Crackdown 2
Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4 co-op, 2-16 multiplayer
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The first Crackdown came out of nowhere, despite the big market for sandbox games at the time of its release. Microsoft were so worried about sales for the cel-shaded supercop bang-jump-boom-fest that they packaged it as the only way to access the Halo 3 beta. How they underestimated demand. It was great fun due to its accessibility, jumping in and out (literally) of a tongue-in-cheek right wing world to stop crime with everything turned up to 11 without going as far as making you a proper superhero “Agent.”

Developers Ruffian have gone with the "if it 'aint broke" formula and given us bucket loads more of the same in Crackdown 2, but has it paid off?

Crackdown is still set in the same fictional Pacific City, after the events of the first game. The gangs are all gone but something's gone terribly wrong. Terrorists called 'Cell' (who seem to consist of hippies and homeless bums with machine guns revolting against the Agency's heavy-handed rule) control the streets by day, and by night the city is infested with 'Freaks', members of the city mutated by a strange disease who now live underground.

The decision to set the game in the same city (running the same engine) is a bold one but rumours are it was forced on the developers due to time constraints–they’ve been busy getting PC game APB (All Points Bulletin) onto the shelves after all. All the same buildings are present from Crackdown, so the place will feel familiar to veterans of the first game. Things have been changed about quite drastically though, as the world now has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, with 10-foot high roadblocks up in the streets and massive structural damage to much of the environment. The observatory has been almost obliterated and only half of it still stands, some of the massive gas silos have collapsed in on themselves so you can't run from roof-to-roof anymore and almost every bridge out to the remote (once 'boss') areas have been demolished.

The graphics look okay but it's been a while since Crackdown (three and a half years) and while other games have advanced massively graphically this hasn't. Granted, it looks more polished than before and it can handle stuffing loads of enemies on-screen simultaneously and you can now fly helicopters and see the city form great heights without scaling buildings first, but there's nothing really stretching the game more than any other. The draw distances are nice but so are Just Cause 2's, there's environment detail and stuff being blown around like Red Faction, or even Far Cry 2 and you still get quite a bit of slowdown when a few enemies start firing rocket launchers, which they like to do quite a lot.

What you garner from the plot in the first five minutes of play is about as deep as you're going to get in Crackdown 2–there is no characterisation, no plot twists (really) and no real 'baddie' to go after. The game is geared towards amplifying the popular elements of the previous game–collecting orbs, levelling up your various abilities, and trying to keep the annoying narrator/control guy (who constantly tells you what to do and nags you if you don't do it correctly) as quiet as possible. There's nothing wrong with guiding the gamer in the right direction and having a "radio contact" telling you what to do, but this guy takes both the biscuit and the mickey and his unhelpful comments and unfunny sarcasm will get on your nerves long before the end of the campaign.

The missions are essentially a long string of side-missions you can complete inbetween orb collection and running about throwing cars off skyscraper roofs-your main objectives are to take control of three generators in each area in order to activate a beacon which kills all 'Freaks' in the area. As well as that you have to seal all trenches which the Freaks use to get up to the surface and also clear out Cell strongholds.

These rarely take more than a minute or two to complete and require no more strategy than being able to jump high enough and own a rocket launcher–there really is no tactical challenge or variety in any of the tasks set out for you and towards the end it does feel like a slog to complete everything rather than get to or achieve something.

It feels like the developers would much rather have just had the entire game be about collecting orbs and mucking about but felt they must put something in to break it up and give the game some sort of plot. It also means that, unlike story-led sandbox games, you're less compelled to play this over something else–without being unkind Crackdown 2 is brainless (if addictive) entertainment and probably something you’ll play in short bursts while doing something else in the background.

C2's co-op has been expanded to four players, but I've had trouble getting more than two in a room together, so it really doesn't seem much different from before. From a mission perspective, on the normal setting they get fairly tough for one person to handle towards the end, but with just one person around the same level as you helping out it's pretty easy, so it wouldn't be worth playing with more than two anyway. Online-only orbs give you and your fellow agents something else to collect and feel like shameless lifespan-padding.

There are a couple of glaring issues that haven't been addressed to make co-op a little easier, the first being the map is pretty unhelpful and there's no waypoint system to either mark out a location you want to go to, or to find your partner(s) easily. Also there is a wealth of vehicles you can ride around in but only a couple of them even let two people in, let alone let the second person do something such as operate a weapon. One-man tanks and choppers, seriously? We really needed something extra to play around with in co-op as the single-player equipment just didn't cut it.

There is also a multiplayer mode for up to 16 people team or solo deathmatches but rather unsurprisingly it feels like not much work has gone into it. The games are a mad dash to the location of a helicopter or rocket launcher (which people have now memorised) after which they will never lose, as lock-on targeting is still active in the multiplayer games, and makes the various rocket launchers completely lethal, and familiarity with the weapon spawn points vital.

The orbs and levelling-up has been left largely unchanged since last time; punch people to get stronger, run people over to get better driving skills (ironically), shoot people to get better gun skills and jump around to run faster and jump higher. All can be levelled up killing the hordes of Freaks or Cell around at day or night and fall within the normal gameplay with the exception of Agility.

If you haven't played the last game collecting Agility Orbs was the highlight for quite a few people and, for the most part, great fun. In this new Pacific City environment green orbs are placed in the most hard-to-get areas, usually as high-up on the map as you can get. This means scaling some of the massive skyscrapers in order to get to them, usually following a semi-subconscious route which the developers are guiding you down, via a breadcrumb trail of orbs up to the big daddy. Buildings are often unscalable until you reach a certain level of agility, and may need to be jumped to from adjacent structures.

This has been made much more challenging this time due to the shift in landscape from pristine buildings and bridges to dilapidated tower blocks and collapsed buildings. Gone are your previous easy ascents from the last game and you now need a new way to conquer each urban mountain. Sometimes it's been made easier, like with one building which has split in half leaving each floor exposed, which can now be scaled easily, but generally it's a lot tougher to get those orbs.

In addition to the Agility orbs, rooftop/road races and stunt rings, C2 has a new way to 'challenge' the player; Rogue Driving and Agility Orbs. These hang around in a certain place and once you start chasing them go absolutely mental! They float along, evading your every move, changing direction multiple times, speed up, slow down and pretty much do everything to stop you from catching them. These are probably the most frustrating element of the game, especially as the camera isn't designed to help you when changing direction quickly, but you constantly find yourself going back for more until you've ‘caught the sucker,’ when you can breathe a sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back (and in our Editor’s case, then apologise to everyone in the place for all the cussing and swearing.)

As the game is almost the same as the original it still carries the same problems, none of which have been rectified, and some of which can be game-breakers for the less patient or tolerant player.

To get within reach of Agility orbs, you need to climb up the side of most buildings, which conveniently have a row of windowsills for you to grab on and jump up. However the game is incredibly inconsistent in deciding what ledges are grab-able and which aren't, to the extent that while scaling a building the same windows suddenly wouldn't let me grab them, meaning I fell 100ft to my death! Add to this the number of buildings that have overhanging ledges (that you’ll bang your head on) and finding your way to the top of many can be a frustrating and annoying task.

One of the game’s biggest problems is that camera, which is still a pain and sits too close to the character, especially when manoeuvring in a car or on-foot, and flips erratically when you use the auto-aim. Ruffian really needed to code some AI into it so it would zoom out when climbing or rooftop racing or at least give the player the ability to zoom it in and out manually in order to give a more suitable view of the action.

The aiming is still annoyingly broken, where it'll target peacekeepers, cars, civilians, dustbins and pretty much anything else around other than the bad guys shooting at you! This is highly frustrating, especially in the later levels where they all have lock-on rapid fire rocket launchers–frequently if your reactions aren’t quick enough and you don’t see them and take them out first or bound away to safety you’ll be knocked to the ground and pinned to the floor and pounded with rocket fire until you're dead...

Although there are a couple of cool additions to the driving capabilities this year (the jump ability of the buggy and jump & wall climb function of the Agency SUV make them great fun) the vehicles aren't all that great, and the Agency vehicles are the best in Pacific City. Cell cars all handle like their wheels are made of jelly and there's no point stealing a civilian car. Ever. And once you've levelled up a couple of times you can jump twice as fast as driving, so a whole section of the game becomes completely redundant.

Crackdown 2 doesn't feel like a sequel, more of a 1.1 or data disk add-on. Its campaign story is short, set in the same place with the basically the same graphics and has no real substance except a load more collecting, jumping about and generally making your own fun. It also hasn't improved on any of the problems of the original so after three years in game-inflation terms this is a step backward. We would really have liked Ruffian to take the game a step further and give us some crazy devices to play with-gravity guns, magnetic boots and a rocket pack were a few suggested that would make the sandbox element a lot more fun.

What you think of Crackdown 2 really does depend on your perspective and what you want from this game. Collecting orbs is just as fun as ever, you can have masses of fun power sliding through hundreds of 'Freaks' in a sports car, or sticking two cars together with a mag grenade. Sadly the whole game leaves you wanting something more, and despite having a lot more explosions and enemies even what should have been a couple of extremely cool toys (the wingsuit and the tank) are huge disappointments. But like an empty cardboard box as a kid, the fun is in what you make you make of it. And a little imagination can go a long way in Pacific City...

Best Bits

- More Orbs!
- Less talking to get in the way of shooting stuff!
Worst Bits

- Very little substance.
- More about collecting things than blowing stuff up.
- Same cel-shaded environment.
- Broken camera and t—argeting system.
- Bad collision/environment detection and clipping.
- Frustration seems built-in.
- That annoying narrator is back, and even more critical than before.

by: Crazypunk

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