When the creator of Grand Theft Auto announced that he was working on a new sandbox style game, people’s thoughts were; how well would it compare to GTA? Previously we would have had to wait for the games release or a free demo with some magazine, but with the advent of the Xbox Live marketplace we get to sample games before release and Crackdown is amongst the library on offer.

Like other games in its genre, Crackdown is set in an expansive city where you have the freedom to go where you like, but there are lots of differences to other games of this type. Usually you’d be on the wrong side of the law, conducting criminal activity throughout a game like this, but in Crackdown you are the law. You don’t just play any cop either, in this near-future city you are a genetically engineered super cop with abilities that increase the more you use them. This makes a big difference in the gameplay to other sandbox games, in combat you aren’t limited to your standard weapons, use your fists for a while and you’ll be picking up cars to throw at the bad guys, once you’ve hefted enough cars you’ll be picking up trucks, and so on. It’s not just your strength that increases either, driving and firearm skills increase, and then there’s your agility. Normally if you wanted to reach the rooftops you’d be limited to buildings with interiors, which would be few and far between, or commandeering an airborne vehicle. But in Crackdown you can jump ever increasing distances, making scaling tall buildings easier as you progress through the game.

Once you reach the dizzy heights of the city’s skyscrapers, you’ll be able to appreciate one of the things that make Crackdown stand out above other games of this type, the draw distance. Whilst perched atop the buildings you’ll have a clear view straight across the city, and it’s not just the buildings you can see, vehicles and even people are still visible, albeit as tiny dots, miles away, you won’t get any pop ups driving around this city. Another thing that elevates the game in to true next gen territory is that the city is a constant, you can’t park a car, go round the block and come back and the car is gone, everything stays where you left it, unless someone jumps in and drives off of course. It all makes for a more realistic experience and adds to the immersive experience.

Your basic gameplay, aside from the super powers, remains pretty unchanged from other games of the genre, but the game structure is a bit different. Rather than a series of mission opening up as you progress, you get targets added to your PDA. The main targets will be mob bosses, who you can go straight after for quick completion of the game, but the majority will be lower down in the mob hierarchy. Taking out these smaller targets hinders their respective mob, if you execute their arms dealer that leaves them poorly armed, take down their physical trainer and the minions aren’t so handy with their fists. Of course, you don’t have to go after them at all if you don’t want to, but when you do want to you don’t have to complete a certain task to do it.

Whilst it does make for a truly open ended game I’m not sure it will provide the kind of longevity the Grand Theft Auto series, and its like, have. It is a lot of fun bounding across the rooftops though and there’s plenty of exploring to do, there’s even online co-operative play which could be a lot of fun with a friend. Bearing in mind the demo is just a work in progress and that there will be more to the finished game, hopefully in gameplay terms as well as area to explore, it should be quite a fun game that you can dip in and out of for a quick blast. If not, the game’s main selling point will be the Halo 3 beta that you get with it, and that would be a real shame.