Crackdown 2's world is absolutely packed with orbs placed in hidden alcoves and atop sky-high structures
- Being an agent is still a blast, co-op experience is pretty stellar, PVP modes are solid, more orbs than ever to collect
- Disappointing and narrative-averse campaign, essentially the same city layout with cosmetic changes, underwhelming visuals
Many gamers purchased the original Crackdown to gain access to the Halo 3 beta, but soon discovered that the real prize was the game itself. Its immense world, addictive orb collection, and run-and-gun action won over a legion of fans, and raised expectations for the sequel. Unfortunately, while Crackdown 2 does recapture the magic of the original, it misses the opportunity to push the franchise to unseen heights.
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For many, the only expectation that accompanied the original Crackdown was for it to be a half-decent shepherd for the Halo 3 multiplayer beta. Luckily, it ended up being an entertaining open-world game, truly conveying the sense of being a super-powered agent in an unruly city. While this summer sequel doesn't launch with the hype of a new Halo or Gears of War, it certainly arrives with the standard sequel hopes: for it to be bigger, bolder, and ultimately better than the original.
Frustratingly, it's difficult to argue that Crackdown 2 achieves any of those goals on a consistent basis, and rarely does it do all three at once. It's a sequel that seemingly ignores that fact that nearly three and a half years have passed since the original; a game that follows the development ethos of "more of the same" to a fault and fails to significantly improve on the original design.
Crackdown 2's saving grace is that the original's design was terrific, and it does nothing to dilute the thrilling approach of bounding around a semi-futuristic metropolis and dispelling evildoers with extreme prejudice. Leaping between rooftops, scaling massive structures, and triggering epic explosions is as fun as it was back in 2007, even if it does lack the sense of innovation and novelty that the first title exuded.
And like the original, Crackdown 2's world is absolutely packed with orbs placed in hidden alcoves and atop sky-high structures, with the total count numbering more than 900 in this game. Beyond the hundreds of standard agility and hidden orbs, you'll now find 80 co-op orbs, which can only be obtained when playing online (with up to three other players), as well as numerous renegade orbs, which you must chase down on foot or in a vehicle. Collecting orbs became something of a meta-game of its own in the first game, and the sequel wisely takes advantage of its unexpected popularity.
Where the Crackdown 2 experience starts to unravel a bit is in its unwillingness to truly advance the series beyond the original design, or even present worthwhile objectives to make up for the familiarity. Some 10 years have passed between the events of the original and the sequel, yet Pacific City's layout is largely familiar to that of the original Crackdown, albeit significantly worn down by inner city strife. It's a generally minor makeover, though, and within minutes, veterans of the first game will start recognising landmarks; within a couple hours, you'll likely have a working mental map of the city. And while the game benefits from an improved HUD, the game engine hasn't kept pace with the times, sporting bland textures, poor draw distance, and a frame rate that buckles during explosions and co-op sessions.
Simply spicing up the same city might have been more excusable if the campaign missions offered a wide array of objectives and ways to experience everything Pacific City has to offer, but what's here is a terrible waste of potential. The original Crackdown's campaign structure left a bit to be desired, as you simply took down mob bosses across the city, but even that's preferable to the bland missions found in the sequel.
In Crackdown 2, the campaign simply sees you activating 27 absorption units around the city, and then protecting nine associated beacons from hordes of freaks -- infected, zombie-like beings that appear at night and in underground caverns. And that's pretty much it. I assumed it was merely the precursor to some big twist that would guide a larger chunk of the game, but once all the beacons were set and I blazed through a few last objectives, the credits rolled after just eight hours of play. My online co-op partners and I were incredulous; was that really everything the game had to offer?
Not helping matters is the near-complete lack of narrative in the game. Crackdown didn't have a thick story structure, but the sequel's plot is hinged upon a series of events that aren't fully realised nor explained to players. Aside from an intro video and a truly unsatisfying ending, the only form of storytelling comes from voice recordings scattered around the city. It's an approach that works well in some games, but here it comes across as a lazy way of telling the glossed-over tale. Crackdown 2 is the latest in a line of big-budget action games (including Lost Planet 2 and Army of Two: The 40th Day) that struggle mightily with simple storytelling -- a worrying trend I'd like to see nipped in the bud immediately.
But for all its aforementioned woes, blasting around the city in search of orbs and other ways to enhance your agent is still a very engaging experience, and Crackdown 2 expands the co-op capabilities to four players (over two in the original). Whether you're teaming up to complete objectives or secure tactical locations on the map, or just to collect orbs and knock each other off tall buildings with UV shotguns, it's great to be able to call in a pal at any given moment for a little extra manpower. The difficulty doesn't seem to scale to accommodate extra players, though; a mission that a partner and I struggled to complete became noticeably easier with a third player, and the final fight was a cakewalk with a full four-man team in effect.
The 16-player PvP offerings are also a worthy diversion, especially the Rocket Tag mode, which takes its cues from Halo's Oddball mode. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are similarly interesting, due to the unique properties of the Crackdown universe, though the helicopters seem a little overly powerful from the outset, and the ability to lock on to enemies feels a bit questionable in an online multiplayer game. Hopefully the PVP experience will evolve as more players get their hands on the game.
Crackdown 2 is an action game with a very exciting and worthwhile set of core mechanics, complete with some interesting multiplayer options, but also a very disappointing campaign and too much familiarity after such a long layover. Crackdown 2 comes across as missed opportunity, but if your love of collecting orbs and long-jumping skyscrapers didn't wane with the original, Pacific City can still be a pretty entertaining destination. If you were looking for new heights to scale, however, you'll no doubt end up disappointed once you reach the all too familiar summit.
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