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Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360) review

"When it comes down to it, Crackdown 2 just doesn't do anything well enough to warrant the attention of any but the most die-hard of fans."

In February of 2007, the original Crackdown caught a lot of gamers by surprise. Plenty of people picked it up solely because it came packaged with a Halo 3 multi-player beta invite. Little did they know that Realtime Worlds had actually crafted a unique and enjoyable open-world game to go along with what many considered a $60 beta key. The basic formula was pretty simple: a super-powered agent battles the gangs of Pacific City while hunting for collectibles and leveling up his meta-human abilities.

Mixed within that simple formula were a few great features. Super jumping turned out to be a great way to navigate an open world. Physics-fueled chain explosions were great fodder for "water cooler" moments that you could share with a buddy via co-op. The Pavlovian response that drove players to collect all of the Agility Orbs was astounding. The Voice of the Agency was a hilarious addition to the carnage, always saying things like "Skills for kills, Agent!" at both perfect and inappropriate moments. It all made for a fantastic debut title for Realtime Worlds and it served as a treat for gamers everywhere.

At E3 2009, word came that Ruffian Games would be producing Crackdown 2. Founded the previous year by two former Realtime Worlds employees, Ruffian would look to cut its teeth with the sequel.

Ten years after the events in the original Crackdown an infestation of zombies and terrorists threatens to overwhelm Pacific City's Agency. The terrorists in question call themselves The Cell. Convinced that the Agency holds both too much power and the antidote for the Freak virus, they occupy a number (27 to be exact) of tactical locations around Pacific City. Crackdown 2 begins with an assault on one of these locations.

After securing a tactical location, you can begin your assault on the more supernatural threat facing Pacific City: the Freaks. Zombies by any other name are still zombies, only these Freaks share something in common with their fanged vampire cousins: both groups hate the sun's rays. The Freaks only come out at night, and during the day they hole up in underground lairs just begging to be blown to pieces by new Agency ultraviolet weapons.

In order to power these weapons up, your Agent will have to make a number (27 again!) of stops around the city to charge up some absorbtion units that gather sunlight to be unleashed in weaponized beacons inside Freak lairs. While the tactical locations are heavily guarded and can be fairly tough nuts to crack, these absorption units are typically only protected by a small handful of Cell members.

Once the Cell guarding an absorption unit are wiped out, a puzzling design decision rears its head. In order to activate the unit, your Agent must remain on a small white pad for a number of seconds until it is activated. I am never a fan of gameplay mechanics that equate to "stand still and do nothing", and this is a particularly egregious example. Given that you have to activate a total of twenty-seven of these units, that's an awful lot of standing around waiting for something to happen.

Crackdown 2 uses repetition as one of its recurring design themes. Gone are the individual gang bosses who each gave their gang a different capability. In the previous game, taking out the weapons supplier would leave gang members with significantly less powerful armament. In Crackdown 2, missions have been streamlined to the point where they are nothing more than a series of repetitious and tedious tasks that never deviate from the set formula enough to matter. I grew so desperate for variety that I was nearly ecstatic when a couple of the absorption unit beams required me to blow up a wall that blocked them.

Then again, single-player content was never the strongest point of the original Crackdown, either. Sure, it was better than this, but the biggest grins came from blowing up huge chains of cars, doing crazy vehicle stunts and racing along the rooftops. So, what about the sandbox toys this time around?

Again, Crackdown 2 chooses repetition over innovation. Most of its gadgets and distractions are copies of those that were featured in the original game. There's not much to be said about the sandbox factor as a result. Some of the vehicle stunts are taken straight from the original, the explosions are still ragdoll-fests that can be equal parts frustrating and fun, and the rooftop and vehicle races are largely unchanged.

It's not all bad, though. The co-op has been upped to allow up to four players to participate, leaving the door wide open for more buddy-enhanced chaos. The collectibles remain a solid carrot-on-a-string attraction, even if the audio logs are silly and largely boring. Renegade orbs will lead you on a merry chase as you dance across the rooftops or race through the streets, trying to earn that distinctive "ding!" sound for catching them. The wing-glider suit is only so-so in its execution, but leaping from the top of the Agency tower and trying to fly from island to island can be fun the first few times.

When it comes down to it, Crackdown 2 just doesn't do anything well enough to warrant the attention of any but the most die-hard of fans. Since the release of the original Crackdown, Assassin's Creed and Infamous have taken the lead when it comes to open-world rooftop climbing. Infamous also showed us a more traditional comic-book approach to the super-powered sandbox. Prototype even did the same thing, albeit with an early Image Comics vibe.

When Crackdown was released it was fresh and interesting. Crackdown 2 is nothing more than a rehash of everything that worked in the original, with a few minor additions and a lot of backtracking in the mission structure. Nothing could be further from delivering the impact and style that the series deserves.


frankaustin's avatar
Freelance review by Frank Austin (July 26, 2010)

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