It's something of a miracle that Crackdown 2 even exists. After being pushed onto the market as a vessel for the Halo 3 online beta, Crackdown was never one of Microsoft's top priorities. Despite its modest scope and so-so sales, the first game managed to attract a large cult following that demanded a sequel. After three long years of waiting, Microsoft has finally decided to give this series one more chance. With all the support behind it and the full backing of Microsoft, what could possibly go wrong?
In the three years since the release of the first game, the Xbox 360 has seen a number of other big name open-world action games. The first Crackdown as released at a time before the likes of Prototype, inFamous, Saints Row 2 and even Grand Theft Auto IV. The game was unabashedly simple, with a limited storyline and only the barest of gameplay modes. Yet it worked because people had so much fun messing around in this giant sandbox.
Crackdown 2 takes this same approach. Ruffian Games (a new development house culled from the ashes of the original Crackdown team) isn't interested in changing the formula. They have set out to recreate the type of game people fell in love with back in 2007. Unfortunately, in doing this they have failed to cash in on all of the potential of the original. Temper your excitement about this long-awaited sequel appropriately, because Ruffian's first game is a massive disappointment.
Crackdown 2 is nothing more than a retelling of the original game. Perhaps it's because they didn't want to stray too far from the formula or didn't know where else to take this series, but this is a game that never manages to create its own voice. Instead we get a bunch of rehashes from the first go-around, like orb hunting, constant level grinding and missions that you are able to play in any order you want. Unfortunately none of these elements are advanced in a way that would make them feel fresh this time around, which is why Crackdown 2 is such a frustrating experience.
The story takes place ten years after the events of the first game. Pacific City has been torn apart by mutated "freaks" and an organization called Cell. You play a super soldier in the same vein as the original's protagonist. But don't let the torn down buildings, constant wreckage and mutant zombie invasion throw you off, this is still the same old city you came to know and love from the first Crackdown.
Although the city is in disrepair, your goals are still largely the same. The goal this time around is to capture a bunch of strategically placed satellite dishes and re-establish a link for your bosses. Once you have reconnected the communications, you are then asked to put your life on the line and install a large beacon in a central location that will effectively destroy any sign of the mutant outbreak. On paper it sounds a lot more complicated than the first game (where all you had to do was kill a bunch of low-level mob bosses), but these new objectives end up feeling surprisingly similar. Much like the first game, the biggest problem is that there isn't much variation between these different events. As the game progresses they'll throw new enemies at you and make you play in increasingly complicated locations, but these missions always play out exactly the same way. What it does is turn Crackdown 2 into a repetitive mess, which immediately takes me back to all of my complaints about the first game.
It's not just the main "story" missions that are repetitive; the whole game seems to subscribe to this way of thinking. One of the first things you'll need to do is take back the city streets, which involves you killing dozens of armed Cell soldiers. All you have to do here is kill enough bad guys and then move on, making this nothing more than a huge endurance challenge. These events will get harder as you play through the game, but the mission structure remains the same from start to finish. By the time you've taken back the 27th street, you will wonder why the developers didn't shake up the pattern a little.
The repetition is only compounded by the fact that you're doing all this in the exact same city as the first game. Outside of a few structural changes, very little has changed in the past ten years. Don't get me wrong, visually this looks like a bombed out warzone. But at the same time, once you start leaping from building to building you'll have a sense that you've done all this before. Sadly, you HAVE done all this before. From the orb placements to the extra race missions, it all feels like it was copied directly from the first game. Even with all of the fire and rubble, I never once felt like Crackdown 2 had anything unique to say.
The troubling sense of deja vu haunted me from beginning to end. I openly questioned why I was being asked to collect the hundreds of glowing orbs scattered around the city, especially since they are largely in the same locations as the first game. I remember doing this the first time around, and it wasn't exactly the highlight of 2007. Perhaps I would be more willing to perform this trivial task if we were in an exciting new city, but sadly that is not the case in Crackdown 2.
And then there's the announcer, who never shuts up. I know teenage girls who talk less than this guy. This is the kind of guy who starts talking and never quits, no matter what you're doing. He wins you over early on by offering helpful advice and guiding you back onto the mean streets of Pacific City. But then he keeps going. When you miss a jump, he comments on it. When you're in the middle of a firefight, he suggests you try harder. When you get an achievement, he's there congratulating you. And this is not just for the story-based achievements; he has something to say every time you unlock anything. It doesn't matter how insignificant it is, he has something to say about it.
Beyond complaining about a completely optional announcer, Crackdown 2 has a few real serious technical problems. For one thing, the game is plagued with rampant slowdowns. Because so much of this game relies on the engine pushing hundreds of zombie monsters on screen at once, I found that when the action started to heat up the game's frame rate would slow way down. This was especially pronounced in some of the underground skirmishes, where the game would slow down to a crawl.Also annoying is how the game handles targeting. In theory you just hold down the left trigger and the game will aim you at the nearest bad guy, but that's not how it seems to work when put to the test. Incidentally, the targeting system does allow you to aim at specific body parts for more precise shots. While that certainly adds some depth, it also makes it impossible for you to quickly switch to another character. This is only made worse when you realize that the game picks the target at random. Even if there's a giant mutant monster standing in front of you, the game will choose to target the Peace Keeper behind him. Isn't this the kind of thing that should be refined in a sequel?
And that's the problem; Crackdown 2 doesn't feel like much of a sequel. Too much of this game acts like a carbon copy of the first game, from the gameplay to the location to orb hunting. Even when the game gives you new abilities (such as the ability to glide through the air), it's executed in a way that makes it no fun to use. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a sequel to have some new gameplay functionality, maybe a new move or something cool to look at. But you don't get that here. There is no hook here; nothing that will make you stop what you're doing and take notice. It's just another game that looks and plays like a game you already own. Crackdown 2 feels more like an expansion pack than a brand new $60 video game.
In my original review
I daydreamed about the potential of the Crackdown franchise. The first game felt like baby steps into a much larger, more impressive comic book-influenced world full of superheroes and arch-villains. I dreamt of a day when I would be having huge fights with unstoppable monsters, the larger-than-life stuff you see in a Superman comic book. Sadly this sequel doesn't attempt anything that ambitious. There are huge monsters to fight, but they have no personality and are usually simple-minded beasts. Even the arch-nemesis of the piece is tame by comic book standards, as is demonstrated by the anticlimactic final "battle".
In the past three years games like Activision's Prototype and Sucker Punch's inFamous have successfully fulfilled the promise of Crackdown. These games have given me epic battles against huge super monsters, all while giving the player enough incentive to have fun in their giant sandbox worlds. Crackdown 2 feels like a step in the wrong direction. Even if the developers didn't want to go the route of Prototype, it's still disappointing the game didn't add more to the theme.
I'm sure there will be a lot of people who completely disagree with my indifference towards Crackdown 2. They'll point to the brand new online modes, which allow friends to join games and even go head to head. They'll talk about how having a friends at your side adds to the experience, more than making up for the disappointing campaign and repetitive missions. And maybe they have a case, but I can't shake that I've been here and done this all before. The new online stuff is fun, but it's not enough to keep this from being one of the most disappointing sequels of the year.
Crackdown 2 is in no way a bad game. The gameplay is mostly good and the graphics shine on the high def television. People who missed out on the original will most likely have a great time playing through Microsoft's big summer release. This is a very average game that could have been (should have been) so much more. There's very little here for returning players and those new to the series are better off playing another game in the genre. Crackdown 2 is certainly not the sequel I've been waiting for.