If you're not interested in looking around for hidden (and not so hidden) orbs, then you can also upgrade your skills by actually playing the game. For example, if you want to increase your strength then you would kill a bunch of gang members with your roundhouse kick. You can easily upgrade your explosives skills by using grenades and missile launchers. And yes, you increase your driving abilities by driving around the city. Most of this you will do over the course of the game, so there's generally no reason for you to devote too much time to leveling up your character until the last few bosses.
What is cool about these character upgrades is that you can tell the difference almost immediately. It's easy to tell when your agility has increased because you can jump higher and you run a lot faster. And that's not all, when you increase your strength you will be able to pick up heavy objects and use them to kill your enemies. Upgrading your character will also give you more health, something that you will need when battling the Russian and Asian gangs. While the game itself isn't all that difficult, things do become a little trickier when the gang members start using homing missiles and other powerful weapons.
While the agility, strength, explosives and weapons skills are important to your survival, it's the driving skill that seems almost completely pointless. You can play all of Crackdown without jumping into a single car; they just aren't very useful in this game. Part of the reason for this is because it's so damn fun to jump from one building to the next and feel like a real superhero. The city is designed with this in mind, and because the agility orbs are mostly on top of buildings the game rewards you for playing like a lunatic and sticking to the roofs. Another reason the cars aren't as practical as they are in other games is because a fully developed character runs almost as fast as the cars, which pretty much defeats the purpose of these vehicles. On the plus side once you've upgraded your driving skill your agency vehicle will change and transform into something bigger and cooler. But it's still useless when it's more fun to use the rooftops to get from here to there.
Having said that, it's worth pointing out that there is one very specific reason to use a vehicle, and that's to play the racing mini-games. Like all sandbox games Crackdown features a number of mini-games you can play when you're not cleaning up the city and killing thousands of gang members. There are basically two different mini-games, one that tests your running and jumping, and other that has you racing through gates in what can only be called a Midnight Club rip-off. Both of these modes are basically the same, the game will give you a bunch of checkmarks you need to pass through in a certain amount of time. Do this and you will complete the mini-game (and be on your way to earning an achievement), take too long and you'll have to try it again. I suppose it's nice to see a little diversity added to the game, but neither of these mini-games is all that exciting and they won't hold your attention after you've gotten rid of all of the gangs.
This brings up the biggest problem with Crackdown; there just isn't much to do. One could argue that the world is free for you to do whatever you want, but outside of experimenting you really don't have a lot to take care of. On one hand I love the freedom this game provides, but at the same time the complete lack of structure makes it feel kind of empty. Saints Row had the right idea; the various mini-games were a lot of fun and made you play the game long after you were done playing through the campaign. But Crackdown doesn't try to do that; instead it hopes that your imagination will make up for a short single player experience.
Another problem with Crackdown is that for all of these grand ideas it had, it just never feels like it hits its potential. On paper it sounds great, you play a superhero cop who is out there ridding the city of crime. With such a great premise to start from you would think that the developers at Realtime Worlds would be able to imagine a bunch of amazing boss creatures that are straight out of a comic book. But that's not what happened; instead the bosses look and play like regular enemies with slightly more health. None of the enemies are cool at all; every single boss in the game is completely forgettable. Towards the end of the "story" the game hints at genetic mutations gone wrong, but that thread is quick abandoned and it's back to killing a bunch of small bosses that aren't all that cool. Given the premise I would have hoped for maybe a flying boss or maybe a large creature terrorizing the city, but instead we get a bunch of bosses that are underwhelming in every possible way. And to add insult to injury, there is no real end boss. The game just kind of ends abruptly, you get a cinema and the city is suddenly peaceful. The whole thing feels anticlimactic.
Page 2 of 3