Crackdown is one of those games that somehow obtained mythical status among its fervent fanbase, a lofty position almost inexplicable in nature. Originally only noteworthy for the Halo 3 Beta invitation, the open-world super-hero cop game became a cult hit overnight, capturing players with its addictive skill progression and crazy gameplay. Three years have passed, and gamers have been waiting patiently for a sequel. The developer may have changed from Real Time Worlds to Ruffian but there was hopes that Crackdown 2 would retain the same charm that its predecessor possessed. Does Crackdown 2 recapture the magic of the original, or does it play it too safe?
I’m coming at Crackdown 2 with a unique perspective, specifically the one of someone who barely even touched the original. I played a demo of it at EB Games a long time ago for about five minutes, and I remember bounding around buildings until various gang members filled my vaulting body with lead. At the time, I didn’t even have an XBox 360, so I promptly forgot about the game. When I did pick one up a few months later, my chance to get in the Halo 3 Beta had long passed, so Crackdown slipped from my memory.
When the sequel was announced at E3 last year, I became interested because I deemed that too long of a time had passed for me to enjoy the original (much like BioShock, which I came at too late). However, having spent the last week playing Crackdown 2, I can safely say the the original still remains relevant, even three years later. The main reason I say this is because the sequel doesn’t try to do anything outstanding, but instead prefers not to rock the boat and delivers an experience that is both fun and disappointing.
Starting with what’s fun about Crackdown 2, the orb hunting from the first game is back, and if my obsession with collection is any indication, it is just as addicting as ever. While the main focus of the game is ostensibly killing enemies and completing objectives, you can easily spend hours scouring the rooftops for Agility Orbs. Given that these little green buggers increase your jump height and running speed, accruing them is essential to progress in the game. The orbs are perfectly placed as well, linking together in long chains so you can leap from building to building picking them up. Renegade Orbs are also sprinkled throughout the game world which are more of a challenge to catch but provide a bigger reward when you nab them.
In fact, building up all of your Agent’s various powers are a blast and the rewards for leveling are very satisfying. A maxed-out Agility skill gives you access to the Wingsuit which allows you to surf the air, and pumping up Strength gives the ability to pick up cars, rip out lampposts and pound the ground with a crushing strike. The other three skills, Firearms, Driving and Explosives, bestow upon you bigger and better toys to take out the opposition or tootle around Pacific City in style. As your Agent gets more and more powerful, your suit will reflect the changes, going from generic body armor to a pretty freaking sweet suit by the end. Watching your get-up become progressively bulkier and more intimidating is another way Crackdown 2 rewards your for grinding your attributes.
Unfortunately, Agent progression is the only fun to be had in Crackdown 2 as the rest of the game is bland and uninspired, relying on the base fun of its absurd nature to make up for banal mission design and poor graphics. In the original game, players were tasked with wiping out three warring gangs in any order, working their way up from the small level crooks to the big bosses. Crackdown 2 does away with the multiple factions and replaces them with two: Cell, a disgruntled civilian army, and the Freaks, the zombie-like creatures who clog the streets at night and generally cause a ruckus. As such, you only have one real objective in Crackdown 2, which is to activate three Absorption Units and then detonate a UV-based bomb called a Beacon inside the Freak lairs. Repeat 27 times for the Absorption Units and 9 times for the Beacons, and you’ve done the largest chunk of the game’s main “campaign”. The onus is on you to find your own fun in this sandbox, but the tools and options that are given to you are fairly limited. You can also take out Cell strongholds and engage in the requisite races to occupy your time.
To guide you along the single-player storyline, the Agency handler is back from the first game, something that should please fans. Personally, I found him to be abrasive and unnecessary, as he swings between homicidal glee and harsh-toned rebukes with every sentence. He also has an annoying tendency to tell you over your radio whenever you’ve unlocked an Achievement, something I found very aggravating. He also does very little to help you out mission wise as most of his air time is taken up by wise-cracks or vague prodding. For example, later in the game Cell begins to wield very powerful ordnance including grenade launchers, homing rocket launchers and mounted turrets. That would have been useful information on my way to assault one of their bases, but as I had no clue they were packing such heat, I was turned into a pile of crispy armor because I wasn’t expecting it. You’re mostly left on your own to discover when enemies are getting tougher, but your handler is quick to jump all over you if you kill civilians or your Peacekeeper allies. In a game that encourages wanton destruction and reckless driving, friendly casualties are unavoidable, but the game decides to punish you for it. Killing too many civvies or cops will result in the Peacekeepers turning on you for a while, adding to the already unholy amount of gunfire you attract. Normally, they can’t hit the broad side of a barn, but once they turn their sights on you, they transform into Vasily Zaytsev.
Other frustrations include the design of the buildings in Pacific City, most notably those with impassable awnings and over-hangs. Since you can jump so far, your natural inclination is to get up high, but some buildings seem almost designed to keep knocking you down to ground level. Sometimes you’ll spend almost a minute climbing a building via its windows only to bonk your head on an awning and be sent tumbling back to earth. What is the point of encouraging this behavior if you’re going to punish players for it? It also bears mentioning that the formerly vibrant Pacific City is now dull and run-down, and the textures are really ugly. The worst part about this is that, even with such average graphics, the game engine still chugs when there’s a lot going on in your game. This is kind of inexcusable, considering there have been much better looking open-world games where the poop could hit the fan and the game still ran fine.
A few new multiplayer options have been added to the game, including four-player co-op and competitive modes. The addition of three other Agents into your game is a nice touch as it gives you back-up against the overwhelming odds you sometimes face and it also allows you to collect Online Orbs. Skills gained in another player’s game are added to your total, but mission progress is not. The in game map is also severely lacking, as it does not allow you to set way-points or zoom it out to a full scale view. Each player is represented by an indicator on the map, but there’s no sign given as to who’s who. Again, it’s up to you to work you way past the game’s shortcoming and make your co-op session bearable.
All said, Crackdown 2 fails as a sand-box game given its poor mission design and the limiting nature of its geography. While it is great fun to hop around and collect orbs or blow things up, that’s about all Crackdown 2 has to offer. I was compelled to see the game through to the end, but I don’t think I’ll keep it around long enough to collect all the Orbs or complete the lengthy Achievement list. What I will do, however, is go rent the original Crackdown and see how that holds up. Chances are I won’t even notice a difference.
How does our grading system work? Check out our grade chart!