In other games this might mean heavier weaponry or armour, but here it means enhanced capabilities. You start with skills in five categories – agility, strength, driving, explosives and marksmanship – and by tackling the gangs in appropriate ways or collecting specific markers you gather upgrade orbs that will eventually level-up that power. As the game progresses you’ll be better able to target and lock-onto enemies while at distance or on the move; make enormous leaps and scale the sides of the highest buildings by jumping from ledge to ledge; pick up blocks, skips and even cars and toss them at assailants, and a whole lot more. When you start out you can wade into a group of hostiles and punch their lights out, but five hours later you’ll be smacking them halfway up the street before their just-pwned ass hits the pavement.
This isn’t merely an excuse to show off the game’s Havok-based physics – though it certainly does a fantastic job of just that – it also really opens up the whole experience. Once you’ve won the first upgrade on your acrobatics the whole city becomes a giant platform game. The buildings aren’t just designed to look impressive and give a sense of massive scale, though they certainly do that; the whole cityscape has been cleverly designed to challenge your jumping expertise. Soon you’re scanning the rooftops for further agility upgrade orbs in the knowledge that if you can’t quite make it up there yet, it’s only a matter of time.
What’s more there are plenty of side-missions to help you level up, such as driving challenges and daredevil rooftop races that see you throwing yourself from point to point with heart-stopping abandon. If you thought Just Cause had thrills to spare, Crackdown makes it look timid. Cunningly, you might also notice that this all means the game rewards you for doing what you like doing best. If you wade into gangster HQ throwing grenades and spitting bullets then you’ll soon fill the upgrade gauge in both the marksmanship and explosives categories and get better at doing just that. If you’d rather use acrobatics to find a back way in, you’ll get upgrade points for that.