When I was in ninth grade, three of my more brilliant friends invented a sport called Wäk-Ball (pronounced whack ball), as part of an assignment for gym class. It was sort of a combination of baseball and dodgeball. And insanity. At first, it started off as a way for them to use the phrase “Wäk-ing Off” (the “official” term for batting) in a paper for school, but they ultimately ended up creating a game that was actually sort of fun to play. Before long, it turned into a genuine phenom, with games drawing small crowds of neighborhood kids. There was even an MVP trophy given out after each game – the coveted Wäk-Plaque.
Not to brag or anything, but I did win a few Wäk-Plaques during my career.
One particularly intense game of Wäk-Ball ended with some controversy over who deserved the Wäk Plaque. This one guy Ben thought he deserved it, even though nobody else thought he had played that well. So when the Plaque was awarded to the another player, Ben declared himself a co-MVP, took the award and broke it into two pieces. He kept his half and gave the other half to the official winner. This touched off a bit of controversy and when all was said and done, Ben’s half ended up on the roof of his house.
Ben went into his house to get a ladder but very soon he re-emerged with startling news. A raccoon, possibly interested in claiming the Wäk Plaque for itself, had somehow gotten into Ben’s chimney and was going crazy. So we called the police, and 10 minutes later, the cops arrived at Ben’s house. Shortly after that, a fire truck arrived. And trailing behind the fire truck was a man on a bicycle.
As he rode up on his bike, we all marveled at how impressive he looked in his Richard Petty jacket, tight jeans, and thick glasses. Though he looked to be a relatively youngish late-thirties, it immediately became obvious to us that he must have been in charge of the fire department. You could tell from the way he kept trying to tell everyone what to do, even as the other firemen kept ignoring him and telling him to go sit down and watch from across the street. Surely, he must be the Chief of the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department.
It was my friend Ken who first saw through this carefully woven illusion. “Look!” he said, as the police officers threatened to arrest the man on the bike if he didn’t stop interfering, “that guy isn’t a real fireman.” And suddenly, it became clear to the rest of us. This man apparently followed the firefighters around on his bike and tried to work with the other firemen when he arrived on the scene. As he shadowed the police and real firemen around Ben’s house, we could see that they weren’t interested in his help or advice. In fact, they seemed kind of annoyed by him, yet also resigned to his pestering, as though this was not the first time this had happened.
You wanna be a fireman, you have to equip yourself like one.
He’s Captain Pretend! declared Ken. “He goes around pretending he’s a fireman.” Well, was it really so strange? Didn’t we all pretend we were firemen at some point in our childhoods? This guy probably loved the fire department so much that he never stopped pretending. Once he grew up he bought a scanner and would ride his bike to the scene. I suppose anyone who wanted the dream bad enough could have been driven to this kind of behavior… or they could just join – it was a volunteer fire department, after all.
Ultimately, I’m pretty sure that there are still raccoons in Ben’s house. At least, I don’t remember them bringing any out that day. Eventually, everyone left. The Wäk-Ball players went home. The police went back to Hamburg Village Hall. And the firemen climbed back onto their red fire truck and went back to the fire station. Captain Pretend hopped on his bike screaming “Wait for me, guys!” and rode after them, later spending the rest of the day going through their dumpster looking for “fireman stuff.”
What does any of that have to do with Crack Down? Well, Crack Down might be considered a more militaristic version of the Captain Pretend story. The game’s opening text explains that 2 special agents have a mission to destroy an enemy base with a new type of bomb. And perhaps at some point – maybe in a sequel or something – that actually happens. But Crack Down is about two completely ordinary looking guys, Ben and Andy, who seem to think that they’re secret agents, and attempt to destroy the enemy base on their own with bombs they appear to have made in their garage. The game doesn’t show them riding their ten speeds into enemy territory, but I’d say its a pretty safe assumption.
The gameplay takes place in the bottom-left corner. The rest is taken up by useful stuff like the inventory of the guy who isn’t playing.
Crack Down is far from the worst game we’ve played on this project and would actually be kind of fun if it didn’t feature one of the most monumentally stupid design choices we’ve ever seen. It’s an overhead shooter that’s played on just barely more than 1/4th of the screen. Yes, that’s right – a game that is centered around shooting and dodging enemies is designed in a way that ensures that you can’t see the people trying to kill you until you’re practically on top of them. The rest of the screen is cluttered up with mostly useless information that nobody would miss if it wasn’t there. This isn’t a case of incompetent programming or low-budget development – the people who made the game did this on purpose because they thought it was a good idea. Which is pretty sad when you think about it. Not unlike a certain “firefighter” in my hometown.
If there’s one lesson that we can learn from Capatin Pretend, it’s that letting delusions continue on unchecked can eventually lead to negative outcomes. Therefore it is for its own good (as well as our own), that we confront Crack Down about its awfulness and revoke its Seal of Quality.