I've always believed that the subtle freedoms in a game can end up being the key ingredient that makes a sweet experience, and sometimes even a "sleeper hit". Crackdown is no sleeper -- not by a long shot -- but for me it was an extremely pleasant surprise, especially when playing with a friend.
The high-value qualities of a sandbox game are all there: quick loading and a solid framerate, outstanding physics both on foot and in vehicles, interesting and detailed locations, an incredible draw distance, and plenty of neutral AI to give life to an already colorful city. The storyline is simple: go here, kill this person...repeat. It's on the bland side of tedious, but thankfully you are not required to play the campaign missions in order to advance in skill, and the entire city is open from the start. If you can see it, you can reach it.
On top of Crackdown's excellent citysphere, there are subtleties -- which I mentioned above -- that really make the game stand out for me. What other game lets you lift and carry a car...that your co-op buddy is still occupying? And not since Painkiller has a game featured spearing your enemies to moving objects. A good five minutes of play time was spent watching a poor thug swing from our car by his impaled hand. Hilarity, I tell you!
Don't tase me bro!
As with most co-op games, this one is best when played with a friend. All of the orbs that you gather are carried over to your saved game, as are weapons collected. Climbing towers together, cruising the streets looking for a fight, or competing in super-human parkour-style rooftop races will hold most gamers' appeal for a long time. There's a certain Incredible Hulk-esque satisfaction to leaping from a nightclub roof to the sidewalk across the street; picture that scenario combined with a massive firefight started by your co-op partner -- that's Crackdown. As Nick and I patrolled the city, he mentioned that he had enough game time logged to have maxed out his stats four times over...and he was still finding areas that he didn't recognize. It's not so much that the city is large as much as it is detailed; you could literally spend thirty minutes exploring one four-block plaza, if windowsill hopping is your thing (it is, trust me).
Thanks to its horizontal and vertical freedom, parts of Crackdown feel like an old favorite of mine: Spider-Man 2. Sure, scoff, but the sheer joy of just being able to scale full buildings has become a fad (see: inFamous, Prototype, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, etc). Unfortunately, scaling buildings with a friend has not. Crackdown did what others dared not do, and my only true regret is that the co-op is limited to two players.