A few days ago I was reading this moderately interesting post on Damion Schubert’s blog when a link sent me to another blog, to this entry about movement in Crackdown. In this entry, Craig Perko has some pretty positive things to say about the most fundamental features in Crackdown, and how it actually becomes more fun to move as you progress through the game. I thought this sounded pretty interesting, so I bought the game.
I played it for a few hours last night, and I have to agree with Craig that movement in this game is pretty elaborate and well tuned. The thing is, it’s basically the centerpiece of the game. I guess I misunderstood Craig’s entry a little, because I thought he was saying that the basic feel and implementation of the game’s movement was just very responsive and satisfying, but as it turns out, the entire game has been designed around the idea of movement.
As you may know, Crackdown pits you as a futuristic supercop in a metropolis that can best be described as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy”. It’s structured pretty much like Grand Theft Auto, just with less arbitrary minigames (though there are some rather entertaining races in car or on foot) and with superpowers. This seems to be one of the things Craig praises – free movement. That’s true, it’s absolutely true – but it’s also not at all what I thought he meant. You spend a lot of time just moving through the city in Crackdown, and the rhythm, speed, and patterns of that movement is really great. In fact the game design in that aspect is so great that I can’t even be arsed to drive anywhere; I run, jump, and climb across rooptops and through alleys.
And it changes, as Craig says. The skill system in Crackdown is pleasingly simple, effective, and responsive, and as your Athletics or Driving skills improve, your options and your fun in moving clearly improves as well. But that’s the thing – it’s unfair to compare the movement in Crackdown to other games, because in Crackdown the movement is the game. Even when you’re in a battle, your movement options and skills are hugely important. The reward for your progression through the game is better and more advanced movement. You can’t really compare most of Crackdown’s movement to other games because most other games are about other things than moving. Bioshock is about the tactics, exploration, and character progression, for example. For Bioshock to have as detailed movement options as Crackdown would’ve demanded completely different priorities during development, I think.
In other words, Craig is right, but not in the way I thought he meant. And I still have a really hard time defining what makes movement in games fun – why moving in Half-Life 2 or F.E.A.R. feels so right but in Deus Ex or SWAT 4 feels so wrong. Surely it’s not just about the speed…?