Most gamers picked up the original Crackdown for the promise of a Halo 3 beta code, only to be pleasantly surprised that the actual game was a ton of fun. Countless fans fondly recall bounding around Pacific City while gunning down gangs and, most importantly, snagging precious agility orbs. Many people are extremely excited to see the return of that classic gameplay, but while it generally works, there are a few misfires that prevent Crackdown 2 from reaching the level of the original.
Crackdown 2 is set a decade after its predecessor, and Pacific City has definitely seen better days. A terrorist group known as the Cell has the Agency on its heels, and the Freaks — mutated, flesh-eating monsters that were released during the first game — have massively repopulated and overrun the city. The Agency finally has its cloning program back on track, and players must take on the role of a brand-new agent as he sets out to eradicate the Freaks and turn the tide against the Cell.
In order to learn even that much of the plot, players are going to have to turn to the Internet, as Crackdown 2 has very little story development. Aside from a short briefing at the outset, there are no cut scenes or moments of dialogue in the main story line to explain what's going on. The game takes the BioShock approach to storytelling by scattering audio logs around the city. The plot starts out strong and has promise, but the various plot threads are never properly resolved. They're drawn out, teased and then promptly ignored in order to give us an ending that wraps up a little too neatly.
Of course, people who are playing Crackdown care more about blowing stuff up and climbing huge buildings. In this respect, the game absolutely delivers, and it won't be long before you feel the obsessive need to hunt for agility orbs. All of the other upgradeable attributes are back as well, and your average agent will quickly become a massive, near-godly, super-powered agent. Anyone looking to wreak havoc in a sandbox will be greatly pleased, as Crackdown 2 delivers the over-the-top action at all times.
All that jumping and shooting wouldn't be that fun if the city looked the same as before, but the environmental design team has done a great job making Pacific City feel familiar yet completely different. The last 10 years haven't been kind to the town, and the constant struggles between the Freaks, Cell and Agency have really taken their toll on the architecture. Buildings are crumbling, hasty barricades have been erected to denote possession, and dangerous underground Freak layers spell disaster for anyone who's unfortunate enough to stumble into them. Many will stop and marvel upon returning to familiar sights that are hardly recognizable. The thrill of discovery makes it too important to spoil here, but make sure to take the time to revisit old haunts and soak up what the slow march of time (and the scars of urban warfare) has done to these once-familiar locales.
What better way to experience this new landscape than with a friend or three? The biggest inclusion in Crackdown 2 and the feature that has most people talking is the multiplayer. Ruffian has included both online competitive and co-op, allowing 16 agents to go head-to-head or four to join forces and clean up Pacific City. Competitive multiplayer is nothing special, but the drop-in, drop-out co-op is a worthy inclusion. Any player can start a mission anywhere in the host's game, but that doesn't mean everyone is forced to come and take part in that task. In fact, the entire crew is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, sewing their own brand of justice and chaos throughout the land. Also, experience earned and weapons unlocked in someone else's game transfer back to your own, so there's no need to worry about lost progress. The downside is that mission progress doesn't transfer the same way agility orbs do, but that's a minor complaint.
Unfortunately, when it comes to combat and missions, the newly redesigned territory goes to waste, as nearly all objectives boil down to shooting everything that moves, sometimes while protecting a device the enemy is looking to tear to shreds. Crackdown 2 is, if possible, more shallow than the original, totally dumping any pretext of strategy or infiltration in favor of pure action. In the original game, players who had worked on their agility could often sneak into enemy strongholds through lightly defended alternative routes, but this time around, all of the objectives basically come down to capture and hold. That means that as soon as the assault starts, all the enemies in the area will know exactly where you are, and the game always rewards superior firepower over strategic combat. While mindless action can be fun for a while, there is no variety to the gameplay of Crackdown 2.
Not helping matters is the uninspired enemy design that makes the baddies feel like little more than rejects from other, better games. The Cell soldiers are just rank-and-file goons with guns, augmented by a few heavy troopers bearing chain guns and rocket launchers. It's nothing that players haven't seen before. Worse are the Freaks, who feel like they were ripped straight out of the Left 4 Dead series without a second thought. Though the Freaks have their own "Crackdown" names, most will identify them as "Boomers, Spitters and Tanks" within the first hour.
Visually, Crackdown 2 looks similar to the original, though it tones down some of the cel-shading aspects and puts more characters on the screen at once. That latter bit looks great when it works, but it often leads to noticeable slowdown, especially if there are a lot of explosions going off at once. If you add a rocket launcher to numerous crowds of Freaks, be prepared for a noticeable drop in the frame rate.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the fact that every story-based and side mission in Crackdown 2 can be completed in six to eight hours. After that point, all that's really left is tracking down agility orbs or completing races, but those activities grow old quickly without any other content to break the monotony. The original Crackdown was a slow burn, gradually opening up new territories and providing new challenges in order to stretch the content over an extended period; the sequel takes a completely opposite approach, unlocking the entire city from the get-go and turning players loose. This method ultimately exposes the dearth of content in Crackdown 2, and many gamers are going to find that they can beat all of the missions in a weekend.
For multiplayer, Crackdown 2 offers up the requisite game modes, with death match, team death match and rocket tag taking center stage. Running around the city with overpowered player characters, maxed-out weapons and a collection of jump pads randomly strewn about the level is loads of fun, though we're not too sure if strategy will ever come into play. Much like the story mode, multiplayer in Crackdown 2 is focused on blowing up everyone and everything that isn't you. What's here is likely to keep Crackdown 2 players busy for a while, but don't expect it to compete with the competitive multiplayer lobbies of Halo 3 or Modern Warfare 2.
Perhaps the best summary for Crackdown 2 is to say that it's essentially Crackdown with zombies and co-op. Initially, that sounds like the greatest game ever, but the real picture isn't quite so rosy. A newly designed city and seamless co-op aren't enough to overcome the game's ho-hum missions or general lack of content. Special mention should also be made of the "renegade orbs," which actually run away from you as you chase them. Ultimately, Crackdown 2 is a fun, but flawed experience that provides a solid diversion for a few hours but doesn't fall into the realm of "must have." Much like a summer blockbuster at your local movie theater, this is a game that is best enjoyed when you check your brain at the door and just enjoy the explosions.
Adam Pavlacka also contributed to this review.
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