Crackdown 2 Review
Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox 360 Only
Orbs! Orbs! Orrrrbbbbbssss…OORRRRRBBBBBSSSS! Ahem, sorry about that. The original Crackdown was released with little or no fanfare, overshadowed by the fact that it included a beta for Halo 3. However, thanks in no small part to that Halo factor, the game enjoyed becoming one of the fabled “cult classics”. Despite many flaws and plenty of the open world nastiness that you always get with games of that size, the high praise is fairly justifiable.
Few games can boast the amount of fun you have in a Crackdown session, and now with members of the previous development team, rebuilding Pacific City from the ground up for the sequel and upping the ante with 4 player drop in/drop out co-operative gameplay plus new multiplayer modes, it’s safe to say that most people are hoping Crackdown 2 can live up to its predecessors standards. Does it manage to do exactly that? Read on for the full review.
STORY: Pacific City is teetering on the abyss of ruin, set many years after the first game took place (and later in the story this, and the agent from the first game are actually referred to) the Agency is struggling with just the one gang this time, namely Cell. Much like the first game the fight is very much being taken to the streets and chaos is everywhere. The twist in Crackdown 2 is that some kind of virus has taken hold of Pacific City and at nightfall, the “Freaks” come out to play.
Battling Cell and the Freaks all at the same time, you are attempting to create an antidote of sorts, the Freaks don’t like UV light and you are creating a weapon (Project Sunburst) to destroy them once and for all. You need to infiltrate the freak lairs and detonate these project sunburts bombs, though in truth, much like the first game, the story is wafer thin. A nice opening cut-scene sets the game up fairly well, but the rest of the narrative is done by the agency handler from the previous game. He seems to have gotten more talkative though in the years that have passed and frankly at times he won’t shut up!
GRAPHICS: On first look it can actually seems like the visuals were worse than the first game, but as you grow accustomed to them, you realise they really aren’t that bad. Sure, there are better looking open world games out there (Read Dead Redemption, as reviewed here) but on the whole, it’s an okay looking game that holds up most of the time in extremely over the top explosive situations. You probably will encounter some slow-down as the game gets more hectic, but honestly, when you get that slow-down, the amount of explosions and the volume of things happening…well…I can’t say “it’s acceptable” but honestly, you probably won’t mind it.
Everything looks like it should, which is to say, everything looks like it did in the first Crackdown, but with a more deteriorated look to it. Pacific Island is near identical to the first game, but with the below ground level freak lairs added to it. Don’t expect mind blowing visuals, this game isn’t about that, and more often than not you’ll be looking at fairly average looking textures. The game also feels very dark and drab, something the first game didn’t suffer from.
SOUND: Crackdown was a hugely under-rated game sound wise, the general ambience of Pacific City was phenomenal, it truly was a living, breathing city. Crackdown 2 continues with the excellent audio, once again the city is alive as you leap and bound around it. The other agency henchmen will rib you, the Cell gang members will abuse you, the residents of the city will…well, abuse you as well actually. The freaks will vomit acid behind you, truly this is a game that benefits from a nice surround sound setup!
GAMEPLAY: Crackdown is a fine name for the game, since collecting orbs is like taking crack…..addictive as hell! The original game had me buy it three times before I finally found that last agility orb, 2 years later. If you’ve played Crackdown then really, the gameplay doesn’t diverge much from that blueprint at all. You are a super-powered agent running around with a multitude of guns, grenades and vehicles all used to rain the pain down on your enemy. Skills for kills is the motto here, whatever skill you use, you are rewarded with points for that skill. Strength, agility, explosions, vehicles and guns are the order of the day again.
You level up in much the same way as the first game, 5 levels of ability then you can take that 5 to it’s max (though there is no real bonus for doing so other than an achievement) and it may be just me, but I felt like I levelled up much quicker than in the first game. I put this down to the feaks though as standing in a massive crowd (and they really are huge in number at times) and punching them for “strength” is a quick way to advance your skills. Likewise, throwing grenades or shooting rockets from a distance into a crowd of freaks is a quick way to get “explosives” XP and mowing them down in a vehicle (something that feels very reminiscent of Dead Rising) will get you “vehicle” XP.
On the subject of vehicles, the handling is a bit better but in truth some of the vehicles (Cell ones especially) are just appalling to drive. Also, they don’t level up the way they did in the first game. In this title as you level up your vehicle skills, new vehicles are unlocked for you, and you can request them to be dropped (via helicopter no less!) to use. Each vehicle has a certain skill but only the one. The same can be said of the guns levelling up, as you do so, more guns unlock for you to use and boy, you will need them later on.
Lessons have been learned from the previous game though and indeed from the stellar PS3 title “inFAMOUS”. You won’t end up tearing your hair out trying to find orbs this time around as the ability to “ping” your location has been “borrowed” from the aforementioned inFAMOUS. This doesn’t feel a cop out though as you’ll only use it when you really need it and in truth, getting to the highest agility level really isn’t very difficult. As you hit the max levels of each skill this time around a new ability is unlocked, for example, agility gives you a wing suit and strength gives you a ground pound. This does add something to the game, giving you a tactical edge as the game gets harder.
Where the gameplay falls down though is plain and simple lack of variety. Side missions consist of closing freak breaches and doing all the things you did in the first game (orb hunting, stunt rings, rooftop races, street races) but with added types for for the new abilities (wing suit courses for example) but honestly, you may well get an overwhelming feeling of “been there, done that” whilst playing Crackdown 2. In the main story missions the variety is even worse. Initially there are two types, firstly you take over a stronghold which consists of killing a set number of enemies. Secondly there are project sunburst sites (usually in reasonably close vicinities to the stronghold locations) which you clear out and sit on a sensor to activate it. You do three of these sunburst sites which unlocks an underground section whereby you have to protect the sunburst beacon which after a set time, will detonate. You repeat these tasks to progress the story, and there are 9 underground lairs…and frankly, by the end you will be fed up of doing so.
Co-operative online gameplay changes everything though, even the mundane becomes fun. That’s not to say you can’t play the game on your own, but it’s certainly more fun with friends. As per usually with an Xbox 360 title, I’d advise against playing with random LIVE users though, unless you want a frustrating time because you’ve just received a rocket up the jacksy for the ninth time whilst trying to progress the story. However, all you griefers out there will adore being the annoying one that spams rocket lauchers all the time. The few deathmatch variants on offer probably won’t keep anyone interested for very long and most people will probably revert back to co-op with friends fairly quickly.
There are even special “Xbox LIVE” orbs you can only collect when playing online with a friend. On the subject of orbs, the usual agility and hidden ones are still here, but new to the series are “Renegade Orbs”. Quite frankly, the creator of these has a special place in hell reserved for them. These orbs…they run away from you! There are agility and driving variants and when you spot them, they run away from you! Some of them are just plain evil to catch up with, especially early in the game.
LONGEVITY: Hunting the orbs and doing everything the games has to offer will probably take upwards of 15 hours, which seems a little short compared to the first title, but that’s the price to pay for having a “ping” to find everything. Plenty of orbs and collectible audio files litter the game though, and you’ll almost certainly get your moneys worth out of Crackdown 2.
Achievement wise, the game isn’t nearly as inventive as the first game, most of the achievements in Crackdown 2 you’ll get just from playing the game naturally. There are a few funky ones (4 player death bus through a stunt ring) but mostly they feel serviceable.
The meat of the game will almost certainly be found in playing with friends and just messing around, but how long that will hold your interest for is going to be a matter of personal opinion. Also, there are at least two DLC packs to come made obvious because there are avatar awards for playing them.
VERDICT: Crackdown 2 is great fun, however, it suffers massively from being too similar to the first game. Perhaps this is a little harsh, but a wing suit, freaks (zombies really) and moving all the orbs around are really all the sequel amounts to in terms of gameplay changes. It’s still massive amounts of fun with friends but the game is bogged down with repetition.
Yet again, the story is a massive let down. Personally, I’m not sure it’s acceptable to just paper over that crack and say “it’s not about the story” because a servicable story could be in here and you could still have the raucous fun after everything is tied up, but even the gang dossiers are gone in favour of collectible audio files. In all honestly, the story is unacceptably light. At times it feels as though too much fan-service is being paid as well, with the agency handler becoming, frankly, irritating after a few hours.
If you haven’t played the first game then this is probably the time to jump in (with the caveats previously mentioned; terrible story, incredibly repetitive gameplay) but to veteran Crackdown players, whilst the game is still enormous fun, if you don’t go into it expecting a gameplay revolution, perhaps a gentle suggestion is in order – try the demo before you jump back into Pacific City.