Age Rating: ‘M’ for Mature
When Crackdown was released in 2007, the game was something of a surprise hit for Microsoft’s still-fledgling Xbox 360. The title combined all of the best elements of classic arcade games with building-leaping excitement and gun-toting explosive action as you worked to destroy the gangs of Pacific City.
Ruffian’s sequel may not show off the developer’s genius at reinvention, but Crackdown 2 is perfectly timed to be a summer hit that’s still undeniably fun while building on the original game’s essential framework.
Set ten years after the events of the first game, Crackdown 2 has the Agency, the law enforcement company that controls the city, trying to restore peace one more time. This time out the problem is not only gangs, but a major infestation of mutants who take over the streets every night and have left much of the city in ruin.
Playing as a genetically altered super cop, you leap into the game much as you did the last time; as a rookie with minor upgrades over the average city dweller, and a few average weapons to fight against all the baddies that want to skin you alive. As you progress, your skills improve and you have access to better weapons that can do a lot more damage.
While elements of the gameplay have changed, with some portions requiring you to drop into key locations to kill off gangs or mutant nests, the overall game just gets a few upgrades, fine-tuning, and additions.
Unfortunately, Ruffian improvements don’t address a lot of the issues that made the first game somewhat annoying.
For instance, the graphics are still muddy in areas, it’s often hard to tell what portions of buildings can be climbed, and as you upgrade your hero the challenges start to become a little too easy, not to mention the repetitive objectives.
The game also disappoints because the map is almost completely unchanged. I won’t deny that I was glued to my console for a number of hours trying to level up my anti-hero, but this feels like a lazy sequel at best.
Speaking of lazy, I’ll grant that the game was obviously styled to be simple and to take on the classic feel of old arcade games once again, but the story is weak, weak, weak, even by 1990s standards. Here are the basics: you are a super cop, you have some super weapons, and your goal is to kill things and make yourself even more super powered; beyond that, don’t expect a lot of intrigue aside from one shadowy character lurking around the edges.
That’s not a great selling point to the game, but Crackdown 2 is no-less entertaining for being a simple shoot ’em up. Like all the popcorn adventures that get dumped into theatres each summer, Crackdown 2 is light, and way too much fun to be a total dud. The hardest part of gameplay is finding a way to not get blown up as you take on a gang stronghold, or figuring out how to climb a specific building for that next agility orb.
Which brings me to the next point; Crackdown 2 is about action, but it’s also very much about collecting orbs and upgrading your abilities. As you punch people, your strength grows; shooting bad guys gives you better firearms abilities; you can improve your driving and your talents with explosives; and if you climb up buildings and gather the green agility orbs, you’ll be able to jump further and move faster. With each level upgrade for your abilities, you can also unlock things, like better weapons and different vehicles. That focus means that if you like upgrading and hunting down objectives, Crackdown 2 will keep you happy for at least a few hours at a time.
The downfall of all that collecting is another minor complaint that I had with the game: if you focus on playing out the story, you’ll probably never see some of the best vehicles or upgrades until you don’t even need them, and if you go the other route, the missions are almost too easy. It’s a no-win situation, unless you try to balance it out, but I didn’t realize what I was missing until the end.
A better game would probably guide me to the best result, but Crackdown 2 seems content to just set you loose and let you figure it out. All you’ll ever hear is the narrator judging you if you screw up and kill another Agency cop or any of the pedestrians who always seem to be standing around within range of any number of street battles.
The only other encouragement you’ll hear is when you find rooftop races, which give you agility, or vehicle races, to improve your driving ability. You’ll also hear the narrator chime in every time you find the other basic addition to Crackdown 2: rogue agility and driving orbs which float around waiting for you to try and catch them. These can be helpful, but they’re basically just another small add-on that doesn’t change gameplay all that much.
That brings me to Crackdown‘s persistent flaw — one that may be familiar to many gamers.
Like the original, Crackdown 2 has the same annoying habit of auto-aiming at cars, rather than bad guys. You could have a thug in your cross hairs, but if you hit the auto-aim, you’re going to aim at any number of vehicles behind him, rather than his fleshy bits. He’ll be shooting away at you as you scramble to get a lock on him, and in these cases it’s sometimes just easier to walk up and punch him. It’s a basic flaw that will drive you crazy at times, and I’m amazed it wasn’t fixed for the sequel.
On the bright side, there are a couple of big changes for Crackdown 2, and that’s the new co-op gameplay, which lets you explore Pacific City with three other players, or you can choose to fight it out in the new 16-player multiplayer battlegrounds.
That means that you can rough up thugs as a team, an upgrade from the two-player option in the first game, or battle it out with a little rocket tag in the multiplayer arenas.
Overall, I liked both of these new features, especially since the co-op gameplay also allows you to kick each other’s butts across the city. That means you may want to limit who can play co-op with you to Xbox Live friends, but it’s an interesting change to the gameplay that makes the entire game a whole lot more entertaining.
It actually makes a lot of missions, which can become very repetitive and stale, fun in a whole new way. Without this option, you’re essentially just repeating your missions over and over again, in different locations with slightly harder villains.
Although I realize I’m rating Crackdown 2 low, while giving it a fair bit of praise in parts of my review, my big gauge for rating this title was replayability. I played the game for hours after it arrived, and I think I’m coming to the point where I just can’t play it any more. I may put in some more time to finish unlocking things, but I really can’t imagine finding much more to do in Crackdown 2, aside from a little multiplayer.
Compared to the hours I’ve invested in other games, it doesn’t feel like you get your full value for the $59.99 sticker price, and while I realize this is a big sandbox game with a lot of content, it’s little more than an over-glorified Xbox Live title, or maybe an add-on to the original that includes some slightly improved graphics.
If you liked the first game, you will no doubt appreciate the sequel, but even the biggest fan will find it hard to disagree with the point that Ruffian simply didn’t try hard enough, or wasn’t given a chance to make this title a superior adventure. As it stands, it’s merely adequate at best, and overall not as memorable as the original.
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