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Review: Crackdown 2
by Tom Acres

Crackdown 2 is a very strange game. If you look solely at what should be important when scoring a game - the graphics and the design to name but two - in a lot of respects this sequel to Realtime Worlds' 2007 hit is actually pretty damn poor.

The game has next to no structure, there's no story, the sound stinks, the graphics are poor and the mission objectives are repetitive. Whilst a lot of those problems could be attributed to the the first Crackdown too, that was back in 2007 and new developers, Ruffian Games, had plenty of time to improve and expand on what was a solid and very fun game. To be honest, they haven't really done that.

Yet, for some unexplainable reason, Crackdown 2 is actually incredibly fun.

Usually, I'd cover the story or setup of a game before diving into the design and the gameplay mechanics; in Crackdown 2, though, there's no real story and the setup is as bare-bones as it gets. In the first game you had a city in ruins, with the gangs opposing the police, and you had to clean up by taking out high-value targets and gradually diminishing gang support across Pacific City. The gangs would get weaker as you took down more and more HVTs, until eventually you could take on the leader of each gang. It was really cool.

In Crackdown 2 there are zombies at night and you have to activate nine beacons before activating one super beacon. Then the game finishes.

And that's it.

Okay, there's a bit more to it than that. During the day, there's a gang running around; called The Cell, they have no personality like the gangs in the first game and there are no boss characters or anything of the sort. The original game's story wasn't exactly inspired, but it covered it up with personality - Crackdown 2 has none of that unfortunately.

So, shutting down beacons isn't any fun and I saw no real incentive to kill gang members either. In fact, the main setup of the game seems like a method to fill out the thousand achievement points, and the real crux of Crackdown 2 is racing, jumping around, blowing stuff up and collecting orbs. Lots and lots of orbs.

Pacific City is littered with such orbs which are impossible to resist hunting down and collecting. To entice you more, there are more types of orbs than ever before: agility orbs, hidden orbs, LIVE orbs, vehicle orbs and rogue orbs. The agility orbs are just littered around the city and collecting them boosts your agility. The hidden orbs are obviously harder to find but boost all of your stats; whilst the LIVE orbs can only be collected if you're playing online co-op. The vehicle orbs have to be chased down and collected whilst in a vehicle and provide a boost to your driving skill, whilst the rogue orbs are agility orbs which run away from you. I'm never particularly interested in collectibles in games, but the orbs in Crackdown 2 are just impossible to resist.

There are also racing missions to partake in: either standard vehicle races or rooftop races, which are a lot of fun. You can also fly through vehicle stunt rings to collect more vehicle orbs, and once you've unlocked the wingsuit you can fly around the city through agility rings to collect yet more agility orbs.

The structure of Crackdown 2 is... well, there isn't really a structure at all, and depending on where you sit that's either a terrible mistake or a great idea. You're free to do whatever you want; you're never forced into a story mission like you can be in Grand Theft Auto or Infamous, you're able to just run around and scale buildings if that's all you want to do. On a technical level this design philosophy feels lazy and just plain bad, but at a pure enjoyment level it's fantastic.

Crackdown 2's gameplay isn't very refined either. The jumping is still a lot of fun, but it takes a while for it to become enjoyable as you level up your agility skill. The actual jumping and climbing mechanics aren't technically brilliant though; this kind of free running exploration has been done a lot better since the original game, by competitors such as Assassin's Creed and the aforementioned Infamous. Yet when you're fully levelled up there's no other game that matches the awesomeness of being able to jump the full height of a building. Once you unlock the wingsuit, things get even more fun as you combine jumps and glides to cruise across the city in real style.

The gunplay in Crackdown 2 is pretty boring. You lock on to an enemy, hold down the right trigger until he dies and then repeat. The enemies are weak, stupid and I found myself dying more often by accidentally blowing myself up than from being shot by enemies. The lock-on function is also a tad annoying because you can lock on to pretty much anything, which often led to my accidental brutal murder of innocent civilians, therefore ensuing chases by the equally idiotic police.

The driving varies massively, between ridiculously fun and a state in which I'd rather play Big Rigs Over The Road Racing. The tank is awesome; you can smash through stuff with ease and it has a huge cannon on the front - what more could you want? The SUV is also great fun as it can bound through the air and drive up walls. However, the supercar is very fast but handles terribly, whilst the buggy has similar problems. The standard cop car is a nightmare to drive, and don't even get me started on the standard pedestrian cars. Good God, they're horrible. Still, the game does give you points for running people over and driving over ramps, so I suppose it should get props for that.

Ah, explosives. This is where Crackdown 2 comes alive. The amount of havoc you can cause with a fully levelled-up explosives skill is incredible - rocket launchers, a variety of grenades, explosive shotguns, grenade launchers and a tonne more awesome gadgets and guns allow you to blow pretty much anything up that isn't a building. Which is probably just as well, because if buildings were destructible in this game then Pacific City would be a ghost town of flat land and rubble for most gamers.

Then we have strength. Having this levelled up to the max is pretty cool, as it allows you to lift vehicles and other objects in order to use them as weapons. Using a streetlamp as a massive baseball bat is especially satisfying. However, the actual action of levelling up your strength is tedious and boring: basically you just kill enemies using the B button until you level up. It's tedious, dull, boring and takes a very long time.

So Crackdown 2 has no structure and a lazy design, with a mixed bucket of gameplay. This inconsistency carries over into the game's presentation. The audio is terrible thanks to dreadful voice acting, cheap sound effects and almost non-existent music. The game doesn't look very good either; in fact, it looks just as bad as the first game did, and that looked mediocre back in early 2007. On the other hand, the sheer amount of stuff happening on screen without a framerate drop is astounding. Clearly a sacrifice was made with the visuals but when you're blowing up twenty vehicles at a time, whilst hundreds of ragdolls fly around, it's easy to forgive and forget. The draw distance in this game is also excellent, perhaps the best I've seen in a game. Climbing up to the top of the Agency Tower and then looking across all the islands within the city is a truly epic sight, especially when you can see the other 3 co-op players causing havoc across the landscape.

Ah, yes, the co-op. Now if there was ever a reason to buy Crackdown 2, it's because the co-op is excellent. Playing this game with 3 other friends with no tethers is incredibly fun, as everyone can split up and go anywhere they want; individual players can even complete different objectives at the same time. It's great fun and the game was clearly designed with this in mind.

The competitive multiplayer, on the other hand, is basically a waste of space. You've got deathmatch and team deathmatch which both feel dull and cheap thanks to the lock on targeting. Whoever unloads their clip the fastest wins, which is just as bad as it sounds. The other mode is called rocket tag, which is fun for a little while: involving everyone chasing down one guy armed with rocket launchers, it's crazy and unorganised chaos, but never reaches the level of awesomeness available to you in co-op.

As I said at the start, Crackdown 2 is a difficult game to score. It has so many flaws and in some ways is worse than its predecessor - the gunplay is bad, the structure isn't there and a lot of the gameplay mechanics have been outdone by other games. Crackdown 2 is also ugly by today's standards and doesn't really feel like a £40 game, rather more like a £25 expansion to the original game. You could literally sell this as 'Extra Orbs, Enemies and Missions Pack' for Crackdown, for 2100 Microsoft Points. And it'd work.

Having said all that, Crackdown 2 is still pure, chaotic fun and that's something that I think a lot of games have lost sense of in the move towards photo-realism. If you long for the days of the silly old style Grand Theft Autos, where jetpacks and explosions were common place; or the crazy traversal of Spider-Man 2; then Crackdown 2 is probably right up your alley.

6/10 [?]

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- Tom Acres

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