When Crackdown first hit store shelves in 2007, it was something of an overlooked title. After all, the game came bundled with Halo 3 beta access, and that alone was enough to move units. A funny thing happened, though — all those players who picked up the game just for the Halo 3 beta started to realize that they also had a sweet little action title on hand. Positive word of mouth combined with one of the most effective demos to hit Xbox Live that year meant the previously unknown game suddenly had franchise potential.
Although a sequel seemed obvious, the path to the sequel wasn't always clear. The original developer, Realtime Worlds, had moved on to its next project APB and didn't have the staff to spare. Microsoft wanted to move forward, however, and since the software giant owned the Crackdown IP, it turned to startup Ruffian Games to develop Crackdown 2. A Scottish company, Ruffian Games was formed by members of the original Crackdown team.
Microsoft swung by to show off the game recently, but unlike most demo events, this one wasn't artificially limited. Sure, they made us promise not to divulge any story spoilers, but aside from that, we were on our own for a good two to three hours of gameplay. Controller in hand, we went forth, with no PR rep looking over our shoulder.
Set after the events of the first game, Crackdown 2 quickly makes it apparent that things have gone down the crapper since the last time you visited Pacific City. The Agency has been decimated, the city has had major sections destroyed, a terrorist group called The Cell wants to overthrow the government, and mutated humans known only as The Freaks (and oddly reminiscent of George Romero's classic zombies) simply want to eat everyone. Good times to be had all around.
As one of the überbuff new agency recruits, you're a manly man ready to do the hero thing. Sorry, ladies, no female player characters here. Crackdown 2 is testosterone-laden all the way. Once you settle on your look, there is a quick tutorial, and then it's off to do some killin'.
One of the more notable changes in Crackdown 2 is that it doesn't gate any part of the world via artificial means. Yes, there is a suggested order to missions. No, you don't have to follow that order if you don't feel like it. From the moment the game starts, you can explore where you want, when you want, and how you want. There are sure to be some natural obstacles early on, but those are all due to limitations of your character — not being able to jump high enough to reach a ledge — rather than artificial blocks, such as security gates that don't open until you've completed the previous level.
Developing your character's abilities so you can overcome any obstacles in your path is done much the same way as it was in the first. You progress your abilities by using them. Want to improve your driving skill? Jump in a car and drive around. Want to get a better gun ability? Grab a gat and get medieval on some Freak ass. Athletic ability is increased by colleting orbs, most of which are stationary, some of which you must chase around like a rabbit on crack.
Moving your character up the ability path is an important element of the Crackdown experience because the game really doesn't feel like Crackdown until you start feeling like a superhero. Jumps become bigger and more exaggerated, melee hits become stronger, and you make the transition from cop to supercop. As you power up, the world of Pacific City starts to feel a bit smaller, but it's then that you realize the city isn't just built out, but up. Pulling inspiration from the original, Crackdown 2 encourages vertical play, so expect to be climbing buildings and jumping into deep dark pits in no time. The progression in powers follows a natural curve, giving you plenty of time to adjust to new abilities as they are earned.
Gunplay in Crackdown 2 stood out due to the variety of weapons. Each of the guns actually felt as if it handled differently and had a distinct place in the game. For example, the UV gun utterly decimates The Freaks but merely pushes around the human Cell members. Knowing which gun to use in which situation is a matter of experimentation.
When you first start your Crackdown 2 session, the game allows you to set up a closed game or one that is open to co-op. Opening it up allows for up to four total players in a co-op game, but having the other players there doesn't seem to limit you in any way. If all four players want to do their own thing in opposite corners of the map, so be it. The game doesn't force you to team up if you don't want to. With that said, if you do team up with other players, taking down the larger enemy encampments is a wee bit easier.
Supporting the idea of a living world, Crackdown 2 has a regular day/night cycle. One hour of game time is equivalent to one minute of "real" time, so for every 24 minutes of play, one day will pass by in the game. During the day, The Cell roam the street and The Freaks retreat underground, but at night, The Freaks come out to play. If you're not careful, that can mean double trouble for an unsuspecting agent.
The vertical map design means there are plenty of places to explore in the story mode, but it also carries over into competitive multiplayer. With up to 16 players on a PvP map, you have to rethink deathmatch when everyone is shooting up and down.
One of the first deathmatch maps we tried was the site of the old Agency tower. It was slightly disorienting at first, though the group quickly started to get the hang of things. Weapons were plentiful, and strategically placed jump pads meant that moving up was almost as easy as moving down. Perhaps our only complaint here was that gravity worked a little too well. The first few matches had players dying from falls just as much as they were dying from getting shot. If Crackdown 2 had an option to eliminate fall damage during PvP, it would certainly be welcomed. Consider this at the top of our "most wanted" list.
Other maps that we played were a bit less forgiving in terms of vertical height, but all of them seemed to use jump pads to some degree. If you're used to the deathmatch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or Gears of War 2, then prepare to relearn everything you know. When you're dealing with this much vertical movement, traditional tactics simply don't work, and gameplay starts to feel even more frantic than usual.
All in all, we came away from Crackdown 2 with a very positive impression of the game. It maintains the look and feel of the original while at the same time expanding on the gameplay elements that made Crackdown stand out from the other sandbox games. As long as the activities stay varied and fresh as you progress through the story, Crackdown 2 shouldn't have much trouble pleasing its fans.
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