Sometimes, it’s hard to straddle the line between being a game critic and being a gamer. You want to go off the beaten path and see every little thing, and yet you must also get through the core of the game in a timely fashion. Case in point: Crackdown 2. The gamer in me wants to scavenge every agility orb, get a Gold on every rooftop race, and climb to the top of the leaderboards online, while the reviewer knows I need to finish the main missions and get the review up.
Of course, that’s the beauty of Crackdown. You run around Pacific City as an agent who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, dead-set on completing a given task, and your objective is in sight, but what’s that? You hear the intoxicating shimmer that triggers a Pavlovian response--you must stop whatever you’re doing and scale every building in sight until you find the responsible agility orb, eagerly awaiting the resultant boost to your jumping ability. “Ok, I’ll grab this one and get back to what I was doing.” Yeah, sure--until you notice that just a liiiittle higher up rests yet another orb, and there’s another! Right on top of that tower! “Maybe I can reach it if I just climb this statue and jump from its absolute peak. Okay, I’m leaping, almost got it... hey what the heck? It moved!” Yes, Crackdown 2 ups the ante by introducing many new types of orbs, including Renegade Agility orbs, which, fully aware of the trance they’ve put you in, force you to chase them all over the area and outsmart them if you want to catch them. The developer is clearly aware of the series’ biggest draw, knowing full well that many will buy this game just to get their next orb fix.
Pacific City itself plays a large role in the addiction. The layout here is very similar to that of the original game, with the same pier, islands, and bridges as before. However, each area has been altered in a way that makes it seem fresh. There are more complex boats at the pier to navigate, and many areas have been completely demolished. This is due to the widespread outbreak of ‘Freaks’ *ahemZOMBIEScoughcough* that was brought about in the first game. These abominations litter the streets at night, often hundreds to a block, making it more convenient to stick to the rooftops to get around.
The story of the game has you running around the city activating Absorption Units, which power beacons that can be used to destroy large Freak colonies. Complicating matters is Cell, the organization which believes a cure should be found for the virus, rather than simply eliminating its victims. Cell is led by Catalina Thorne, who is convinced that the Agency is more interested in power than in helping people (could she be right?). This is a much simpler storyline than the original’s convoluted three-way gang war that had to be quelled, and keeps the focus where it belongs--jumping around, finding orbs, and killing fools. Quick tip: watch the credits. Crackdown 3? You’d better believe it’s coming.
In addition to said Absorption Units and beacons, you must capture ‘tactical locations’ in enemy strongholds, so you can thin their ranks and use it as a supply depot. When you enter a tactical point, you will be assaulted by two hundred rockets and everything else Cell can throw at you. Pick everyone off, and the location is yours. However, you’re not done yet, and the next bit highlights one of the game’s big shortcomings. See, unless you take out all tactical locations in a given stronghold, Cell will quickly overpower the Agency peacekeepers that are on guard and take them back. The enemy AI isn’t incredibly impressive, but your allies are absolutely useless to the point where even they wonder what the point is to them being there.
Some players will have an even bigger problem with the game--a glitch that is among the most aggravating I’ve ever seen. On some Xboxes, after downloading the recent patch, the player’s controls stop working when they pause and then unpause the game. The agent will just stand there bored until you select the option to regenerate at the nearest supply point. Clearing the patch from my system’s cache eliminated the problem, but as the patch is required for online play, this is a problem I seriously hope Ruffian Games addresses soon.
My biggest wish for the original Crackdown was for it to let me loose in the city online and go toe-to-toe with a bunch of other agents. Ruffian has heard my pleas and added sixteen-player multiplayer this time around. There are three game modes: the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, along with an intriguing and hilarious one called Rocket Tag. In Rocket Tag, everyone races to grab a crown at the beginning. Once someone has it, everyone else (equipped with rocket launchers and infinite ammo) tries to take him down and grab it for themselves. Chaos abound, there are at least ten explosions going off at any given time, and no one should expect to hold the crown for too long.
Unfortunately, this tendency towards rockets seems to be extending into the other multiplayer modes as well. Look buddy, I’m playing Crackdown. That means I want us to chase each other across rooftops, boot each other down ten storeys, chucking cars and having a grand old time. I am getting extremely tired of being blasted by a rocket every ten seconds--I’d play Halo if I wanted that. The four-player co-op fares a little better, but often it will devolve into teammates kicking you off a tower when you’re trying to coordinate an assault on a tactical location.
Like the original, Crackdown 2 features a dark cel-shaded art style reminiscent of a graphic novel. It’s clear that most of the visual changes have concerned the game’s engine. Where the first game’s framerate took a dive the instant anything exciting started happening, Crackdown 2 keeps a relatively steady 30fps until you have hundreds of enemies and a bunch of explosions at once. The draw distance is also much improved, making it easier to see orbs hiding atop a distant building.
Aurally, the game can only be described as ‘meh’. Guns sound ok, but there’s really no ‘pop’ to them like one would expect from today’s intense shooter. The grating Adam West soundalike that serves as your operator returns, and while his remarks are often funny, they lose their impact as he says the same thing the the hundredth time. The one crucial sound that they absolutely nailed is the ‘whoosh’ effect that stirs up when you jump--it helps you to immerse yourself in the leaping and makes you feel like you’re going a very long distance very quickly.
Crackdown 2 is a good value for anyone interested in this type of game. It took me around 11 hours to complete; I collected about 80% of the Agility orbs and about 30% of the Renegade orbs. There is still plenty to do including rooftop and road races, climbing the ridiculously huge Agency tower (compensating, maybe?) and quelling the 25 hives of Freaks that randomly pop up throughout the city. That’s not to mention the multiplayer, which could eventually become much more enjoyable if people started to play it how it should be played (not that that's the fault of the developer).
All right, I’m finished with the review of Crackdown 2. I’ve made it pretty clear that, despite glitches, poor AI, and all the jerks in multiplayer, the game is an improvement over the original. There are more orbs to get, the engine is more stable, the story is more interesting, and any fan of open-world gaming should check it out. Now to write the conclu--hey look, an orb!