My avatar is crouched upon a rooftop, my foe on a rooftop two buildings away. A tiny overhang protects me from their gunfire; a city bustles around me. I leap up, instantly targeting an enemy in the middle of the group. Away scoots a homing missile. Or maybe two, I’m feeling feisty.

As I fall back to the rooftop, an explosion rocks the screen. Seconds later, a collection of tiny little orbs of light stream to my body, increasing my avatar’s competencies; I level up with a glorious feeling of power, accompanied by an awesome bass-heavy ‘FFFFFWOOOOOOOOMPSSSSSSHHHH’, my avatar erupting with new-found strength.

This is the joy of Crackdown, a game that is almost impossible to categorise. The popular description would include words like “open-ended sandbox” – after all, there’s no load times as you roam the three districts of Pacific City, and you’re free to tackle the tasks of the game in any order you please. But there’s so much more to it than that; RPG influences are blended with a fantastic selection of weaponry and vehicles, a refined sense of grittiness, and huge dollops of tongue-in-cheek thrown in. Racing, time-attacks, head-shots, stunt jumps, and some of the fiendish collect-em-ups ever… it’s all in there.

And then there’s the map. The world. Pacific City. Never before has a gameworld been so convincingly three-dimensional. Sure, you can run/kick/punch/drive your way from La Mugre to The Den, but why bother when you can leap from rooftop to rooftop, with a tense nail-biting ascent of the Agency Tower on the way? Granted, it’s completely devoid of “plot” – relying instead on the snippets of stories surrounding the three tribes and 21 bosses. As the game ends, there’s a sinister little twist that you kinda-sorta knew was coming, but it feels like an afterthought; after all, Crackdown isn’t about plot; it’s about a place, a premise. And it doesn’t suffer because of it.

I’m one of the few people that bought Crackdown on release for the game itself, and not the Halo 3 multiplayer beta that it carried with it; I’d seen demo movies of the game as part of a previous E3 showing, and became utterly smitten with the comic-esque graphic treatment. Sadly, that effect was toned down somewhat for the final release, but Crackdown pulls no punches in the visuals, with a tremendous draw distance and the ability to inspire vertigo with the sheer verticality on offer. Sonically, it’s functional – but with a great selection of tunes on offer whenever you jump in a car. And there’s no denying the aural power of the music in this clip of sample Achievements.

And what a collection of Achievements! At once tempting, difficult, and ingenious, they extend the playtime by hours… and, most importantly, encourage you to explore the co-op multiplayer. And here is where Crackdown claims the GotY crown for its own: whilst Halo 3‘s multiplayer provides squillions of laughs (especially when you have 7 mates joining you for Rocket Races), nothing comes close to the co-op of Crackdown. Nothing quite compares to dropping into a mate’s game, helping him attack a tower packed with bad guys; covering each other’s ascent whilst racking up a massive body count. Suddenly, you accidentally pop him in the head with a rocket launcher – a completely innocent shot of extreme accuracy – and the enemy is forgotten, with pistols at dawn as you hunt each other down.

With rockets.

And you continue to hunt each other, silently cheering your own death (because it results in you getting more rockets).

Hours later, you remember why hooked up in the first place; you meander back across Pacific City and finish the intended attack. Then you shoot each other some more, before trying to help each other jump through suspended purple rings. With the help of rockets. Of course.

And that, my friends, is why Crackdown is my Game of the Year. Still compelling after 10 months, still able to generate a cheesey grin, still capable of providing challenge and laughs and entertainment… and wall-to-wall fun. The only game I’ve started playing on a second GamerTag, just so I can have the thrill of gaining those Achievements again. Yes, it’s that special.

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