July 05, 2010
Who can tell whether the first Crackdown would have sold as well without the added incentive of the Halo 3 beta invite. Coming from Realtime Worlds – who went on to make APB - no one had exceptionally high expectations for the title, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that Crackdown was not only fun, but it was an addictive and absorbing open world action romp that played upon most gamer’s obsessive desire to hoard and collect stuff – in this case, those glowing green agility orbs.
That Crackdown also allowed you to take on the 21 gang leaders of Pacific City in whatever order you deemed fit also helped to create an illusion of genuine freedom and flexibility, even if that wasn't really the case. Taking on the Shai Gen without being suitably upgrading your Agent's abilities was suicide, and so it is with Crackdown 2.
Except instead of taking down a menagerie of colourful criminals, your task as a new Agent, is to activate 27 absorption units, which link up to create a network of 9 beacons you have to protect as they're deployed. What this essentially boils down to however, is repeating the same actions over and over again, and given the lack of faces and character of your new targets, it can get pretty dull, pretty quickly.
There are of course other side objectives to complete, such as closing breaches from which a new threat to Pacific City has emerged – the hordes of Freaks that are plaguing the streets at night due to actions of disgraced scientist Catalina Thorne. This might sound like an interesting plotline, but Crackdown 2 makes virtually no allusion to any of this other than through its intro cinematic and the occasional collectible audio log. Consequently, there's a real lack of personality to Crackdown 2's enemies and after mashing up the 1000th Freak and shooting the 1000th member of Thorne's rebel Cell group, you'll be crying out for something new to kill.
Introducing larger, more agile and stronger Freaks as your Agent evolves doesn't particularly liven things up either, although it's a welcome challenge after effortlessly ploughing through huge, bustling mosh pits of mutated civilians. As well as fighting off bubbly mutoids, you'll be taking on mass gangs of hostile Cell rebels, who are armed to the teeth. Calling in air support to secure Cell strongholds for the Agency is about as close to the original Crackdown as you'll get, and later in the game, each stronghold is like a hornet's nest. The sheer amount of bullets and rocket-propelled projectiles that greet your presence when you haplessly wander into the landing zone is ludicrous during the latter parts of the game, and having to secure three zones in succession before the Cell retake them, can be immensely frustrating.
Sometimes, you'll feel like Crackdown 2 is failing to meet its remit as a fun and entertaining sandbox, instead provoking fury as you repeat the same action for the umpteenth time, only to be greeted by massive resistance from almost insurmountable numbers. For the most part, Crackdown 2 is fun, but it falls somewhat flat when you realise that it doesn't do a whole lot more than the first game more than three years ago. In that time, one would have hoped that Scottish developer Ruffian Games might have come up with an entire list of new features to slot into the sequel, but there simply isn't enough here.
What little new features that there are, you might miss as they require hours to unlock through upgrading. While strength is the easiest of your Agent's skills to boost and you'll have the “ground pound” ability in no time, the others take a lot more grinding, by which time you'll have likely finished the game and be reluctant to go back. If you've played the first Crackdown, you've been here before – this is Pacific City in the future – a shadow of its former self, destroyed and thrown into chaos, but we can't help but think that an entirely new city might have been preferable, and would have made Crackdown 2 feel much fresher.
As it is, Crackdown 2's Pacific City is a blend of the familiar and different (if that makes sense) that means that the same niggles and annoyances from the previous game still persist. Climbing the sides of buildings can be irritating, and sometimes seemingly impossible. Ledges that look like they can be grabbed, sometimes can't and certain parts of buildings you might think you can scale, are out of reach until you take the time to painstakingly build your agility. That's where the compulsion to gather those pesky agility orbs comes into play, which means you'll be forced into pushing everything else to one side, as you jump from rooftop to rooftop picking up orbs for hours on end.
When you do get to a certain level in each of your abilities, you'll find that Crackdown 2 becomes increasingly enjoyable, but chances are, you'll have exhausted much of what the game has to offer by the time you reach the peak of your powers. It's in the multiplayer that Crackdown 2 comes into its own then, and having four-player co-op greatly bolsters the potential for wreaking havoc across the expansive city and changes the whole dynamic of the game. There's complete freedom to really cut loose with friends, and the game's biggest rewards like the “wingsuit” – that allows you to glide – and Agency choppers create all manner of possibilities, although the same drawbacks of repetition remain an issue.
Competitive multiplayer modes round out the package, and there's ample reason to indulge in games of Rocket Tag and Team Deathmatch, especially when you can jump into an Agency tank and squash a rival Agent beneath your wheels. Once you've exhausted all of the orb collecting, side tasks and campaign missions, you might find competitive multiplayer will serve in maintaining your attention for a short while before you inevitably move on to something else.
Given that three years have gone by since the original Crackdown, we expected a whole lot more from the sequel. Unfortunately, Ruffian has opted to play it safe, never veering too far from the established formula, which ultimately makes playing Crackdown 2 a cause for deja vu. You'd have hoped that perhaps the combat system might have been refined or expanded, or the aiming system might have been tuned, but it's identical to what's gone before with the same tics and irritants. Incidentally, repeatedly hammering B to punch and kick through countless enemies grows very tired, very fast, as does attempting to aim at a foe blasting you with rockets only to focus on a perfectly innocent, stationary vehicle.
The achievement list is a fairly strong one that might tempt you into exploring every nook and cranny of Crackdown 2's destroyed Pacific City, and there are a few that will make you want to keep playing until you unlock rewards for upgrading your Agent to the top level of his prowess. Some will require you to set up games with friends, such as passing a car back and forth using a UV shotgun or gliding across the city's airspace with three other friends with the wingsuit, which also needs to be unlocked. Getting the full 1000G will take a fair bit of perseverance and time... and collecting, lots of collecting, but whether you'll be compelled to, is another story.
Crackdown 2 looks slightly better, the vehicle handling is slightly more extreme and bouncing around the rooftops is as just as entertaining as you'd expect, but it just doesn't do anything that you haven't seen before. There are a number of open world games out there that offer so much more than Crackdown 2, and although back in 2007 Crackdown was relatively fresh and original, in 2010 when we have Red Dead Redemption as a narrative driven sandbox title and Just Cause 2 appealing to your inner daredevil, Ruffian's update feels somewhat dated. There's no doubt that Crackdown 2 is a well made title, and there's a lot to be said for playing through the game in co-op – and you'll need to if you want to obtain all the online orbs – but there's the distinct feeling that this is just more of the same stuff, in the very same city.
The same voice-over man returns, and begins to grate after the first few hours as he keeps telling you the same old crap over and over. Explosions and sound effects are nice and loud, and the in-car soundtrack is a slight improvement, but overall, this is pretty standard stuff.
A negligible improvement over the original Crackdown visuals, the sequel's vehicles and Agents look cooler and the draw distance and vistas are nice enough, but there's nothing that'll have you picking your jaw up off the floor.
Crackdown 2 is every bit as playable as its predecessor, but the fact that it does very little that's new or different creates the sense that we've already done this all once before. New moves like the dash and ground pound are cool, but superficial additions.
What Crackdown lacked in story, it made up for in character. Crackdown 2 removes that character and has you configuring absorption units, activating beacons, clearing strongholds and little else. Road races, rooftop races and orb collection will keep you occupied in between the primary goals, although that's your lot. Co-op is far more appealing however.
This is a mixed bag that promotes fun for the most part. You'll pick up half during one playthrough, and you'll probably grab the rest in multiplayer and repeated revisits, if you can muster the wherewithal to go back. Achievements involving the wingsuit and helicopter -that incidentally take far too long to access - will encourage you to max out your Agent to earn those rewards.
Crackdown 2 is a perfectly workmanlike sequel that only reveals all of its secrets once you've put in the time and effort to boost your Agent. Yet, by the time you're anywhere close to unlocking all the good stuff, you'll have already finished the game. What's more, Crackdown 2 is too similar to its forebear to warrant a hearty recommendation, although you'll probably get a lot more out of it if you passed on the first game.