Crackdown 2 - XBOX 360
With the breakout success of Crackdown a sequel was always likely and in the ten years between titles the city has gone to hell in a handbasket despite the existence of its militant protectors. Overrun with freaks and "terrorists" the fate that has befallen Pacific City makes a São Paulo slum look like a fortnight at Butlins. Nothing a few super-powered stormtroopers can't fix, right? Cue the leaping, stomping, running and gunning all performed to a pounding soundtrack and a creepy voiceover. Yes, even the voice of the agency is back and he hasn't mellowed with age.
With the game taking place in the same amount of space as before, some gamers were worried that they might be getting short changed. After all, it's the industry standard to make things bigger and longer than before. Yet while Pacific City might be the same size, it certainly isn't in the same state. Could it be possible that underneath all that rubble there could be something to rival, or even surpass, the first game in the series?
The oppressive nature of the game is noticeable from the moment the short tutorial ends. Plunged into the heart of the city by helicopter the gunfire pings from all angles, there is no mercifully basic introduction to the game mechanics... It's balls to the wall from the get go and the pace doesn't let up. It is impossible, in fact, between missions to walk to your vehicle of choice without someone trying to gun the agent down or something coming out of a sewer to try and make a meal of super cop stew. There's no time to take in the scenery and the only calm will be found at night when leaping from rooftop to rooftop in true superhero style.
The central game mechanics are like an RPG with all the background and choice stripped out of it. For example, the more our character shoots, the better he gets at shooting and it's the same for driving and every other skill. In addition to developing these talents there are the all-important agility orbs dotted around the city that when collected slightly increase the overall ability to do the impossible. It doesn't take long before your character can uproot a lamppost and use it as an effective club. A little longer and he can pick up cars and hurl them some distance. Just imagine what it will be like once all 500 have been collected...
And that's a huge part of the game's addictiveness. Every minute spent playing makes the character that little bit better and it's not even proportionate to the enemies that he has to face. Indeed, what singles out Crackdown as a unique gaming experience is the fact that the real fun begins once the storyline of the central campaign is over. From there it is all about enabling your enforcer to do even more unthinkable things by chasing down the orbs he needs to hit the next stage. While the game can be comfortably completed without having to get anywhere near the magic total, the player feels compelled to keep pushing it to the max, as if they are somehow being robbed of the true Crackdown experience by not doing so. Of course, they'd be right.
Those who enjoy linear gaming and having their hand held will almost instantly be at loggerheads with this game. From the first mission to the last there are only slight indicators where to go and no save points as such during missions. For example, a den of freaks may well appear on the radar but accessing it in a dense, overcrowded city isn't easy and in the early stages of the game, taking to the skies isn't a viable option. This can at times be slightly frustrating, especially for those used to the GTA style of game where everything is easy to navigate without really thinking about the surroundings that are being interacted with. Crackdown 2 makes it necessary to engage with the environment and think about how to get from point A to point B.
In terms of dealing out mayhem there's a range of weapons that are best suited to different types of confrontation. The shotgun is particularly effective against mutants who will charge into close combat, the sniper rifle is better for getting rid of entrenched "cell" terrorists in dense urban settings. Rocket launchers and the like become available later into the game and all play their part but it's not as if there needs to be such sophisticated brutality. Crowds of enemies can be easily mowed down with one of the agency vehicles and if the crowd still won't disperse then grenades should thin out the numbers.
It's probably worth mentioning just how sizeable the numbers are. This cannot be understated - it is as if the entire city is against the agency and that's because mostly it is. Luckily thanks to the powersuit that comes as standard for your rank dealing with them rarely feels as dangerous as it should be. When shields are about to go down the alarm will sound and then actual damage will start to be taken. A quick break from taking damage though and the shields return and the suit will even heal the wounds taken. This means, even though the game is clearly putting the focus on co-operative play as is standard these days, even soloing doesn't feel like too much of a chore and experienced players will quickly get the hang of staying alive against the hostile hordes.
There is a lot of repetition across the missions it must be said but the thing that breaks it up is the ability to dispense death and destruction that your ever evolving character develops that is different each time. The enemy are indeed faceless, nameless and plentiful. The challenge is to be truly creative in how they are dispatched. It's an appreciation of that mind-set that will ensure players get the most from this game.
Yet the real fun of the game isn't in the gratuitous violence, or the action packed set pieces, or the open sandbox environment. It's to be had in tracking down the many various collectibles that the game has an abundance of. There's always something glittering in the distance, seemingly just out of reach, whether it's an agility orb, an audio file or a weapon, the game is more like an Easter egg hunt. There's a curious satisfaction to be had in powering up then coming back to a formerly unobtainable item, only to be able to access it with ease. It's a measure of in game progress and ensures that there is always something to do, long after the campaign has been put to bed and the titles sequence has rolled. Achievement junkies will love it.
Despite the depth in terms of the metagame what is at the core of Crackdown 2 is a fairly generic, third-person action and adventure game. The controls are simple. It's the definition of pick up and play and requires little brainpower to figure out. What singles it out as very different to the genre it conforms to is its bells and whistles, the way it is designed to eek out the fixes of gadgetry and abilities. In this sense the game does what few others manage and that is to have a reason for solo players to return without the requirement for online play. That is a rare thing indeed.
The graphics are something of a mixed bag. On the one hand the cityscape is truly impressive; every part of Pacific City's sprawling layout can be reached and seen from far away. The city itself is a believable husk, flaming trashcans on every corner and awash with neon as the sun slowly sinks beneath the smog. The setting is both fantastical and believable, the slums and shanty towns rubbing shoulders with the high rises. It makes the exploring all the more enjoyable, whatever the mode of transportation.
By contrast the freaks and company aren't all that much to look at and not just because of their hunchback or impressive scars. There's just not a lot of detail to them. Often they sort of blur into one bland wave, as identical and as generic as the titular space invaders. It's understandable really given the number of on-screen enemies faced at any one time, if there was too much detail on each character then our XBOX would come grinding to a halt.
There's a few glitches too, nothing too game spoiling but certainly unsightly. Generally though the game doesn't seem to have progressed much in graphical terms since its first incarnation. The explosions are a bit underwhelming, the weapon effects not quite as spectacular as they probably should be and there's something a bit dated about driving a car into an unruly mob and seeing them go squish like an unsuccessful round of Frogger, rather than splat apart like that guy from Robocop.
It's not that it's ugly but like the freaks the agency spend most of the game hunting down it's got a lot of physical defects. Still, on the plus side the action will be passing players by so fast and with no time to stand still who is really going to notice?
We've already mentioned the return of the voice of the agency and he does tend to dominate the proceedings right from the start. Sounding like some morbid family member who has attended one too many weddings, just never his own, the grizzled voiceover plays the role of something between a commentator and a conscience. Rack up a lot of kills in quick succession and he'll encourage the agent to keep it up with some words of commendation. Accidentally kill one of your own law enforcement allies and he will point out that the agent "had a wife and child" and ask if your agent will be the one to break the bad news to his widow... It's twisted but that is kind of the point. Acting as some demented mentor the voiceover leads players through the game and provides some amusing moments in his own right.
The soundtrack is also equally intense, a blend of thumping techno and crunching nu-metal. It will fade in and out depending on the action or whether or not the agent is in a vehicle. It gives it a cinematic quality and adds a strange sense of satisfaction to the carnage - running people over just feels better if there's music blasting out of the stereo at the same time it seems. The music definitely ties in with the squalor of a city gone to seed and in the grips of a rebellion. It's as angry as the people that the agency is suppressing.
Sound effects are functional, all the weapons having their own distinctive sounds and explosions sounding like explosions should. The city never sleeps and the sound of far off gunshots, screams or feral howls are always out there and always point the way to action. It's when an agent can actually access part of the city that presents some solitude and quiet time that it becomes clear just how much is going on in the city down below.
Crackdown 2 is something of an eclectic mix. While on the surface it might well pose as a muscle-bound rock-em and sock-em title, in truth the best parts have very little to do with action. There is still a thrill in juggling cars or clearing most of the city in a single bound, but it's the great scavenger hunt in a hostile environment that will keep gamers of a certain type hooked. Those who want to see only an actioner can approach it as such but will be missing out.
While the game might have some deficiencies the sandbox approach and seemingly limitless possibilities for madness are a treat for any gamer. Long after the campaign is done and the boss fights finished, long after the online co-op has been explored and done to death, long after you've finally hunted down that last driving orb, players will be coming back to this one. In a time when games rely on the multiplayer element to extend shelf-life, that's no mean feat and should be a point of pride with Ruffian Games.
A tried and tested game engine with a great central premise and no holds-barred action. Real pick up and play quality disguises a game of many layers.
The city is the star of this show, the inhabitants not so much.
The voiceover actor earns his wages with a fine performance and a soundtrack to back it up adds clout to some by the numbers sound effects.
So much to do and see it's not a game that will be completed in a hurry. Has a shelf life beyond that of most games.
(Not an Average)
Shameless fun and plenty of it, the game will keep players coming back until their agent is maxed out then back just for the sheer joy of using him.