The original Crackdown was deemed as a tour de force of modern day gaming. It was a collectathon/superhero game for the 21st Century, according to some folk. However, some elitist gamers thought it was extravagant mainstream tosh. Unfortunately for them, sense prevailed and they were categorically wrong in terms of common public opinion. Crackdown was awesome, and even those that simply brought it to get into the Halo 3 beta came to appreciate the gem that they had in their possession.
Crackdown 2 once again takes place in Pacific City. Only this time, the place has got a bit out of control. A new gang called the Cell has taken most of the city from the Agency, and a charming mutant race called the Freaks come out at night and control most of the streets into the twilight hours. It’s fair to say things aren’t going according to plan for the agency, which looked safely in control by the end of the first game and were set for world domination. If they want to create a new world order, they’re not going the right way about it.
Regardless, Crackdown 2 copies the same basic sandbox gameplay formula from Crackdown. You are still a super-powered agent, climbing, jumping and driving around Pacific City and it controls the same as you do so (apart from shooting, which has a new Red Dead Redemption style lock and shoot mechanic, where you can target individual limbs or heads. You can only switch to another target by letting go of the left trigger and pointing your reticule over another enemy. It can get a bit annoying as your Agent sometimes picks targets nowhere near you, but for the most part it works well enough). You can still rank up your character by doing the corresponding action to the ability in question (shooting people gets you firearm experience, blowing people up with rockets or grenades gets you explosives experience, finding agility orbs increases your agility, etc.) and you still have to do (near enough) the same old stuff.
However, the mission structure has changed. Instead of going to different places and taking down various crime locations and kingpins, you now just go place to place wiping out Cell strongholds and placing power beacons. Wiping out Cell strongholds is basically what it says on the tin. You go to various Cell markets on your map and fight an army of Cell baddies until they’re all defeated. Air support eventually arrives and you claim the location. This is basically the same throughout the entire game and it does get very boring very quickly, but there are a few entertaining combat locations, with the rooftop ones being significantly more challenging and fun. Cell’s strongholds take you across key locations from the first game, so you get to see the big old mansion and other areas. The last Cell location (we won’t spoil it) is particularly amazing if you are well adapted to making gigantic leap of faith vertigo-inducing drops.
Placing power beacons to get rid of the freaks is supposed to be the main point of the game, but it quickly becomes tiresome and repetitive. Essentially, you have to travel to three different generators and power them up with your Agent suit and then go to the power beacon bomb location. Once there, you have to tell air support of the drop zone and defend the bomb from a ridiculous number of freaks until it goes off. It’s quite a pedestrian affair until the last few locations, when things get a bit tasty. It’s a shame that these are the missions for the game really. There are no Crackdown 1 style crime bosses to kill or anything that dramatic, just simple and to the point missions.
That’s not to say there isn’t much to do in the game though. There are also freak breaches to take care of, as well as some road and rooftop races. There’s also some vehicle and wingsuit (unlockable when you reach a high enough agility level) stunt rings to play around with. However, they aren’t as compelling as the main objectives and seem to get incredibly difficult as you proceed with them. The first 10 rooftop and road races are quite easy and to the point, but the last 5 for both of them are stronger than an artificially reinforced orange. If you’ve played the original Crackdown, you should know what these are about by now. If not, you have to race to each checkpoint as quickly as you can. Crackdown 2 puts your race time on a leaderboard with your friends and people around the world via Xbox Live, so you can see who’s the best at both rooftop and road races.
Freak breaches are basically holes in the ground where a load of freaks pour out of. You have to annihilate the Freaks until air support arrives. It’s strangely cathartic and fun, especially when you visit a location and an earthquake signals the start of the breach mission. The camera goes all wobbly and things get real interesting, agent.
As you would expect, the overlord voice of the agency is back. He’s just as maddeningly awesome as before, but this time has a wealth of new lines that will make you stop for a minute as you chuckle away. One of our office favourites happened when we got into an Agency supercar. The Agency overlord piped up: “This car sticks to the road like shit to a blanket”. It’s not his most artistic or original line in the game, but his delivery is poignant and it still really helps to induce some light relief when things get a bit too crispy to handle. Talking about vehicles, they no longer morph to your driving level. However, there are more agency vehicles on offer including a helicopter (once you get full agility) and a tank alongside the usual agency patrol car, buggy, supercar and SUV.
It’s also worth noting here (as there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to put it) that after you complete the game, you can carry on playing as if you haven’t completed the last mission, which is good for completing side-quests and catching the all-important agility and hidden orbs. Talking of orbs, as well as the regular kind mentioned throughout this review, there are also renegade orbs that you have to chase for their juicy experience. They come in two flavours: Agility and Driving. These orbs have some kind of mystical AI goodness that makes chasing them as entertaining as some of the missions. Some can be really tricky to catch, but getting hold of them is rewarding.
One of the biggest things about Crackdown 2 is the new multiplayer modes. You can play the main game through four player co-op at any time. You can make it invite or friends only or open it up to allow anyone to join. It’s a shame there’s no kind of matchmaking system for joining random players, but we guess that’s to stop the game developing into the gaming-based equivalent of Chat Roulette. You can invite people as you play and there’s no “player joining” interruption nonsense. It’s a very slick way of doing things and Ruffian should be applauded for getting it right. However, if all four of you do campaign missions, bear in mind that it will only progress for the player that hosts the game. When you go back to your game, you’ll be wherever you left off. You can still take your levelled up agent to your friends game though and emasculate them with your superiority. There isn’t a great deal exclusive to co-op, but there are Online Orbs (you may have seen them in the demo), which folks playing co-op can pickup. They basically act as Hidden Orbs, and give you experience to all your abilities.
Co-op seems to run very smoothly, like an Octopus, but there are few framerate jitters across the game, even when playing on your lonesome. To be fair, they only crop up when you chain together a beast of an explosion or there’s too many enemies on-screen for the game to handle. There are also some of the regular bugs back from the original Crackdown, including the “either you’re on it or you’re not” climbing system. Some building designs don’t really promote climbing too, which we guess is part of the point, but we shouldn’t have to go all the way to the very top of some skyscraper to find out there’s no conceivable way to get to the roof. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it is annoying.
There are also some competitive multiplayer modes, including Rocket Tag, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. These are separate from the main game, but take place in parts of Pacific City. You are limited to a small area to muck about in and for the most part, it’s actually quite fun. As you would expect, you all play as agents and that means there’s lots of jumping, dodging and precision grenade prediction needed to compete. It won’t replace the main meat of the game (the campaign), but it’s definitely worth looking into while you wait for friends to get online or for a quick distraction. It’s a shame there aren’t more modes. Ruffian was probably rushed to make the game and it shows here.
Verdict: Crackdown 2 is basically more of the same, which isn’t a bad thing. If you loved the original, you have to get this thanks to the allure of four-player co-op, agility orbs, monolithic explosions and a ridiculous amount of enemies on-screen at once. If you haven’t played Crackdown before and you are pining for something a bit different, then it’s hard not to recommend it. Just remember it can get a bit repetitive at times.