RedressI played Crack Down for half an hour and hated it as I assumed that it would be more of an arcade game, like Contra. I should really give it a second chance though, so I’m going to give it an hour of my time to win me over… 

First impressions are everything aren’t they? I always find it’s hard to get on with someone if I’ve had a negative first experience with them. Another good example is a product or service. If you’re like me, you may dislike a new product upon first try and that’s it for you. No going back.

I had that experience with Crack Down. I’d never played it before purchasing the Mega Drive Classics on Steam but I was looking forward to it. I had visions of a fantastic arcade shoot-em-up, like Metal Slug. When I actually played Crack Down I was so disappointed. It was a very different game than I had envisioned. Crack Down was a top down game with more thinking and strategy involved than the arcade blast-a-thon I wanted to play. After half an hour of irritation, I turned Crack Down off, unsatisfied.

However, I’ve realised that none of this is Crack Down’s fault. It’s not Crack Down’s fault that I didn’t do my research. It’s not Crack Down’s fault that I get frustrated at it’s puzzles. It’s not Crack Down’s fault that I assumed it would be a violent 80’s action film influenced bloodbath (I blame the box art for that one.) So…what I propose is simple – I want to make amends to Crack Down. It’s not fair to dislike a game based on my ignorance so I’m going to make it up to Crack Down. I’m dedicating an hour of my time to giving Crack Down a second, fair chance to win me over….

Title Screen

Crack Down did start life in the arcades back in 1989, before Sega arranged a port to the Mega Drive the following year. I was surprised when I read that, as Crack Down doesn’t really strike me as an arcade game. If anything, it reminds me more of the games on the micro computers of the time, such as the Commodore 64. Basically, Crack Down is a top down ‘run and gun’ game, where the objectives is to plant bombs on a level then escape. The plot is the usual ‘two players must stop an evil genius from achieving world domination’ fare from the 80’s. I’m not sure how blowing the world up helps though – I guess it’s difficult to take over the world when it’s been blown to pieces?

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So, let’s start the clock…we get a nice little intro screen to start, which gives some explanation as to what we need to do, almost like story meeting a tutorial. I like that, I wasn’t expecting much but this isn’t bad.

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This screen though? Aarrghhh! Why is the screen divided into five sections?!? I It takes me nearly two minutes to comprehend what is going on. So, let me try and explain…Crack Down (apologies if I type Crackdown, that’s a completely different Xbox 360  game) gives us scores for both players (even though I’m flying solo), a map and a huge panel explaining how the enemies will attack. Maybe more enemies come along as you go further into the game, but does the panel need to be that big? It’s the same size as the playing area! Plus, in those days we used to just read the manual to find out what the enemies did, we didn’t need it listing on the screen! I can’t think of any other game that does this and I’m not sure I see the point, unless the enemies get really complicated further on.

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I’ve nearly used all my lives on the first go and I’m only four minutes in. Luckily, I’m able to run through the level, plant the bombs and get out of dodge on my last life. Act 1 Stage 2 now and the enemy panel lets me know that there is a mad murderer on the loose…as opposed to those sane murderers that haunt enemy bases. To give you an idea of how Crack Down plays, it’s a bit like Gauntlet but with more thought required. You have to sneak around enemies if you are unarmed, pushing yourself up against walls and hiding around corners waiting for the right moment to plant your bombs. Crack Down isn’t a looker, but I do like the fluid movement of the sprites, as tiny as they are.

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I finally die and use my first continue (of 4) and Crack Down restarts me right where I died…completely surrounded by enemies! I’ve circled all the enemies around me when I restart…six of them including one in front of me holding a machine gun!!! If this was the arcade and I’d just put another 30p in, I’d be livid. As it stands, I’m 6:48 into a game I’m not sure I’m enjoying so I’m more bemused. Luckily, it turns out I’ve got mercy invincibility so I quickly gun my way to the end of the stage. There was three Mad Murderers lined up at the end of the stage, so I’m glad I saw them first!

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Act 1 Stage 3 sees more new enemies get involved. They’re pretty heavily armed too, so I probably should avoid them. The Rolling Panthers do actually roll which makes me laugh…where are they rolling to? It has to be said, my character is a bit hit and miss with his shooting. He’s great at sticking to the wall to dodge a bullet then shooting his foe (which does look pretty cool, to be fair) but a straight up shot? Nah, I always end up missing, especially shots on a diagonal angle. I’m taken out by a Rolling Panther and that’s another continue gone at 8:11. Am I enjoying Crack Down? Erm….I don’t know. It’s a niggly game to play, with it’s variety of heavily armed enemies, slowdown, tiny screen, game clock, constant enemy spawn points and sensitive controls but I can appreciate it’s challenge and addictive gameplay. Whether I’ll stick appreciate it in 57 minutes is another question.

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I finish up Act 1 Stage 4 and am whisked to Stage 2. It’s at this point I have an epiphany – it’s not Gauntlet that Crack Down reminds me of…it’s Hotline Miami. A less cool Hotline Miami, but it still has that style of moving through sections of a top down level, wiping out enemies without taking that one fatal hit. I think it was when I got stuck on a door that I made the comparison…I spent a lot of time dealing with the best way to get through doors on Hotline Miami. You enter a door at the right time on that game, you can master it. Especially if you have the mask that let’s you kill people using the door.

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Anyway….back to Crack Down.  We’ve now got moving platforms, which take off three lives straight away. Crack Down’s controls take a little practice on obstacles like this, as they are very twitchy. Worse thing is, I have to go across them to plant the last bomb, then go back over them to find the exit. I fail this and the level blows up. However, Crack Down just takes a life off me and moves me to the next level, presumably because Act 2 Level 2 has been blown to bits. I can’t argue with the logic and I’m wondering if I could do that with every level? Act 2 Level 3 ends my run at 18:23 – huge gaps start appearing in the floor! I try my best to dodge them, but Crack Down has some ropey collision detection that gives the player no chance. Get near the corner of a drop and that’s a life gone.

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So, nearly a third of the way through the game and I’m ready to have another go. I’m going to give myself some help against the enemies forces – I’m having two more continues! Is that cheating? The rules of the redress state I only have to play Crack Down for an hour, not that I can’t have extra continues!

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I throw myself into the game and spend the next five minutes racing through Act 1, only using up one continue, which is an improvement. Now the pace is picking up, I’m actually starting to enjoy Crack Down – I’m getting the action game I wanted! Using the map and getting the hang of the gameplay really brings out the best in Crackdown and I’m now gunning my way through enemies, all while sticking to walls and planting bombs. I crack on with Act 2 Stage 1 and Act 2 Stage 3 in the same fashion, whizzing through it rapidly despite the former’s stupid moving platforms. A continue later, I’m onto Act 2 Level 3 at 28:43.

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So here we go then…look at the holes and the cracks! I manage to plant all the bombs, but I can’t find the exit – it’s on the other side of a gap. I have no clue how to get across – our hero (Ben Breaker apparently) doesn’t jump and seemingly anything I touch results in Ben falling to his death. I decide to try and take the cheap way and let the bombs explode like I did before…only for Crack Down to make me replay the level. What? How am I going to get across?

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Shut up…it’s not cheating! GameFaqs is no help anyway, as no-one has ever written an FAQ for Crack Down…dammit! I could watch a Youtube Let’s Play but that does feel like cheating. Besides, I’ve had the game paused for a while now…I’ll try and figure it out first before I really start cheating. Problem is, I can’t see how within the games rules, you can do it – there are no connecting paths and no icons that would give you something to get across.

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At 34:41, I decide it’s time to cheat – I’m absolutely hemorrhaging lives, given the big drops as well as Crack Down’s collision detection and unclear graphics. A quick look at the video shows that you just need to shoot down a wall. Of course you do…how would I have known that? Onto Act 2 Stage 4 and I run out of time, mainly because enemies can now kill me on the other side of walls…a Power Saw? How come it just kills me and doesn’t damage the wall? My second attempt at Act 2 Stage 4 ends with a sneaky gunshot from the enemy at 39:12 and that’s my continues gone.

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I’m getting to the end of my enjoyment of Crack Down, but I want to have one more go and I’ve got 21 minutes left so I’m going to give it a good try. I manage to get to Act 2 Stage 4, but this electric generator at the end of the level finishes me off. I’m too tired to predict it’s pattern and I either die on it or run out of time. My last life expires as we hit the hour mark and brings me to the end of this redress.

Verdict – I’m pleased I completed this redress.  I found myself really enjoying Crack Down and I’m surprised how into Crack Down I got – I could certainly see myself playing it again. Of all the ‘1 hour challenges’ I’ve done, I would rank Crack Down at the top with Columns and definitely above Gain Ground, Space Harrier II and Galaxy Force II. I had a fun hour and am surprised how much I wrote (nearly 2,000 words!) about Crack Down. While Crack Down is nothing special, it’s more engaging than it looks and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a Mega Drive shooter with a bit of thinking required. In summary, I feel very satisfied – I completed the challenge and feel like I discovered a fun game. A positive experience all round.

 

 

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