Crackdown 2 follows the tried and true formula that made the first game so addictive, while still managing to crank things up quite considerably. The core gameplay experience remains intact, with a few neat little gems that only further enhance the experience. However, this sequel is brought down quite considerably by its downfalls, namely its non-existent story, broken aiming system and repetitive gameplay. At the end of the day, Crackdown 2 will please fans of the original and then some, but anyone not overly impressed by the predecessor’s layout won’t find much to enjoy with this sequel.
Crackdown 2 takes place in Pacific City, a town where urban warfare runs rampant thanks to the insurgence of the Cell, an organized crime bracket hell-bent on taking down the city’s main law enforcement, The Agency. During the day it’s peacekeepers taking on gang members, but once the sun sets, mutants infest the streets, looking for vulnerable citizens to feast upon. The research facility from the first Crackdown has unleashed an evolving and aggressive form of mutant onto the city, and it’s The Agency’s responsibility to clean things up. That’s where you come in, and as an Agent, you’re given the superhuman powers needed to tackle the gangs and mutants that own the city.
Just like in the first title, The Agency has hidden Agility orbs around the city, mostly in hard-to-reach places atop buildings and cliffs. There are 500 orbs to collect, and each orb makes you faster and more agile, making jumping across building rooftops a walk in the park. Your Agent also has weapon, driving, strength and explosive skill levels, which increase based on your actions in the city. For example, throwing a grenade into a group of mutants will earn you explosive skill points, whereas shooting them with a gun will earn you weapons skills. As for your Agent’s strength, tackling an enemy using melee combat will increase that skill level, until they’re eventually able to lift large objects (like cars) over their head. There are also 300 special hidden orbs around the city that give you a slight level increase across all five skills.
When you start things off, your Agent will be able to jump and move modestly, but give it a few hours and a few hundred Agility orbs and you’ll be jumping your way up the side of skyscrapers with ease. Many orbs can’t be reached until you reach a specific Agility level, and the same can be said for certain enemy strongholds and mutant beacons (which we’ll get to a little later).
Much of the experience in Crackdown 2 is reliant upon your Agility skill level. If you’re not prepared to spend hours searching rooftops and hidden areas for orbs, then chances are you’re not going to enjoy Crackdown 2 very much. It’s where much of the core gameplay experience lies, which is either a negative or positive depending on your own personal tastes. Many of the aspects in this title rely on an undeniable sense of patience and dedication, and so that might not be very attractive to gamers who would otherwise normally love third-person open-world games.
The best thing Crackdown 2 has going for it is that it offers a sense of godliness; an ability to jump, punch and kick your way out of trouble with ease and essentially do whatever you want. Initially, you can really struggle to take out a hoard of freaks attacking you. But work your explosive and strength skills up, and suddenly you’re an invincible beast that can blow up large areas with a single grenade. Moving around the city can be fun, especially once you’re at full strength. There’s plenty of value on offer here if you’ve got the dedication.
Sadly, leveling up your Driving skills isn’t anywhere near as rewarding as in the first game. In Crackdown, the three Agency vehicles would evolve depending on your skill level. Leveling up was incredibly hard, and the Driving skill is widely accepted as being the most challenging of skills to level up in. In Crackdown 2, it’s great that so many new vehicles have been included, but there’s a far smaller sense of achievement. All you need to do is get into a car and drive around and you’ll level up. It’s a disappointing alteration, as it takes a whole level of difficulty away from the experience, and makes the skill far less worthy.
The structure is, just like in the first game, one of the game’s biggest flaws. The main campaign has you infiltrating enemy strongholds and clearing out Cell members to allow the Agency to move in and take control. Strongholds are made up of three tactical locations, and leaving just one under the control of the Cell can leave the other two vulnerable to attack. Then there are the mutant beacons, which help clear the city of mutants. The goal is to reactive each of the three beacons in each tactical location, which in-turn will reveal the location of the final beacon. This final beacon will come under immediate attack from mutants once it’s dropped, and your goal is to ensure its safety while it’s charging up. Once it’s fully charge, all the mutants in the area will be wiped out of oblivion.
The idea is to offer a tactical-based experience, one that relies on your dedication to leveling up and being powerful enough to tackle particular strongholds. Unfortunately, the execution is ultimately what brings it down. The structuring means that there’s no particular order you need to go in, and the difficulty at each tactical location is dependant on how many you’ve conquered beforehand. The thing is, some tactical locations were quite obviously designed to be infiltrated early on in the game. What this means is that you can work your way into an enemy stronghold late in the game, but because the intention was for you to tackle it early on, you’re given a massive advantage over the enemy. For example, some locations are open and large, meaning enemies can attack you from balconies, rooftops, and alleyways, whereas others are quite small. If you tackle the small areas later on in the game, you’ll find that the enemies are bundled together in a small area, meaning you can essentially take them out all at once with a few grenades. It’s very weird, because ten minutes earlier you’ll take on a devilishly hard stronghold where grenades and bullets are flying in at you from every direction, before you tackle another nearby stronghold that takes you a minute to clear.
The mutant beacons can actually be quite challenging, as you’re working to protect the beacon, all the while being attacked by mutants that come from every direction. The mutants get bigger and more aggressive the further into the game you get, and while finding the high-ground vantage point can give you an advantage, more and more mutants come into the areas to attack both you and the beacon, making it at-times quite difficult to focus on the main goal. There is a small sense of accomplishment if you do successful protect a charging beacon though, as that particular area will be cleared of mutants for the rest of the game.
As for the mutants, they only come out at night and mostly in very high numbers. Moving through them can be tough unless you jump or kill your way through, and it’s essentially impossible to die from them unless you stand in one spot. Some will jump or charge at you, while others will spew acid in your direction. It doesn’t take much to kill them, and while there are enormous, monstrously sized ones that take forever to put down, mutants are mostly just cannon-fodder for you to increase your skills with.
It’s a good idea to alternate your method of combat to mix things up a bit and ensure you level up each skill at the same pace. The less challenging and timid moments can probably do with some melee combat, whereas the more challenging moments can dictate the use of a grenade launcher or gun to increase your explosive and weapon skills respectively. The biggest mistake you can make in Crackdown 2 is to use only one of the three main forms of combat, as there are moments that actually dictate each of them. If you get deep into the game and you’re suddenly in a bit of trouble in a stronghold, you better hope you have a high explosive skill level to blast your way out of trouble.
Unfortunately, the weapon aiming can actually hinder the combat quite a bit. The aiming cursor moves slightly involuntarily, making long-distance combat at-times impossible, no matter what weapon you’re using (excluding the sniper rifle). The auto-aim system also fails to register the closest enemy most of the time, which is particularly frustrating when tackling the more difficult strongholds. Even if you move your cursor over an enemy, if the enemy is moving around, the cursor can lose track suddenly, which can suck if you’ve just unleashed a grenade from your launcher in their direction.
However, this issue is not a complete deal breaker. It can be a hell of a lot of fun to cause absolute chaos on the streets of Pacific City, and ensuring you’ve got plenty of explosives and good weapons equipped will allow you to rip through enemies with ease. There’s a great variety of weaponry, more so than in the first game, with gun turrets, grenade and rocket launchers, UV grenades and your basic assault rifles all at your disposal. New vehicles have also been added to the fold, including tanks and helicopters. Crackdown 2 might not offer the best open-world experience out there, but it does a wonderful job of giving you the ability to cause complete havoc. The fusion of the core gameplay mechanics that lie within your Agent’s Agility and weaponry skills has the potential to blind you from its issues, pending you’ve got the patience needed to get your Agent up to the level required to finish the game.
There’s also more of a focus on co-op gameplay, with special XBOX Live-only orbs placed around the city, as well as orbs that can only be collected when in a group of two or more. Furthermore, the mutant beacons have four activation panels. If you’re own your own, activating a beacon takes roughly fifty seconds. But if you’ve got a mate standing on each of the panels, activation is a lot quicker. This spreads out to many other aspects, including the enemy strongholds, which are often quite obviously designed for co-op gameplay. While not impossible to complete, certain locations dictate tactical planning and the use of two or more players, otherwise the enemies can be unbearable, leading to multiple deaths. The same could be said for the first game, so it’s great that Ruffian Games has brought this over into the sequel. The rise in difficulty can be quite sudden, especially if you spend some time searching for orbs.
Crackdown 2 offers a seamless, drop-in, dropout co-op experience, meaning anyone can join your game. You can mess around with the privacy settings to ensure only your XBOX Live friends join in, or even shut out friends from joining you altogether. This game can offer an enjoyable single-player experience, but the game seems to flow better when tackling it with a mate. It’s quite clear that this was Ruffian’s intention, and while they don’t aggressively force you to play with a friend, there are subtle inclusions (like the co-op orbs) that offer enough incentive to play with a friend.
The multiplayer offers a variety of great competitive modes, namely Rocket Tag, which is an explosive, edge-of-your-seat ride. Up to 16 players aim to grab an orb and hold onto it for as long as possible, all the while avoiding rockets that are flying in from every direction. Team Deathmatch can be a wild ride, as players are pitted against each other in a part of the city, with weapons and vehicles placed around the area. Points are awarded based on creative skill, meaning throwing a car at an enemy is going to earn you more points than a basic melee or gun kill.
As a 360 title released in mid-2010, Crackdown 2 is not a very attractive title. It’s practically on par with the graphical presentation of Crackdown, which was released back in 2007. Not much has been done to improve textures and designs from the first game, and pop-in present, which is particularly evident when large billboard signs appear from nowhere. The mutants look pretty terrible too, and the blood and acid splatter looks laughably bad. However, fans of the original will be pleased to see Pacific City again, despite the fact the city is now essentially in ruins. It’s cool that many of the city’s landmarks are notably decaying, thanks to the issues that have plagued it for so long.
Just like the first game, Crackdown 2 struggles to make us genuinely care about the city. The focus is undeniably on The Agency and your Agent, as opposed to the city and its citizens. Peacekeepers will attack you if you kill citizens or other peacekeepers, but they won’t keep at you for long, and they very rarely attack you in groups of more than two. There is essentially no story to speak of, although there are hidden audio tapes around the city that reveal a bit of back-story about the city’s current state. It’s mostly uninteresting commentary that feels like more of a fill-in rather than a genuine attempt to offer some sort of narrative. And the ending is quite sudden and dissatisfying, despite the lead-in to a third sequel after the end credits.
Thankfully, the brilliant performance by the voice of the Agency offers plenty of humour and tips throughout the experience, just as it did in the first game. Many of your actions will call for a word of advice, praise or condemn by the voice, which often leads to a memorable and funny quote.
Crackdown 2 has plenty of great things on offer, but the tried formula from the first game has been carried over essentially unchanged. That formula is rather tiring some three years after its predecessor. There are some new gameplay additions, but the mission structure, aiming and repetition hinder the experience. If you enjoyed Crackdown, you’ll find plenty to love about Crackdown 2, but it’s difficult to maintain that same level of dedication this second time round. If you don’t have the dedication needed to find every orb and infiltrate strongholds time and time again, then this won’t be your cup of tea.