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Crackdown 2 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 7/9/2010

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Open-world action games have become a genre of their own, splitting off of the classic, heavily scripted shooters and making their own path. No one has had as much influence in this genre as Rockstar Games has, but there are a few developers out there innovating. Take Realtime Worldsí Crackdown, a sleeper hit that launched back in early 2007 on Xbox 360. Few had heard of it, but because of the included Halo 3 beta promise that came with every copy of the game, people bought it. And they were pleasantly surprised to find out that its combination of high-flying action, exploration, skill-based progress, and superhero abilities really worked.

Itís been a while since Crackdown - over four years, and Realtime Worlds has since moved on to deliver a PC MMORPG called All Points Bulletin. Apparently, Microsoft was a little iffy on doing a sequel right away, so while the original developers went on to create something new, a small group broke off of the original team, formed Ruffian Games, and eventually got the greenlight to make the sequel. Crackdown 2 was in full development for around one year, which is short for games of this size and scope, and it doesnít revolutionize the gameplay of the original. It leaves much of the city and gameplay intact, or only slightly changing one or the other, and just gives you new things to do inside it. That along with some slight adjustments to the exploration and the mission system have really got the internet disagreeing over whether this game is either better than the original, or just a hollow mockery of its former self.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle, as it usually does. Crackdown 2 takes place a decade after the first game, and you quickly find out that the Agency has almost been booted out of Pacific City by a resistance group called Cell as well as the unfortunate results of the first game that have turned half of the city into night-stalking mutants (called Freaks). Your character is in the first wave of the re-launched Agent supersoldier program, so itís time to get back out there to not only push back Cell but fight off the Freaks and eradicate them for good.

Pacific City has had its ass kicked in the last decade, and thatís generally mildly evident in almost every section of the city. A few buildings have partially collapsed, walls have been erected (to contain the Freak menace, initially) and then summarily smashed to bits, and the whole city retreats indoors at night when the Freaks fill the city streets like zombies did in Dead Rising. The city isnít completely destroyed and itís far from being a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it is generally pretty busted up. Your job will be to bring a network of tech toys called Project Sunburst online to bathe the Freaksí deepest lairs in warming, mutant-incinerating ultraviolet light. Youíll activate special power junctions throughout the city, fight the Cell and push them back in their bases, cull Freak numbers by closing off breach spots, and activate massive beacons in underground lairs to end the menace once and for all.

Crackdown 2 manages to maintain most of the things that made the first game so fun in the first place: jumping 30 feet high, taking on enemies like a superhero would, exploring the whole city at your own pace, moving around quickly without even needing a car, and creating tons of massive explosions in every nook and cranny of the city. The gangs are gone and in their place is a more faceless enemy in the Cell, but the inclusion of a morally ambiguous ďvillainĒ as the leader of the Cell and a few dozen audio logs throughout Pacific City didnít do a great job of adding plot and flavor. On the other hand, the level design of the underground lairs and Cell strongholds almost makes up for the lack of personality and real narrative in the actual plot - but only almost.

Vehicles must now be unlocked one at a time as you increase your skill and they no longer ďtransformĒ (which I miss - that was my favorite part about driving in the first game), instead just giving you the Agency vehiclesí full power as soon as you unlock and start driving them. Agility and Hidden Orbs still pepper the city, challenging you to find them all and turning all of Pacific City into the same sort of platform-jumping sandbox that made the first game so fun to so many people. You still build the rest of your skills (same as before: firearms, explosives, driving, strength) by actually using them, making for a very natural-feeling RPG progression while refusing to compromise on the action. Rooftop and driving races, wingsuit checkpoints, and the new and hated Renegate Agility Orbs (which try to fly away from you when you get near) are all in as well, and finishing it all will take you dozens of hours.

But I doubt most players will bother. Crackdown 2 is a fun game, but itís just not that different from its predecessor. Sure, here and there it may feel like a solid evolution compared to the first game, but in the three years since we last took orders from the disembodied voice of the Agency, a few games have come out that really challenged Crackdownís ideas on open-world superhero action. inFamous and Prototype both offered dark, violent stories, but they had a different kind of progression that went much further than weíre seeing here - Prototype especially, what with your ability to run straight up walls, pull out massive, unique melee combos, and disguise yourself as the enemy. In some ways, these games made the Crackdown formula feel a little bit empty and obsolete, and Crackdown 2 has no answer for it.

You will get the chance to play the whole game in online coop mode for four players, and thatís pretty unique for open-world action games like this. Unfortunately, thereís still no splitscreen play and the System Link mode has been axed, but it seems that gamers donít mind nearly as much as they did when the first Crackdown also debuted without splitscreen action. I wish it was there, though, as I still enjoy playing in the same room with friends and not just yelling over a headset with crappy sound quality, but Iím starting to feel like Iím one of a very few left. Crackdown 2 also includes three competitive modes for 16 players, but I think these go almost completely against what makes the game fun in the first place. If I wanted to get serious about that kind of thing, Iíd go play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 instead.

Still, Crackdown 2 offers a lot of action for its asking price, but you might be better off just dusting off your copy of the first game. This sequel doesnít innovate in as many ways as it probably should have, but it does still wind up executing a pretty decent formula that serves up more of the same - plus just a little bit extra. If you enjoyed the first game and would like to see what another yearís worth of development on a sequel can offer, then check out Crackdown 2. But donít expect too much, because it simply canít deliver on all of your wildest superhero game fantasies.

Overall: 79%



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