Okay, I admit it. Although I enjoyed Crackdown, and played it through thoroughly, I still can’t help feel it was a little overrated. Sure, the gameplay was fast, furious and addictive, and hunting for agility orbs may well become a sport of the future, but there’s no denying the core game was a little simplistic, with little in the way of real structure or variety.
I didn’t really mind this at the time, though, as I believed the original was more of a mere blueprint of a possible titanic series to come. Any further sequels would surely refine the formula, improve upon it and expand the mechanics to include more in depth activities and involved play. Wouldn’t they?
When snippets of info regarding the inevitable sequel were released, I, like the rest of the Xbox community, looked forward to beefing up my super human crime fighting powers and ramming cars into evil doers with more of an actual game to back the action up. I hoped for varied missions types, proper use of vehicles, more story, better multiplayer and generally tweaked stuff. Now that the sequel is with us, however, I have to say that I’m more than a little disappointed.
Crackdown 2 returns to the fictional Pacific City and players once again assume the role of an Agency super soldier tasked with rooting out the major problems plaguing the metropolis. Whilst the original game pitted players against three opposing factions, Crackdown 2 features only two: The Cell, a street gang militia that’s vowed to destroy the Agency, and the Freaks, mutated, zombie-like citizens of the city who were changed following events in one of the original game’s missions.
The Freaks are the major threat here, and the main story, if you can call it that, deals with this. Your main goal is to find various generators to power several special bombs that can destroy Freak nests. Along the way you can take back strongholds from the Cell, giving you more deployment areas, and there’s the staple Crackdown side activities, like street races, rooftop races and, of course, the OCD-friendly diversion that is Agility orb collecting.
Crackdown fans will, no doubt, be wondering why my review so far has sounded a little jaded, as this all sounds good, and to be fair, Crackdown 2 does what it sets out to do very well. The problem is that Crackdown 2 only attempts to do exactly what the original Crackdown did, and little more. This isn’t so much Crackdown 1.5, but more like 1.1.5. The amount of new content is sparse, at best, and the core gameplay is totally unchanged. This isn’t good for a game that many had high hopes for.
The changes made are all welcome, though, and although small, they do help to enhance the experience from the original. The most notable changes include the usual extra weapons, vehicles and enemies, as well as the addition of renegade orbs, which are tricky little devils and actually run away from you as you try to collect them. There’s also the much-improved multiplayer.
As in the original game, Crackdown 2 features co-op play, but this time you can team up with three friends in four-player co-op, and there’s now proper PvP competitive play for up to 16 players.
And that’s it, really! The rest of the game is ripped directly from the original. Controls are the same, moves are the same (save a new glide move when you boost agility high enough), and some of the cool features from the first game have even been removed.
Gone are the transforming Agency vehicles, gone is the Agency tower Hub system, and, although I’m no graphics whore and will never condemn a game purely based on visual quality, Crackdown 2 actually looks worse than its predecessor.
Vehicle and character models are good, but structures can be bland, plain and ugly, and the explosions (which you’ll be seeing a lot), are just plain rubbish. The game does look the part when you’re jumping through the cityscape at speed, but up close and personal, the flaws being to show.
Luckily, despite the lack the any real improvements and some slight steps back in terms of tech and features, Crackdown 2 is still a blast to play. Collecting agility orbs is as addictive as ever, and the urge to get that last difficult orb before you call it a night is still there. The renegade orbs add to this, and some of them can be a total pain in the rump to grab, adding to the challenge.
The combat is good too, although melee is still hit and miss, with no real lock on system. Ranged combat is meaty, despite an annoying auto-aiming system that often tags the wrong target, and the weapons you grab hold of all feel about right. It’s still a blast to pick up random objects and hurl them at speed at groups of enemies, and you can even grab objects to use as makeshift weapons, adding to the variety of squashing your foes.
Your skill progression, as in the original, is powered by orb collecting (mainly for agility), and actually performing actions, like killing enemies with guns or explosives, or winning races in cars or on foot, will contribute to your development. However, the rewards for this time invested are slightly different. Agility improves your speed and jumping (and eventually grants access to a helicopter) whilst weapons and driving skills now simply grant access to more vehicles and boomsticks to dole out justice with.
As I mentioned earlier, the cool morphing vehicles are gone, and the Agency wheels are single form offerings. They’re all useful, though, and include a mini-gun toting buggy, speedy, road-hugging supercar and heavy tank. You can also use other civilian vehicles but, sadly, aside from vehicle races and getting from point A to B, there’s little use for them. The latter of these uses is not as important as you may think either, as you’ll be spending a lot of time running on foot through the city looking for orbs. I was hoping for more substantial integration of vehicles into the main game, but this isn’t the case.
Other niggles are retained form the original, too, chief of which is the amazingly grating and non-stop guff from your Agency handler. It won’t be long after you start playing that you’ll wish the guy would just shut the hell up and, although you can turn him off, this can stop you hearing some important information, so you’ve not really got much choice but to suffer through his endless babble.
It’s also often difficult to tell which structures you can actually grab onto when scaling tall buildings. Sometimes a ledge that you think is clearly there to be grabbed is actually impossible to cling to, causing you to drop to the ground in frustration. Even ledges that can be grabbed are sometimes missed, which is just plain sloppy, and is particularly annoying when you’re in the middle of a rooftop race or trying to grab a troublesome renegade orb.
Let me be clear, though, despite these niggles and the lack of any substantial original content, Crackdown 2 is a very enjoyable and addictive game. If you loved the first game, you’ll still get a thrill out of this. The single-player isn’t all that long, but is always fun, and the enhanced multiplayer should give the game some longevity, particularly the four-player co-op, which is, no doubt, where Crackdown 2’s online legs are strongest.
As fun as the game is, though, it’s hard to shake the feeling of disappointment. Crackdown 2 could, and should have been a total AAA hit. It should have sported a ton of improvements, and a title of this calibre at this stage of the 360’s lifecycle really should be better. There’s no real, plausible excuse for the lack of new content either, as Ruffian already had a head start with the original game engine.
Crackdown 2 is a good, solid game taken on its own merits, but as a sequel, it’s pretty poor, and the devs really should have tried harder. If you still hear the pulse of agility orbs calling you, you’ll be happy as a pig in mud, but don’t expect much in the way of surprises.
Crackdown 2 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.