GOONL!NE Review: Crackdown 2

Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Also on: N/A (Xbox 360 exclusive)
Release Date: Friday July 9th 2010
Age Rating: PEGI: 18, BBFC: 15, ESRB: M
Reviewed By: David Pitchforth

Crackdown was something of a sleeper hit when it was released on the Xbox 360 back in 2007. Bundled with the Halo 3 Beta, a lot of people picked up the game solely so they could play Halo early, and Crackdown was little more than an afterthought to some people. When they got around to playing Crackdown, what they would have found was an exceptionally enjoyable sandbox game, with an overpowered main character who was capable of leaping small buildings in a single bound, could cross from rooftop to rooftop in seconds, and would happily cause explosive, merry hell wherever he went, feeling pretty much like a superhero. Crackdown 2 comes to us using virtually the exact same formula as the first game, which proves to be both a good thing, and a bad thing.

Crackdown 2 is set 10 years after the original, and Pacific City finds itself with all sorts of troubles. A terrorist organisation known as The Cell has risen to power, and mutated “Freaks” roam the city freely at night, attacking anyone they come across. As a genetically enhanced Agent, you’re tasked with cleaning up the city on behalf of the Agency, by ridding the city of The Cell and using some advanced technology to eradicate the Freaks.

Just like in the original Crackdown, here you start as a moderately powered agent, capable of feats way above that of a normal human, but way below the level of “super” you can eventually become. You can jump higher, hit harder, aim more accurately, and are just generally more of a badass than anyone else. To improve your skills, you need to collect Orbs, which very quickly becomes the most fun part of the game.

You have 5 skills you can improve – Shooting, Agility, Strength, Explosives and Driving. If you kill an enemy with a gun, small orbs will appear which you’ll pick up automatically, giving you a small increase in your skill. The same will happen if you kill someone via an explosion, by beating them to death with your bare hands, or if you commit an act of vehicular violence. You can’t kill anyone with your agility however, so to make sure you can improve that skill as well, there are Agility Orbs hidden all over Pacific City, usually on very high places which will require some skill to get to. It’s in the collection of these Agility Orbs that Crackdown almost acts like crack cocaine, grabbing hold of you and refusing to let go. You’ll spot an orb on top of a nearby building and climb up to grab it, and as soon as you do, you’ll likely spot several more orbs off in various different directions. And so off you go, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, traversing the map and climbing to great heights, all to collect those small green orbs. And it’s incredibly satisfying.

Ruffian, despite not being the same team who made the first game (though they do contain several members of the original team from Real Time Worlds), obviously realised that it was in this collection mini game that most people spent their time, and have upped the ante for the sequel. Not only do the 500 Agility Orbs and 300 Hidden Orbs from the original game return, but they’re joined by some extra friends. There are now Renegade Orbs to collect, both on foot and in a car, and they’ll attempt to make things as difficult for you as possible by running away from you as you get close. Some are pretty easy to catch, but others will lead you on a merry dance for upwards of 10 minutes while you try to corner them and grab them. If you can master them, then there are also an additional 80 Online Orbs, which as the name suggests can only be grabbed while playing online with at least one friend. Rounding off the collectibles are the 52 Audio Logs, which help to flesh out the story a little as you manage to find them all.

It’s a good thing that those Audio Logs are in the game however, because the story, such as it is, really needs the help. As mentioned, the story revolves around your battle against The Cell and the Freaks, which basically involves you completing the same set of missions nine times. There is so little variety in the missions and what you have to accomplish, that the story quickly became little more than a minor distraction for me, something I did if I happened to stumble into the right area while Orb hunting or just causing destruction. It certainly didn’t pull me in to the point where I felt compelled to finish it, though the closer you get to the finale, you do start to get thrown a few curve balls that make you question a few things, and perhaps set up Crackdown 3 if it ever comes out.

If you don’t fancy taking on the campaign solo, you can invite up to 3 other friends into your world to cause as much mayhem as possible. While there are a few issues with having friends join in, such as no way of telling who is who while viewing the map, there is no denying just how much fun it for 4 people to run around the city laying waste to everything they come across. Bullets, rockets, bodies and vehicles will fly across the landscape as you all conduct your own symphony of violence. Working as a team can bring some fantastic results as you co-ordinate your attacks

One of the main problems with Crackdown 2, beyond the campaign, is to do with the setting. I loved Pacific City the first time out, and spent countless hours exploring it fully, trying to find all the orbs I could, and just enjoying leaping from building to building. It felt vibrant and it was a joy to explore it. Pacific City in Crackdown 2 has unfortunately lost some of its lustre. Battered and damaged from the recent terrorist actions, the once bustling city feels much more desolate, and it suffers for it. It also means that the exploration doesn’t have quite the same impact as the first game, as veterans will still know the city pretty much inside out, despite the changes. While I initially found it cool to go over old locations again, finding new paths to familiar spots, the charm wore off quite quickly and I was left longing for the more vibrant city from the first game.

It’s also not helped by how poorly the game looks and runs. While Crackdown was never a graphical tour de force, it had a unique look and a charm that made it appealing. Crackdown 2 looks quite similar on the surface, but it has some shoddy textures in place which can look quite bad in places, and when the screen is full of enemies, there is some noticeable slow down in places. The explosions do look quite good though, which they really needed considering making things blow up is one of the most fun things to do in the game.

Beyond the single player and co-op campaigns, the game offers a few choices for fans of the multiplayer side of things. There are games of deathmatch, team deathmatch, and Rocket Tag for up to 16 players at once, and they offer a pretty decent diversion from the main game if you feel you need a break from it. Some more choices here wouldn’t go amiss though, perhaps with multiplayer races, or Rooftop Battles for teams of Agents to compete in for the best times.

Final thoughts: Crackdown 2 is very much more of the same as the original. The orb collecting is still very much the main part of the game, and the majority of fun outside of this comes from treating the game as the sandbox it’s meant to be, exploring the map and causing destruction and mayhem wherever you go. The story, usually the main part of sandbox games, is pretty poor and will see you repeat the same set of missions over and over until the disappointing finish. Don’t let that put you off though. Crackdown 2 is still very much a fun game, with plenty to keep you occupied, and the orb collecting could easily be a game in itself, and I’d still buy it. If you liked the first game and fancy some more of the same, Crackdown 2 will serve you well.

Gameplay – 8: Plays very much like the original, which isn’t strictly a bad thing, but I’d like to see a little more innovation if they make a 3rd game.4 player co-op rocks though.

Graphics – 6: Quite possibly Crackdown 2’s weakest area. It looks uglier than the first game, and has some framerate issues. Decent explosions though.

Sound – 7: Most of the sounds are fairly average, though your Agency handler stands out, just as in the first game, for the gusto with which he delivers his lines.

Presentation – 6: A really poor and repetitive campaign blights what is otherwise a very enjoyable game.

Overall – 7: It’s perhaps more like Crackdown 1.5 instead of Crackdown 2, with so much being similar to the first game, even the setting. The campaign is a letdown, but the sandbox nature and the orb hunting go a long way to rescue it. By no means perfect, but still a very entertaining game.