, the whole driving mechanic needs more polish, and there isn't a lot of variety in the vehicles. The soundtrack, too, is mostly forgettable and generic, especially after the hugely entertaining GTA song selections.
It's also too bad this is an M-rated game. Most of the violence is fairly cartoonish and over-the-top and there is profanity here and there, but it's largely unnecessary and forced. This is the kind of game a 12-year-old boy would go nuts for (to say nothing of a 33-year-old boy), and it's too bad that the game's designers went for a more "adult" tone than embracing the goofy fun the game actually is. There's no way this game deserves the same rating as GTA: San Andreas, and it's an unfortunate design decision that the game wasn't opened up to a huge audience that would have embraced it.
Still, the good in Crackdown far outweighs the bad. This game isn't a classic and it's shamelessly derivative of several established franchises, but don't let that scare you off. This is the summer popcorn movie of video games: you won't remember it come Oscar time, but when it's good, it's really, really satisfying.
Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 8
There are lots of imperfections here, particularly with the twitchy controls and a camera that is occasionally difficult to manage, but once you adapt to them, you'll do fine. There's not a great deal to do, and the main campaign is fairly easy, but the inspired jumping mechanic and the insanely addictive orb collection are worth the price of admission. It's not perfect, but it's crazy fun.
The characters in the game are bland and the art direction leaves something to be desired, but the overall effect of the game doesn't suffer. Most of the texture work is solid and there were no framerate dips, which is impressive in a game of this scale. Climbing to the top of the tower in the center of the game world and looking out at the draw distance of the nighttime skyline makes you appreciate the power of the game's engine. Just bring Dramamine, because the height is vertigo-inducing.
The campaign is fairly short, but if you like orb collecting, there are hundreds of them to find. The game also has a devilish mix of achievements, some of which you'll get easily and others which are nearly impossible. The cooperative online play could definitely give the game legs, as could the Halo 3 beta being released in the spring.
By Lee Clontz
When the first NBA Street was released in 2001, it seemed fresh and familiar at the same time, reinventing the high-flying, trash-talking, head-to-head classic NBA Jam with an undeniable sense of style. Now in its fourth iteration, NBA Street has made the jump to next-gen consoles with NBA Street Homecourt, which lives up to its predecessors while taking the series in some new directions.
The premise of the game is simple. You create and customize a "baller" using a bizarre -- and frankly, a little disturbing –-- method of merging the facial features of two NBA stars. After you emerge from therapy, you pick two teammates and then start challenging the locals for supremacy of real-life and fictitious courts. Some games are simple "play to 21" affairs, while others only allow points scored on dunks or on jump shots.
NBA Street Homecourt :: EA
Once the game begins, scoring rules are about the only rules you'll have to follow. There are no fouls, so players are encouraged, even required, to goaltend, push, shove, reach in and showboat. Once you start to dunk -- and most points are scored on dunks -- a meter will fill up that increases the ferocity and style of the dunk. Time the meter just right and you’ll not only look cool, but you’ll also execute a humiliating double-dunk, swinging the ball around again for a second point. Watch your timing, though, because pushing the meter too far will send the ball rebounding for an easy board for your opponent.
One signature of the NBA Street franchise is the "Gamebreaker," a meter at the top of the screen that each player tries to fill up by showboating as much as possible before sinking a shot. Fill up the meter and you'll enter Gamebreaker mode, which robs a point from the opponent and gives your team a chance at earning bonus points by performing elaborate trick moves to Herbie Hancock's "Rockit."
The controls seem complicated at first, as the game makes use of nearly every button on the Xbox 360 controller, but the basic mechanics are easy to learn. Use the triggers for walking or turbo speed, the X and Y buttons combined with the bumpers for tricks, A for pass and B for shoot. The controls become second-nature quickly and you'll be break dancing and doing sky-high dunks off of your teammate's back in no time.
NBA Street Homecourt :: EA
The graphics and art direction of the game are uniformly superb. NBA players look like themselves and the famous next-gen sweat technology makes an appearance here as well. Animations are crisp and fluid and, for the most part, transition together perfectly. It’s worth noting that the interstitial videos introducing the famous playground courts from around the country display a quality and sophistication rarely seen in video games, much less one where you spend half the game soaring above the rim. NBA players look more or less like themselves, though the vastly exaggerated physics keep the game from having any resemblance to reality.
For all the things it does right, the game has a few weak points. The core gameplay is highly addictive, but it does get repetitive and aside from earning achievements and unlocking new players and gear, there isn't all that much to do. Even with a variety of game modes, they all feel fairly similar and the tactics don’t vary much as long as your team has a wide enough variety of skills. There's a variety of locations which all look good, but they all play pretty much the same. The premise of the game is that you're playing in old gyms and playground courts, so some environmental hazards would add a little variety. The ball also can't go out of bounds, so it's jarring to see it appear to bounce off of a force field surrounding the court.
Online play is mostly lag-free, but setting up a game with a friend can be tedious because there is, amazingly, no way to play a rematch. Every game requires the player to create a new session to be created, send another invitation and re-pick teams. Playing multiple games in sequence takes much longer than it should because of the lack of a quick rematch function. The online gameplay has a few quirks also, with no visible dunk meter and an annoying problem where taking over a defensive player on a fast break causes him to momentarily stutter. That lost step can be the difference between a blocked dunk and two points against you.
If you've played NBA Street before, Homecourt will hold few surprises, but you probably won't mind. It's fun, addictive will keep you up late, goading your friends into playing "just one more game."
Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 9
Tight, addictive and fun. EA Sports BIG has years of experience with this kind of game and it shows. There isn't much in the way of variety, but the core game is almost flawless, even when it gets repetitive.
The game's art direction is excellent throughout, and the in-game animations are varied and often hilarious. The game has a washed-out, sepia-toned aesthetic that gives it an overall retro look, but lighting and texture work is next-gen all the way.
If there's a knock on the game, it's here. Once you get the core gameplay down pat, the rest of the game is just levelling up and playing against tougher and tougher opponents to unlock players, gear and precious achievement points. That said, online play is addictive and works very well, so you could easily find yourself playing this game with friends until NBA Street 5 comes out.
By Jacob Luft
What used to be an annual competition between 2K Sports and EA in the baseball video-game wars has become a one-horse race. Just like the NFL, MLB has gone to the exclusive licensing model, which means only one third-party company can make an officially licensed game (i.e. with all the real player and team names).
You would think the lack of competition would hurt the end product, but in the case of MLB 2K7, it really hasn't. If nothing else, being the sole provider of our virtual hardball fun seems to have motivated 2K Sports into delivering its best baseball title ever. It's so much better than last year's offering that you have to wonder if the developers have been intercepting batches of HGH meant for the real big leaguers.
Major League Baseball 2K7 :: 2K Sports
Visually, MLB 2K7 is a masterpiece. Invite somebody over and leave the game on your TV and they will think they are watching a hi-def broadcast of a real ballgame. The in-game graphics, such as the presentation of the lineups and defensive alignments, are better than many real baseball networks offer. The stadiums are rendered to near perfection, and the lighting is keenly attuned to the time of day you set a particular game for -- those twilight West Coast games are murder on hitters.
You don't feel like you're playing a game so much as watching a slick broadcast on ESPN. (Jon Miller and Joe Morgan do a surprisingly spot-on job with the announcing; almost all of their comments are appropriate to the action.) The replays are so good you'll feel the urge to watch them instead of skipping through them to get back to the action, especially when they are seen through Dirt Cam. Adding to the realism is the myriad of true-to-life animations for all the players. Longtime Derek Jeter followers will instantly recognize his mannerisms, including the baby steps he takes before diving for a ball to his left and the butt-scoot on the inside pitches and, yes, even the golf clap. When the manager visits the mound, the pitcher will cover his mouth with a glove, just as all pitchers have done since Will Clark took Greg Maddux deep in the 1989 NLCS.
So this game looks good, but does it play good? The answer to that depends on what you want from your baseball games. If you want to tee off on meatball pitches and run around the bases carousel style, then this game might disappoint. But if you want realistic baseball -- with realistic scores, like 6-4 or 3-2 -- then you'll appreciate what MLB 2K7 is trying to do.
The heart of the game engine is the "Swing Stick" batting technique. Using the right joystick, you pull back when the pitch is on the way. This activates your "step" toward the pitcher. When you let the stick go, you'll make a contact swing. If you push it all the way forward, it's a power swing that is more likely to put the ball in the air. if you bring the stick around to the right, you'll hit to right field, and left for left field. The timing is awfully difficult to master, especially when offspeed pitches leave you looking more like Mario Mendoza than Tony Gwynn, but once you get the idea it can be pretty satisfying. (The PS3 version also offers a "SixAxis Control" swing, which is a nod to the Wii in that you physically swing with the controller. It's not a bad experience but all it really does is make you want to play the Wii, and I'm guessing that isn't Sony's goal.)
Major League Baseball 2K7 :: 2K Sports
Pitching is usually the least fun aspect of a baseball video game but it's at least tolerable here. Before each game, you can buy scouting reports on the opposition. This feature, called Inside Edge, allows you to see batters' hot and cold zones and allows your catcher to call better pitches. Even without the Inside Edge, though, your catcher will position himself and call the game for you in a surprisingly effective manner. Shaking him off is easy -- just use your right joystick to reposition him. Another nice touch: If you can hit your spots with certain pitches then you get a temporary, in-game skills boost.
The franchise mode is fairly standard for the 2K series. Its strongest aspect is Trade Central, which allows you to put one of your own players on the block and list what skills sets you want in return, be it power, starting or relief pitching, speed, a particular position, etc. Shortly thereafter, teams start offering you trades that would make sense to a real big league GM. For example, this is what happened I peddled Mariners All-Star Ichiro Suzuki and asked for starting pitching and home runs in return: I got 19 offers, the best of which came from the Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander and Marcus Thames).
You could also approach it the other way: Ask for a particular player and what you are offering in return. I asked the Cardinals for Albert Pujols. They came back with five offers, all of which included either Ichiro or Felix Hernandez, so it wasn't like I was going to swindle the CPU.
On the downside, the rosters aren't completely updated with the latest signings, which means Jeff Weaver and Cliff Floyd and a few others are still listed as free agents. Signing them isn't too difficult, though the roster management could stand to be less clunky. The fielding engine could also be a bit smoother, especially on slow grounders.
There are glitches here and there, especially in the fielding, but overall it's an enjoyable gaming experience. Unfortunately, as is the case with most every baseball game ever made, the baserunning controls are tough to master. Why can't designers just have AI take over the baserunning so that we don't get confused when there are two or more runners on? Why is my guy still standing at first after ripping a ball into the gap? But these are quibbles. Once you get the Swing Stick timing down, you'll be rocking.
The animations are mindblowing in their execution and in the sheer amount they have. But are we ever going to have a game that gets the fans in the stands right? Even in this otherwise stellar looking game, they have the same guy sitting in the first and third rows behind the plate.
The franchise mode, the online features (league play!) and the variety of achievements for the 360 version (33 in total, including 100 points for a no-hitter) makes this a game worth booting up all season. The Home Run Derby mini-game is a great way to kill time.