The original Crackdown had the distinct advantage of being attached to the most popular beta in history: Halo 3. That meant that eventually just about everyone who owned an Xbox 360 would eventually toss it in to see how it was. Amazingly the game could have easily stood on its own two legs had the marketing been there. Now three years later and a brand new developer and we finally get a sequel to my 2007 game of the year. Crackdown 2 doesn’t stray too far from the formula that made the original such a success, but that is also part of its downfall when you break it down.
Anyone who played the original game will tell you that narrative was definitely not its strong suit. The sequel does little to remedy that, although there is a lot more going on here, and it is represented much better than the original. The game takes place long after the first in the same city and the Agency has a new problem on its hands: freaks. These creatures roam the streets at night and terrorize the citizens and the Agency has begun dispersing its clones to clean up the city and reclaim their control. Along the way you will find audio dialogues that open up more of the story, but for the most part you will rely on the announcer to figure out most of what is going on. Amazingly I retained quite a bit of it, even though it is definitely not a focus of the core game.
The first thing I want to get out of the way about the game itself though is this. If you enjoyed the first game, don’t like much change and simply need to scratch that orb-collecting itch again, Crackdown 2 is a great game. Exploration once again plays a major role as you will not only be tasked with collecting those addictive agility and hidden orbs, but Ruffian has also thrown in some online-specific orbs that can be collected with buddies over Xbox Live, renegade orbs that require you to chase them down and the aforementioned audio diaries. Needless to say there are plenty of checklists to cross off as you travel through the world of Pacific City.
One of the biggest changes to this sequel though is the way missions are handled. I will admit in the beginning I thought the beacons were simply another completion item until I realized that it was indeed the core of the game. Basically you will light up three beacons to expose a freak lair. Once exposed you drop in and signal for the device that will wipe out the entire lair. This becomes an exercise in survival as you must keep the beacon alive long enough for it to charge as the freaks attack it. Now I am not a fan of these types of missions, and to be honest by the end I was definitely ready to be done with it. Then to my surprise the final mission involves the same mechanics thus creating and endless trail of tedium.
The other core mechanic has you taking over Cell territories much like the gang turfs you conquer in other open-world games like GTA. And like those you Cell can take them back if you don’t secure them all in the sector. Again this quickly became an episode of rinse and repeat as they grew increasingly more difficult. I guess the biggest complaint I have is that unlike the first game where missions were open-ended and adversely affected the way the game played out, this new structure is somewhat of a disappointment. Enemies are also drabber as Cell members all feel similar outside of the heavy-armored soldiers and freaks become more fodder as you increase your abilities.
Speaking of which, the addicting act of powering up your agent returns, and remains the true star of the show. Gaining new powers and abilities as you level-up your character really opens up the world as you progress. I am still bewildered why driving is still there; I mean who honestly uses the vehicles while traversing the world. Still slowly becoming more and more powerful over time really invests the player in their character. They are still a faceless avatar as your first upgrade immediately puts a mask on you, but somehow I still felt invested in them over time.
The controls feel exactly the same as they did three years ago which is both comforting and troublesome. We all know that leaping from building to building is a cinch when you can jump 40 feet in the air, but we also know that Crackdown had some issues with detection and climbing up ledges. The sequel does little to resolve the problem and more often than I care to admit I found myself falling to my death as I just missed the ridiculously placed ledge that I clearly hit. Still everything feels smooth enough that you won’t have too many issues, I just wish the developers had more time to polish what was supposed to be one of Microsoft’s flagship hardcore games.
The one thing Ruffian did manage to deliver on though was the inclusion of four-player co-op. This is the most requested feature from the original game, and frankly it is a blast hopping around Pacific City with three of your buddies. They also added a competitive online mode, which for the life of me I cannot figure out why. There are three modes; deathmatch, team deathmatch and rocket tag, and honestly all three of them feel tacked on. We all love playing rocket tag in co-op, but when you try to structure it, it quickly loses its appeal. The other modes feel like standard additions and really don’t do much to keep you coming back. You will likely try them out and move on with your orb collecting addiction.
Visually the game retains the same comic-book style the first game had, but amazingly it is not as impressive. I went back to make sure my eyes didn’t deceive me, but I still think the original game looks better. I also experienced massive slowdown when in the freak lairs and there were gobs of enemies onscreen coupled with an explosion, but that is to be expected. The music feels non-existent and the announcer will quickly wear on your nerves with his constant badgering and useless suggestions. Outside of that the presentation is top-notch. I love games that offer Achievement trackers and the amount of stats the game keeps is impressive.
Crackdown 2 is definitely not going to light you on fire in any of its many facets. I know my review sounds like I am down on the game, but literally I spent the entire weekend collecting orbs, hopping around the city and just having a blast with friends online. I guess I am more disappointed that Ruffian didn’t have enough time to really polish the game to make it the sequel we all wanted, no that we deserved, but in the end if you have been aching to once again track down orbs, there is simply no substitute for hearing that sound in your sleep.