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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Crack Down (Sega, 1989)

Developed and released for the arcades by SEGA Enterprises, Ltd. in 1989. Music by Yasuhiro Kawakami.

Converted for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga by Arc Developments: Programming by Tim Round, Graphics by Paul Walker, Music by Mark Cooksey. Published by U.S. Gold in 1989 for Atari ST and in 1990 for Commodore Amiga.

Converted for the Commodore 64 by Arc Developments: Programming by Chris Coupe, Graphics by Paul Walker,
Music by Mark Cooksey, NTSC conversion by Darrin Stubbington. Published for the European market by U.S. Gold, and for the North American market by Sega in 1990.

Converted for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum by Arc Developments, and published by U.S. Gold in 1990. No further credits known.

Conversion for the IBM-PC compatibles programmed by Joe Peter, and published by SEGA of America, Inc. in 1990.

Converted for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive by Sage's Creation, Inc.: Programming by SA.160A, Kimihiro Endoh, EBUC and Soft MA; Graphics by Kanazawa, Nagasaki and Gunma; Sound design by Masaru Suzuki; Music by Sega and Mecanoize. Published by SEGA Enterprises Ltd. in 1991.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


Odd to think that this will be already the 200th entry on the FRGCB, although I'm not sure if it's quite the 200th game comparison, if you count all the twofers. But since we're celebrating such an occasion, and seeing as this is probably the last time I shall be needing a collaborator on a FRGCB entry, I decided to pick a properly good game. It was to be either Atari's Xybots or Sega's Crack Down, and a coinflip was the deciding factor. To be honest, I never knew if Crack Down was ever considered as a proper classic or anything of the kind, but ever since I found and bought the C64 version randomly from a flea market about 22 years ago, I have always thought Crack Down a cracking good concept, and I had never even heard of it before then. Perhaps if I ever bring the blog back in the distant future, I shall do a comparison of Xybots, but that's a big "if".

Unbelievably, Crack Down, although originally released for the arcades, is not a very known arcade title. Currently, there's only one voted score for the game at the International Arcade Museum (Killer List of Videogames, KLOV.com), a 3.80 out of 5. To be brutally honest, it's not a very attractive arcade cabinet, so I'm not entirely surprised why people have missed this one. But an arcade game it is, and should be made known better. At least the home port Sega made for the Megadrive/Genesis is much better known, and has been well documented as such on Guardiana, the Sega Retro Database: it has an average score of 76% out of six old magazine reviews, and a 67% score from members' given votes. From the other 16-bits, the Amiga version has a score of 7.39 from 18 votes at LemonAmiga, and the Atari ST version has a 7.7 from only six votes at Atarimania. I'm still not entirely sure into which category the DOS version at this point falls into, but it has a score of 4.57 out of 5.00 from 7 votes at MyAbandonware. The 8-bits are as follows: 6.71 from 14 votes at World of Spectrum; 7.2 from 34 votes at Lemon64; 15 out of 20 at CPC-Power and 7 out of 10 at CPC Game Reviews. A strong average, then, overall. Let's get on with it, and see which one's the most average of them all.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Some of the best classic games are often best left without too much explanation behind the plot. Usually, there is some sort of a big criminal mastermind or a mafia-like organization causing havoc, whose actions you need to stop from getting out of control. It's just all too predictable, because that's what old games were trying to do: bring the feel of the movies of the time into an interactive mode. And of course, we can't honestly say most of the 1980's action movies having been too deeply plotted. If you insist on knowing the plot behind Crack Down: two special agents, Ben Breaker and Andy Attacker (imagine that..), need to stop a mad scientist called Mr. X from taking over the world. Yeah, told you so.

The reason why Crack Down is such an interesting game, is the split-screen top-down stealth action feel, which admittedly is still a bit primitive here, but you can't really expect too much. After all, Metal Gear also had very primitive stealth mechanics, and it was made only two years prior to this, and for the MSX2 no less. Your job - and your friend's - is to plant bombs to designated spots in each area, while either avoiding or killing the enemy guards... but mostly killing. Once the bombs have been planted, you exit the area through the designated exit, and you're on to the next area. The specifics of how the game works will follow in the next section.


Being true to the arcade tradition, the game gets exponentially more difficult towards the end, and there are some annoying little bits somewhere in the middle, that feel more difficult than necessary. Still, Crack Down definitely has its firm place in the history of stealth-action games, and should be enjoyed as a not-very-serious example of such. But would I recommend anyone to purchase a version of it today? Well, read on.

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PLAYABILITY


Slam in a coin or two, press the start button and get ready for some serious action... and for slamming in a whole lot of more coins, if it's your intention of getting through the game. Ah, the classic arcade method of gaming. Well, to be fair, there might be some options in the dip switches to perhaps adjust the difficulty level and other usual whatnot, but I honestly have no idea about them this time, since the game doesn't work perfectly on MAME. Well enough to get you through the game, though, but the dip switches are unavailable, and some of the graphics are still being worked at. Oddly enough, Crack Down isn't featured in any of the Sega arcade compilations made for modern platforms, so it's either MAME or a proper arcade machine. In this case, we shall make do with MAME.


Since you know I'm working with SJ on this one, it's obvious that Crack Down is a co-operative game. The way Crack Down is designed is, that the screen is split in two, regardless of whether you have a real game partner or not, so naturally, you're better off having one, since the other half of the screen will be closed with a metallic door if the other player doesn't accompany you. As for your controllers: each of you would on a real arcade machine have a joystick and two fire buttons - which will be redefined to your liking on MAME. The first fire button shoots your machine gun, and the second will use any special bomb, several types of which you can pick up from all over each area.

Controlling Ben and Andy is simple enough. First of all, moving the joystick in any chosen direction will make your character walk into that direction on the screen. You will shoot (or kick/punch, if you have run out of ammunition or are within melee range) into the direction you are going to, when you push the fire button. The stealth trick in Crack Down is your ability to lean against any wall and keep yourself thus unnoticed, if the enemy is not looking directly at you when passing by. As you might have guessed, this trick works woefully rarely as an actual stealth trick, but at least you will have a better chance of dodging enemy bullets when hugging the wall, as well as perform some neat surprise attacks.

Although the game is divided into four larger sections (16 levels in total), apart from the very last area, there are practically no real boss fights in Crack Down - only some really annoying timing puzzles and a couple of other odd elements that don't happen more than once in the game, that sort of make up for the lack of real boss fights. Perhaps all this makes Crack Down a relatively unfair arcade game, since no-one really has the money nor the inclination to spend hundreds of coins for practicing certain passages in the game. At least, I'm hoping no-one does. The final act involves a few "easy to solve but hard to get through" -type sections, that as a whole, remind me of certain scenes in the original Star Wars trilogy for some reason. All in all, it's a rather straight-forward and thankfully small set of action-based levels, and the game does require you to adapt to new enemies and elements occasionally, so there's never a really dull moment.

We start the comparison from the 8-bits, since they have the most obvious differences to the original. The obvious threesome all had their versions released on tape, but only the SPECTRUM version seems to have been left without a disk version for whatever reason, which seems utterly nonsensical considering the time of release. Perhaps it's just a case of a missing publication? Whatever the case, the game is obviously more comfortable to play from a disk, but apart from shorter loading times, has no actual difference in content on either C64 or CPC. The only point of interest worth noting considering the three 8-bits' tape loading is, that on SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD, side 1 contains the title screen (and controls menu on Spectrum), while side 2 contains all the level data, while on the C64, side 1 only contains the basic program data, but you need to turn the tape over to side 2 to even load the title screen. However, getting to the title screen also gets you to the first section, so you get two flies on one swat. Both disk versions are one-sided, and if a Spectrum disk version exists, it would probably be one-sided as well. In the C64 version, the game is loaded in segments of four levels, as the game is divided into four areas containing four levels in each, which makes sense, but in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, you need to load every single level separately.

Next, we need to take a look at the controls for each version. The arcade and the Megadrive/Genesis controls are obvious enough, since there are only so many buttons on an arcade cabinet or a pad controller, so we won't get into those too much; obviously, one fire button fires your cannon or machine gun, and another blows a Special Bomb, and on the pad, yet another button chooses your weapon and the Start button obviously pauses the game. This makes the G/MD version unique for giving you the ability to choose between cannon and machine gun.

When it comes to the more challenging systems regarding controls, we have plenty of variety. On both SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD, the other player always plays on the keyboard (Q,A,O,P,SPC) while the other player uses a joystick, and you toggle the pause from the H key. So, no specially designated key for the Special Bombs, but this has been handled by holding down the fire button for two seconds, which is rather annoying, since it automatically wastes a bullet when you don't necessarily intend to. Not a huge inconvenience, but an inconvenience nonetheless, particularly if you're in a hurry and don't have two seconds to spare. At least it spares the other player from reaching out to the keyboard. The C64 version uses joysticks for both players, although you can use the key combination of CTRL, ARROW LEFT, 1, 2 and SPACE for player 1 if you only have one joystick available. The Special Bombs are used from Q for player 1 and the Cursor Up/Down key for player 2 - which might be a small inconvenience for emulator users, if you have a tendency to emulate joystick on the cursor keys. More keys for the C64 version: S toggles sound effects and music, Run/Stop toggles pause and Restore quits the game when on pause mode.

The 16-bit home computer versions have more uniform controls. On both AMIGA and ATARI ST, you use joysticks for the basic controlling, but the bombs are used from the keyboard. On AMIGA, the bombs are Left ALT for player 1 and Right ALT for player 2, and on ATARI ST, the respective keys are ALT and CAPS. Both versions use P for pause and ESC to quit. On IBM-PC compatibles, both players singularly use the keyboard to play, with the cursor arrows for player 1 with Space and CTRL for fire and Bomb, and W,A,S,D for player 2 with Tab and § for weapons. In DOS, the ESC key is used for both Pause and Quit.

For those of you, who loathe even the idea of having cutscenes in a game, you will be happy to know, that the 8-bit conversions seem to have no cutscenes at all - at least not until the very end, although I cannot confirm how much of an ending each version has, since we haven't been able to finish any of the 8-bit versions. While the lack of cutscenes certainly decreases the amount of graphics considerably (which is not a point to consider until the next section), it does make the whole game experience more immediate, if at all possible.

One thing all the non-console conversions have in common, is that you have a tendency to get either stuck in the walls when wall-hugging, or just somehow walk inside the walls, which is preferable, but not very realistic. Only SEGA's own console port seems to get this thing right, which is perhaps only expectable. Also concerning the wall-hugging thing, the most important point about the whole idea is to be able to avoid getting hit by enemy bullets in narrow spaces, even though it also has the effect of rendering you somewhat less noticeable by some of the enemy troops. The more important of these two has been rendered a pointless exercise in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions by making the narrowest corridors too narrow for you to be able to dodge bullets by wall-hugging. Even more uselessly, you cannot shoot straight forwards or backwards when hugging the wall in the said two versions. On C64, shooting straight while wall-hugging is not entirely possible either, since your special agent leans off the wall when he shoots. Not completely suited for the purpose, but better than not having any purpose at all for the wall-hugging.


What the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions have better than the C64 version, for once, is the scrolling. The C64 version uses push-scrolling, which makes dealing with most of the off-screen action immensely difficult, as you need to keep constantly looking at the map screen and hope that the little pixels are aligned with yours when you attempt to shoot at them. To make up for this convenience, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions have the shooting accuracy more than a bit awkward, since in either version, your movement isn't pixel-perfect, and while your characters and the enemies look to be big enough for taking a hit from various stations, you need to be aligned perfectly with a certain part of the enemy sprite in order to hit it. Even so, the collision detection in both SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions seems to be rather tempermental, since you can shoot and often even walk straight through an enemy without making so much as a scratch. Also worth noting is, that the C64 version never has more than 3 enemies on screen at once, while the other two might have up to eight. However, this might explain the speed differences.


Since there also exists an NTSC C64 version, we had to take a quick look at it. At least on our experiments, it doesn't seem to work properly. No amount of bullets blasted through any of the enemies in the first level were able to kill any of the enemies - only when punching them, were we able get any results. Also, due to the text shown in the borders in the PAL version having been cut off for reasons unknown to us, you will not be informed when you can exit the level. Perhaps this is a problem related to CCS64, but the NTSC version wouldn't load on VICE, and I don't have a real NTSC C64 to test this on, so I cannot say how false these test results are.

All the 8-bits have a few 8-bit specific things in common: they have no high score lists - not that it's really even needed, but it's a feature among others. Also, rather conveniently, each player has separate credits, so you won't have to steal lives from the other player. Lastly, contrary to the 16-bits and the arcade original, the final levels in each area never pull you back to an earlier spawn point when you die. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions are, on the whole, slightly more faithful to the original than the C64 version, as all the trap elements are kept in (the C64 version doesn't have the wrecking balls in level 2-1 or the electric traps in level 2-4, for instance), but the C64 version is more fun to play due to the speed and better hit detection accuracy. However, I have no idea, whether the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions have a proper end battle or not, since we couldn't get as far as that, and even using pokes to get infinite lives didn't work for some reason. On C64, though, the end battle is not really much of a battle at all - you just go through the area as you normally would, and kill a couple of regular baddies and that's it. I would have liked to put some consideration into each version's graphics as a point of making or breaking the game's playability, but since this issue will be dealt with in the next section, I decided to give a more balanced outcome this time. Oh, I almost forgot: the number of enemy types has been drastically dropped for the 8-bits due to memory constrictions.

Time for some inconvenient topic-hopping here, as we move on to the 16-bits. The AMIGA and ST versions have lots of odd inconveniences of their own, starting with the placement of the camera, which is more zoomed-in than in the other versions, making it impossible to see far enough. By default, the movement of the camera focus is too aggressive, never giving your character anything resembling a central spot on the screen, and often placing you on any of the edges of the screen, thus always placing you in danger of getting hit by an enemy you cannot see until it's too late. Happily, you can actually change this by pressing the 'C' key during play to center the camera on the players properly. Sure, the gameplay is fast, but due to the zoom-in being too close to the ground, it makes the entire experience comparatively horrid.


As if that weren't enough, it seems like the melee attack has been optimized a bit badly on AMIGA and ST, since you start punching from further away than necessary, often even being unable to hit your enemy, since you're too far away. Also, rather contrarily, when you don't die from a close physical contant with an enemy person, you sometimes get stuck on them, and you can't seem to get a hit through even when on melee range. And then, you get some odd bugs that don't let you proceed from "Get Ready", or you seem to get stuck in the walls even when you're not really even touching them. I have even managed to make the supposedly clean image of the original ST disk freeze in level 2-3 on Steem SSE. Overall, these two feel more difficult than most other versions, for exactly the wrong reasons. Some of the levels have been slightly altered for some reason, but not enough to make them any less challenging.

The DOS version is surprisingly different from the previous two. Sure, it's too fast to play on basic EGA settings on DOSbox, but at least you can adjust the emulation speed with Ctrl+F11/F12. The same annoying camera movement and too near zoom-in continue to be a problem here, but some things have been altered to make this version more playable, such as certain obstacle bits having been made slower or even non-existant. Also, the number of enemies seems to be slightly more humane compared to the AMIGA and ST versions, and the tendency of getting stuck to enemies or structures is much lower than usual

Finally, we get to the MEGADRIVE/GENESIS version, which really is an odd one out for various reasons. A couple of levels from the original have been entirely replaced by other, trickier levels, which we both found rather annoying, but most of the game was very faithful to the original - even the very end. The extra button thing has already been mentioned earlier, but lest we forget, it's really a superbly convenient thing to have. Also, you have the possibility to change the difficulty level from easy, medium and hard, which actually have real differences in time limit, the number of enemies and AI aggressiveness. Added to that, you can choose the number of credits (max 6) and the number of bullets and bombs in the beginning. The only real grievance in this version is notable slowdown, the degree of which depends upon the amount of action happening on screen. Another inconvenience is, that you cannot get the other player to join in, if you have chosen to play a single-player game. Regardless of that, the MD/G version is still easily the best home conversion of Crack Down.

I might have forgotten to mention the Special Bombs at any proper length, but there's a reason for it. In the original arcade game, there are various types of Special Bombs, which only differ from each other by their appearance. Because of this, most home conversions only have one type of Special Bomb. In fact, even the AMIGA, ST and DOS versions, which have the little Special Bomb icons show different kinds of Special Bombs, the explosions reveal them to be the same bombs. So, effectively, the Special Bombs are, apart from their appearances in the ARCADE original, not very special, after all.

None of the home conversions are optimal, but the SEGA MD/G version is easily the most comfortable version to play of them, even with the rather uncomfortable slowdown issues. As a proverbial nail in the AMIGA version's coffin, almost all retail versions of the game have a mastering error that causes the final level to crash, which makes finding a working version unnecessarily difficult and makes you likely choose a working crack instead. Not that the ST version is any better, since it seems to have a tendency to crash quite a bit. The DOS version is just slightly more player-friendly than the AMIGA and ST versions, but it's still not very good. Of the three 8-bits, I cannot really make up my mind. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions are awfully slow, and while they are on paper more faithful to the original than the C64 version, which is a good deal more fun to play than the other two 8-bits, the SPE/CPC duo shall have to share the final spot on the list due to the awful hit detection accuracy necessitation, while your movement isn't very accurate and the sprites are too large for such accurary being so necessary. Really, the two worst 16-bits are still more comfortable to play, and deserve a higher spot - but only just.

1. ARCADE
2. SEGA MEGADRIVE/GENESIS
3. COMMODORE 64
4. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
5. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
6. ZX SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD CPC

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GRAPHICS


The fun thing about arcade games from the late 80's onwards is, that they started to more often contain quick cutscenes and other unnecessary, but fun graphical ingredients for a hopefully more immersive experience. Sega produced some of the most top-notch attraction material for their arcade games, and Crack Down contained some of the more informative cutscenes of its time, if not necessarily the most epic and lengthy - just to keep in the rhythm of a proper arcade game. But like all (or most) other arcade games, we have to start from the beginning. In this case, the loading screen.

Since Crack Down was originally made for the arcades, it might strike as somewhat odd, that there should be a loading screen in it, if you've never heard of such systems as, say, DECO Cassette System or SEGA's System 24, the latter of which is mostly a floppy disk operated machine, and Crack Down was one of the games released for it.

Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, DOS.
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 PAL, Commodore 64 NTSC.


System 24 has its own loading screen, which is apparently used in all the supported games, including Hot Rod, Scramble Spirits, Gain Ground and Bonanza Bros., so it has no indicators of what game is it loading. The other versions, which actually need to load the game from something other than a cartridge, feature a surprisingly uniform loading screen, which isn't modeled after anything shown in either the arcade game, its cabinet or its marquee.

According to the arcade version's attract mode bonus screens, which you will see below, Andy is the blonde one and Ben is the redhead. If you want to split some hair here, Andy is supposed to be the one specialized in heavy weapons, and Ben is a hand-to-hand combat expert, but no matter. We're more concerned about the overall quality of pixelation and Ben's hair colour. Only in the C64 and SPECTRUM versions' loading screens, Ben's hair is black. Of course, the simple explanation is, that it was easier to dye his hair black, when the background is also black, and there is a colour limitation to each version. Well, I suppose there is, since Ben's shirt is correctly purple on all 8-bits, when it's incorrectly blue on the AMIGA, ST and DOS versions. The pixelation, though, is quite messy on both AMSTRAD and C64, while the SPECTRUM version is much clearer, but has some colour clash, as well as annoyingly yellow skin. Considering everything, it's all still rather acceptable, and it doesn't matter anyway, since here at FRGCB, we don't use the loading screens as something to focus on when giving points for graphics.

The title screens are much more important, even when sometimes they shouldn't be. I probably shouldn't need to tell you why, but sometimes, when a game is cracked, the end result might be a game that's quicker to load, but which doesn't necessarily have a loading screen, for example. To many of us old-timers, cracked games were more abundant than originals, and not all of them were high quality cracks that featured everything imaginable.

Title sequence from the original arcade version.

In the original ARCADE version, the title sequence is an odd mish-mash of different ideas that don't really go together in a very logical way, but consider it art, and you'll be fine. It all starts with our two agents standing in front of a zoomed-in screen showing a hand drawing a red line on a brick wall with a spray can. When the line is done, the agents fade out and the camera zooms out and shows the crumbled brick wall from further away, revealing the game title with a hint of dystopian setting, after which the actual title screen is shown for a brief moment before the plot sequence kicks in.

The story starts off with the creation of an Artificial Life System. An evil man comes along, eventually leading an army of artificial life forms, mostly humanoid. Still while in the picture of the group of AI and the evil leader, a weird hand-drawn picture of a grumpy man with a beard is suddenly planted at the bottom of the screen, after which the army in the background fades out and in their place, a dark blue devil goat appears. Weird stuff, I tell you. This is where our two heroes step into the picture, or at least their personnel files, and are shown on the screen for an entire second before sliding off, and finally, your mission is described briefly with a clip of a hand setting up a new type of a time bomb. Then we're back to the actual title screen, in which you get the yellow version of the spray-painted game logo and some bullet holes behind it. This entire sequence is over in about 32 seconds, so you can imagine the speed of which some of the segments fly by.


Titles from other versions. Top row: ZX Spectrum (1st and 2nd screens), Amstrad CPC (middle) and Commodore 64.
2nd row, left to right: DOS, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST.
Rest of the screens are the entire title sequence from the Sega Megadrive/Genesis version.


The only home conversion to show anything akin to the original's plot sequence is the SEGA version, which starts off with it, straight after the inevitable boot screen. Here, though, the plot sequence is just plain text shown over a scrolling blue sky with clouds. Once all the text has been gotten over with, we get a fade-out/fade-in, which takes us to a city setting, and the camera zooms down to the brick wall with the game logo already sprayed on it (with no underline, though). The actual title screen shows a purple background with the yellow logo (still no underline) and the SEGA logo at the bottom - and then the bullet holes come in.

On all of the other conversions, with no exceptions, the title screen is a purple background with yellow game logo, a SEGA logo at the bottom, and a series of bullet holes animated on to the screen as they should. There are some detail differences, such as the mention of Arc Developments in the SPECTRUM version, or both Arc and US Gold in the AMSTRAD version, but it's all basically the same thing with the obvious basic graphical differences between each machine's palette and graphic modes etc. Oddly, though, the DOS title screen has the bullet holes filled with more purple. Rather interestingly, the AMSTRAD version gets closest to the 16-bit title screens in both colouring and detail.

In addition to the actual title screen, the DOS and AMSTRAD versions offer no other other screens for this particular part of the game, but the others do. In the SPECTRUM version, you get a unique screen for control options, which is just a bunch of text under the info panels are to become very familiar indeed. In the C64 version, you get two variations of credits screens - one for tape version and one for disk version - of which the other only features more detailed credits below the line "conversion by Arc Developments". In the AMIGA and ST versions, the second screen features information for additional keys during play.

Screenshots from the game opening sequence from the original arcade version.

As pointed out in the first paragraph, the original Crack Down features a number of cutscenes, starting with an explosive intro sequence, in which our dynamic duo blows their way into the evil Mr. X's premises, and get caught by the security cameras while at it. Quite understandably, if a bit disappointingly, the 8-bits don't feature the cutscenes to any extent, although I have to admit not having managed to legitly complete any of the 8-bit versions to see if they would have an ending sequence, and I haven't been able to find any online resource to show the possible endings, either.

Game opening sequences from the 16-bit home conversions. (Explanations below.)

The 16-bit conversions all feature the intro sequence to some extent, but only the SEGA version has it featured in full. The only real difference to the arcade equivalent is that in the final screen, where our two heroes are shown going through the gates viewed on a red-tinted monitor, you actually see the monitor in the SEGA console version, while in the ARCADE version, the action is shown full-screen. All the others are simple still pictures in sequence, depicting the events happening in the full intro sequence, but even there, you get a few odd differences. The AMIGA version only features four of the six still pictures shown in the other two 16-bit versions, and the DOS and ST versions have the pictures shown in a different order - the DOS version actually has a wrong order.

Screenshots from level 1. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, DOS, Sega Megadrive/Genesis.
Without any further ado, it's finally time to enter the action. First, let's take a look at the top third of the screen, which features the info panels for both players, and in the middle, a minimap of the entire level, which is supposed to be very informative indeed. The info panel shows your number of lives, current score, the number of ammunition in your cannon and machine gun, as well as the Super Bomb inventory, which can hold up to four bombs. As you will notice later on, all the Super Bombs look different in the inventory.

The minimap is really a masterful thing to behold in the original ARCADE version. It shows both players as red and green arrows with L and R next to them, and the exact area that each player's screen is showing is indicated by the square surrounding the arrows. You will also be able to see red X's on the map, which mark the spots on which you must plant the time bombs; and there are also weapon containers, doors and enemies shown as miniature versions of themselves - the enemies even move around on the map in real-time. Basically, if you have sharp enough eyes, you can play the game even just by starting at the minimap, but then you wouldn't be able to enjoy the brilliantly detailed, coloured and animated graphics in the zoomed-in action screen, that takes the rest of the screen. Oh, and there's that bomb timer at the cross-bit between the minimap and the two action screens, which naturally indicates how much time you have to get through the level.


While the arcade minimap is certainly a thing of beauty, it's not actually necessary to be so detailed. In fact, the SEGA home conversion doesn't even have much of detail in the map - only a basic form map showing only the most important things: the spaces you can walk in, the spaces you cannot walk in, yourselves and the spots you need to plant time bombs into. Oddly, even the SPECTRUM version shows a more detailed map, although I have to say, it's more difficult to read because of its lack of colour. Same thing goes for the C64 version. The AMSTRAD version has much more colour, but the pixels are wider and thus, the details are harder to make out. Even worse, you only see yourselves in the CPC minimap as green and yellow blinking pixels, instead of filled boxes (as in the SPECTRUM version), empty rectangles (arcade and C64) or even two suitably coloured lines above and below the pixel (DOS, AMIGA and ST).


The info panels look at least adequate in all versions. Only in the AMSTRAD version, the Super Bombs haven't been marked with writing due to lack of space. Also concerning Super Bombs: you can clearly see they're supposed to be different in the AMIGA, ST and DOS versions, similarly to the original. The SEGA MD/G version is worth mentioning here, because the life indicator is a number instead of little man icons, and the two basic weapons are shown as icons instead of text, and there's also a red arrow to select your weapon in use with.

Planting a bomb. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, DOS, Sega Megadrive/Genesis.


Basically, all the gameplay looks the same - running around a top-down maze, shooting enemies and collecting ammunition; that is, apart from when you plant a bomb. This is the only bit where the screen in which the bomb-planting is happening switches to a picture of the bomb and its timer going down. In the ARCADE original, you even see the bomb-planter's hand setting up the bomb on the spot, but that's a unique detail for the said version. Only in the AMSTRAD and C64 versions, you don't see the timer in the bomb (although the timer is shown elsewhere on the screen, so it's not necessary), but the C64 version is completely monochrome with white as the colour of detail and anything else as the background colour, depending on the level's chosen palette, and it doesn't have the red X drawn in the background. Sloppy, but I suppose it must have been a way to save some memory to lessen the amount of loading considerably.

Screenshots of different explosions. Top row: Arcade bomb variations. Middle row: Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, DOS.
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Sega Megadrive/Genesis.


Taking screenshots of the explosions proved to be impossible, as the screen would often either flash in such a way as to make either the bomb graphics or the background invisible, or feature some other effect that would look incomplete when showing a simple screenshot of it. So, sorry, but this is all you got. Most of the explosions look fairly similar - a ring-wave of flame-like sprites go into eight directions, sweeping and killing all enemies under it. The only exceptions are the ARCADE and SEGA versions, which have more explosive-like explosive graphics (and the ARCADE version has even a few variations), and the C64 version only features a flashing red (well, pink, really) effect for the whole area.

Screenshots from the ends of levels 2-4 and 3-4, from left to right:
Arcade, Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Sega Megadrive/Genesis.


Some of the greatest differences in graphics are shown in the final levels of the three latter areas, which unfortunately I haven't been able to access in all versions due to unforeseen circumstances, such as either a bad image file or bad code. The latter is the more prominent problem, to be honest. So, I only included the middle two section-ending levels here.

Again, we see clear similarities in colour and detail between the ARCADE and MEGADRIVE/GENESIS versions, which further points out the SEGA console's version being the closest of all home conversions in being a definitive port. Still, the AMIGA-ST-DOS threesome looks rather impressive in their own right, with their own minute little differences in colour and screen mode -related details. In the above picture, though, I only included screens from the AMIGA version, because the three versions are otherwise similar enough.

The 8-bits are perhaps the most interesting to look at, since they show different kinds of solutions to work around their own limitations. The C64 version is not particularly pretty for most of the time, but at least you can see all the enemies and bomb-planting spots well enough for most of the time. However, the conversion team has completely forgone the electric trap thing in level 2-4, although the remnants of the trap are shown as hazardless pipes on the floor; and similarly, level 3-4's electric maze doesn't have any sort of animation. On SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD, the traps are fully functional, but the animations are different on level 3-4. The SPECTRUM version's lack of colour is often painful to look at, and in certain levels, the choice of colours is utterly horrid - the example here of level 3-4 isn't even the worst of the lot. Still, even with the awkward use of colours in monochrome hires mode is mostly better than the wide-pixelated mess that the AMSTRAD version exhibits most of the time. If the level ground colour is anything close to red, the X's tend to get hidden into the harshly patterned ground, and some of the enemies are similarly difficult to find from the screen, which is a damn nuisance, because the hit detection is so inconveniently precise.

Continue and Game Over screens. Top left: Amstrad CPC. Top right: Sega Megadrive/Genesis.
Middle row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: Amiga/ST. Bottom right: DOS.


In the inevitable case of losing all your lives, you are usually asked, whether you want to continue the game. Once you lose all your credits, though, it's Game Over. The only versions that show us the number of credits left when you still have them are the ARCADE and SEGA MD/G versions, otherwise it looks like everything has been attempted to keep as compact as possible, which is odd, since it isn't exactly necessary. Here, you can see an example of how the messages in the PAL C64 version are shown in the borders, which cannot be seen in the NTSC version.

Example of a single-player mode screen in the
Sega Megadrive/Genesis version.
Before we wrap this section up, a quick word about the game in single-player mode. Basically, it's nothing more than the other player window shut off, with no exceptions in any version. Only the SEGA console version has some information about the enemies in the current level instead of just a blank screen. In all the other versions, when you still have some credits to spare, the other player can join in; otherwise, the other screen only shows a sign saying "PRESS START" or the number of credits left or whatever. Since it's basically the same sort of a message window that the GAME OVER message is, I don't see any reason to include pictures of the other messages. That said, some messages are shown when you're playing, such as "Hurry up" and variations of "Mission accomplished" and "Bombs not set" or something of that sort. The C64 version's NTSC translation shows no messages, since they are singularly shown in the borders instead of the actual game window in the PAL original.

Name entry and High Score tables from Arcade (left) and Sega MD/Genesis (right) versions.
The final bit of graphics even possible to write about is the High Scores table, where available. For once, the existence of this is actually not so obvious, since all the 8-bit versions need to load quite a bit - particularly the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions; so they didn't include one in any 8-bit conversion. However, that doesn't explain the absence of High Score lists on all the 16-bit home computers. As it happens, of all the home conversions, only the SEGA MD/G version features a High Scores table, and thus, the possibility to write your three initials on it. The final bit of graphics that would have been worth writing about, but is impossible to do so, is the ending section, which on the ARCADE and SEGA MD/G versions is almost equally impressive, but unfortunately, I cannot say anything regards any of the other versions.

Due to my time constrictions, I shall have to forgo the conclusive babble this time. If you have read all of the above, you know how the following order has come to be.

1. ARCADE
2. SEGA MEGADRIVE/GENESIS
3. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST / IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
4. COMMODORE 64
5. ZX SPECTRUM
6. AMSTRAD CPC

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SOUNDS


As you all must realize, at this point in time, there was no point in challenging an arcade game in superiority of either graphics or sounds. The interest here lies, of course, in how well the home conversions have captured the feel of the game in soundtrack. The ARCADE version offers no sounds at all in the title sequence, which I think shows the game developers' concern on how much their arcade machines create unnecessary noise when people are not playing them. So, the first sound you will hear when you drop a coin in, is a blippy little ditty of 5 quick consecutive notes of no other purpose, than indicating that the game has accepted your currency.

The ARCADE soundtrack consists of at least six different tunes, from what I could catch. Each area has four levels, so each of the four levels has its own tune, which are repeated in further areas in the same order. Also, there is a different tune for the cutscenes between areas, and then an ending tune. Most of the music is fairly reminiscent of the Mission: Impossible tune and its kin, mixed with other Japanese-based action game soundtracks. Unfortunately, Sega's soundchip used in the arcade machines is almost as plastic-sounding as that in their Megadrive/Genesis systems, and the music is relatively low in volume compared to the sound effects, so it's relatively difficult to feel connected in any particular way to the music. As for the sound effects, you get the obligatory explosives, the tinny gunshots, doors opening and closing slams, and even some voice samples yelling their deaths and our heroes shouting something in Japanese when detonating a Special Bomb. It's all very adequate, but sounds are not what make the arcade version as memorable as it is.

Because the 48k SPECTRUM version has no sounds at all, it will automatically take the last place on the list, but moving towards the top of the list from the bottom is not so easy. I suppose the version with the least attractive soundtrack (from those that have one) is the IBM-PC version, which features yet another mess of beeps and blurps, which is a mixture of something you might be able to call music if you take the time to decipher it all, and equally beepy and blurpy sound effects. In the DOS version's defence, it does feature a title tune and four in-game tunes, and the responsible parties must have done everything in their power to make the music as faithful to the original as humanly possible. Even still, the four in-game tunes are played in a different order than in the original arcade game.


The AMSTRAD and 128k SPECTRUM versions both have their title tune arranged for each machine, both of which are similar to each other due to the similar sound chips. Mind you, what is used as the title tune here is taken from the fourth levels in the ARCADE version. The AMSTRAD version plays you an additional little "Get Ready" tune when you push the fire button to begin. During play, though, you only get sound effects, which are effective enough, but it's not as attractive as having the music as an option. The C64 version offers just that. Along with the more appropriate title tune, two most catchy ones of the original soundtrack's tunes have been SIDified, which are played during alternating levels, but you can press the 'S' key during play to toggle between music and sound effects. Easily the most attractive selection of sounds so far on any home conversion, and for my money, all the tunes have more punch and presence than in the ARCADE version. Too bad the C64 soundtrack is incomplete.

Naturally, the 16-bit versions all feature the full soundtrack, or at least as full as each version allows. Since only the SEGA MD/G conversion features all the cutscenes, it also is the only conversion to feature all the cutscene tunes as well. The AMIGA, ST and DOS versions feature the remaining four tunes, albeit in radically different variations in execution and overall feel, as well as a title theme, which isn't present in either of the ARCADE and MEGADRIVE/GENESIS versions. Then again, the MD/G version features a unique tune for the intro sequence, which makes up for the lack of a title theme tune.

On the ATARI ST, the in-game music is played in the correct order, and the AY-arrangement works surprisingly well. In fact, the AMIGA soundtrack feels weak by comparison, and can only boast of having sampled sound effects, which in this case is the Amiga version's only saving grace when it comes to sounds. Come to think of it, even the three tunes in the C64 version sound better than the ones in the surprisingly disappointing Amiga version, even though technically, it is better and more abundant. But more is not always more. See, there is a different order rearranged for the AMIGA soundtrack for some reason, and one of the tunes is an odd remix that's nearly unrecognizable from the original. As for the sound effects in the ST version - they're good enough for what they are, but don't offer anything special. Naturally, being 16-bit versions, both AMIGA and ST play sound effects simultaneously with music. Since the AMIGA version's sounds are so disappointing, however much of it there is, I'm of a mind to put it lower than the C64 version, but an opinion is an opinion, and technically, I'm forced to give it a higher spot. Damn technicalities.


Finally, the SEGA console version sound almost exactly like the arcade game, with voice samples and all. I grant you, the voice samples are not quite as high in quality as those in the original, and there are some small things missing, like the dogs barking in level 4-2, but all in all, it's a very close second. So, the results are, quite simply put:

1. ARCADE
2. SEGA MEGADRIVE/GENESIS
3. ATARI ST
4. COMMODORE AMIGA
5. COMMODORE 64
6. ZX SPECTRUM 128k / AMSTRAD CPC
7. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
8. ZX SPECTRUM 48k

---

VIDEO LINK


This time, the video I found consisting of all the versions of Crack Down was from a new source called Retrosutra, which I had never come across before. I contacted this channel well over a two weeks ago, and so far, I haven't heard anything back, so I shall just leave this video link here for now. In case I get a reply at some point, the necessary actions will be taken, if necessary. For now, you might as well take a look at this short, but very illustrative compilation, in which the first level is completed in all of Crack Down's versions.



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OVERALL


This has been one of the most difficult games to make a comparison of, due to the problems exhibited by certain versions, necessitating the occasional usage of cracked versions featuring trainers for level skipping and such. Crack Down is definitely not at home on home computers - and even the MEGADRIVE/GENESIS version suffers from slowdown, particularly when playing in two-player mode. Regardless of that, practice makes you better, and you can master any or all versions of the game, if you have the perseverance for it. As with most other action-based games, playability is what counts here, and so, the Overall scores might not be exactly what you might have hoped for. Still, this will give you a fair warning.

1. ARCADE: Playability 6, Graphics 6, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 20
2. SEGA MEGADRIVE/GENESIS: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 17
3. ATARI ST: Playability 2, Graphics 4, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 12
4. COMMODORE 64: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
4. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 2, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 11
5. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 9
6. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 6
7. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 5
8. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4 


European US Gold home computer release cover.
Obviously, the best way to enjoy Crack Down on any home system is on Sega's own 16-bit console, and I would even go so far as to call it even better than the original arcade game, simply due to the additional weapon changer button and the options that give more variation to the game. As for the non-console versions, I think it's safe to say that none of them are particularly recommendable, but I'd say the Atari ST and C64 versions could be your best options from that lot. Don't save your pennies to get an original, though, unless you're a serious collector. And in case you are a serious collector, you're in for a shock when it comes to the cover art, which alters quite a bit on the European and North American markets, and even then, the Sega versions have completely different art than the U.S. Gold versions.

Once again, thanks for reading, hope it was worth the wait and the bother. Also special thanks to SJ for helping me out once again - let's hope the collaboration continues sometime in the future, and if not with the blog, then in other adventures. Next time, something completely different! Until then, happy gaming!

2 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this game till now, I looked around their are not many used copies for sale. But all the reviews I could find on Amazon, eBay and few other spots give it 5 stars.

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  2. Very Informative Post. Keep Posting. Thank You.

    Repack PC Games

    ReplyDelete