The original Crackdown could be described as fun in a sandbox... filled with explosives. It gave us a superhuman character that could leap over buildings, throw vehicles around, shoot a guy in the face from a thousand feet and run like a whippet. It was a ludicrously enjoyable alternative to the more serious GTA franchise. But the original did have some faults, such as an unbalanced learning curve, a repetitive mission structure and a poor script.
Strangely, Crackdown 2 doesn’t really improve on these aspects. The game still features a ruthless beginner difficulty and dialogue that makes you want to hurt poor defenceless animals. But there are improvements in Crackdown 2 in other areas that help make this a worthy purchase for fans of the original.
One of the best things about Crackdown is that it wastes no time in throwing players deep into the action. The pace in this sequel is no different, opening up with a manic montage of news footage showing Pacific City in chaos. Snippets of headlines and breaking news of terrorism acts, gruesome deaths of civilians by “some sort of creature” and corruption conspiracies about the law-enforcement Agency litter the screen as your prologue to the story.
From here, you are lead through a clumsy but effective tutorial showing you the basics of gameplay. All throughout the game, you’ll be guided (and abused) by the irritating baritone “voice” that players of the original will either love or hate. He’s the guy that keeps spouting out gems like "skill for kills Agent" and “You collected your first renegade agility orb. Achievement!”. But the cheesy dialogue is a big part of the charm of the Crackdown series and it still brought a grin to my face when I heard him say “Welcome back Agent”.
The tutorial sequence is brief and runs you through basic movement, jumping, shooting, close combat fighting and then driving. It’s purely for new players to the franchise as the controls and game dynamics haven’t changed at all since the original. Before long you’ll be thrust into a city swarming with crime, ready for you to deliver your heavy size 16 boot of bloody justice to any wrong-doers.
And a lot of bad stuff has been happening in Pacific City since you were last on active duty. A terrorism outfit known as The Cell have taken over most of the city’s infrastructure, bringing their reign of power to very nearly rival that of the Agency. But the Agency now have you, and thanks to genetic engineering, you’re stronger, faster, meaner and more badass than any other normal human. However you’re not the only genetic freak on the streets. A virus known as The Freak Virus is responsible for... well a whole lot of freaks. I really hope the guy who names things over at Ruffian studios doesn’t get much more work with this sort of genius. But it’s explainable when you find out that these “Freaks” are equally unoriginal and basically just mutated zombies. They only appear at night and transform the city into a living nightmare after dusk as they prowl around in huge numbers in their efforts to claw your brains out. Until your Agent is skilled enough, these ruthless killers can be a real nuisance in your efforts against crime.
The lacklustre story (if we can even call it that) is compensated by Crackdown 2’s primary feature, which I’ve called “Fun-Factor 3000+”. The “cheestastic” nature of the script only compliments the brightly coloured, cell-shaded and comic-book nature of the game. Tearing around town in your super-car, beating up goons and leaping from rooftop to rooftop is still a blast. There is seldom a dull moment in the game, whether you are street racing, scaling a 40 story building with your bare hands, saving a citizen from a horde of zombies all the while being constantly peppered with gun-fire from nearby Cell units. You can even while away many an hour just trying to reach the multiple green agility orbs scattered around the city, each one rewarding you with improved jumping and running attributes. Crackdown 2 also introduces a new type of orb known as renegade orbs that scamper away from you forcing you to pursue them in a palm-sweat inducing chase. Renegade agility orbs will flutter around from building to building causing you to take death-defying leaps in your efforts to grab them. There are even driving renegade orbs that duck in between alley-ways and take sharp 90 degree corners to test your skills behind the wheel.
The shooting mechanics have been tweaked as well but still allow the player to target particular parts of the enemy such as the arms, legs, torso and head. You can disarm or take down enemies by aiming for their exterior limbs but truth be told, most of the weapons in Crackdown 2 are so devastating it doesn’t really matter what part you aim for. Shotguns and rocket-launchers spray everywhere and make mince-meat of anything in their path. Just trying to find their arms afterwards is impossible. This can be a serious problem considering how crowded the streets are and how easy it can be to accidentally make a few civilians or fellow police officers a bit crispy on the outside. Every casualty has a negative repercussion too, such as decreasing your attributes or the police turning against you in swarms. It takes a lot of care to be a good Agent as even just driving from A to B can result in a couple of hundred dead civilians who manage to throw themselves under your bonnet.
It’s not just the streets that are crowded at times either. Your HUD radar seems to be constantly filled with flashing, colourful beacons and areas of interest. It can be difficult to tell what’s what as new blips appear in all directions. At least you always know you have plenty to do. Adding to the eye-watering amount of stuff happening on-screen are large text overlays that manage to cover up half the screen whenever you do something, even if you’re driving or trying to stay alive and dodge bullets. The game does suffer from some poorly designed menus and on-screen devices that bring down the presentation of the game a few notches. It doesn’t help that the graphics in Crackdown 2 are looking a bit dated with very little change since we last saw them back in 2007. It was also a shame to see that there were only four male face templates for your agent as well. Agreed that for most of the game, they’re covered up with classy helmets but isn’t it about time we had a female Agent?
Instead, the developers at Ruffian have better spent their time in packing in more tits-out action into Crackdown 2. The weapons, including UV light grenades and sniper rifles add some great variety to your modus operandi. The vehicle selection has been improved for the better and even includes a fully-armed Agency Helicopter. Most land vehicles can be fitted with destructive gun turrets as well. Sadly though, I couldn’t find any sign of motorbikes, something many were expecting since the first game omitted them. Your Agent has some new tricks up his sleeve thanks to his new armoured suit, which can include an expandable glider to allow you to soar from the numerous skyscrapers around Pacific City. With all of the Agent’s surroundings and gear constantly upgrading and evolving as you progress through the game, Crackdown 2 builds and builds on your abilities until you feel God-like. Or maybe like Batman wearing Superman’s pants.
On top of this single-player experience, the game also delivers some juicy multiplayer goodness too. Crackdown 2 brings a well put together 4 player co-operative mode where a team of agents get together to bust some skulls and reclaim areas of the city. The game also features competitive 16-player multiplayer modes including team death-match and Rocket Tag, but finding a full lobby of players prior to the global official launch was impossible. We’re not 100% sure if Ruffian games have ironed out some of the lag issues, as even across system-link the original had some network problems trying to keep up with the other. No doubt we’ll find out soon enough when the game lands later this week.
Overall Crackdown 2 is a bucket load of Fun with a capital F. In fact, it could even be “phun” with a big phat “ph”. The graphics certainly aren’t going to win any awards but they do the job and more importantly, allow for a huge amount of action on screen at once. Little gameplay tweaks will feel like welcome additions to fans of the original and even newcomers with a taste for carnage will get a serious kick out of this. Yet while the first Crackdown was refreshing and exciting, this sequel does have a serious vibe of déjà-vu throughout. While playing you can’t help but think how awesome a completely remodelled Crackdown 3 could be, taking the same gameplay elements and building a new engine to rival Rockstar’s latest achievements. But until that time this game will fill the void for “crack heads” everywhere.
Sorry...that reference was pretty damn awful. I feel dirty.