Review: Crackdown 2
July 21, 2010, Author: Phil Ubee
Every once in a while a game comes along that genuinely surprises you. The original Crackdown was one such game. Marketed for the Halo 3 beta as much as anything it had to offer itself, Realtime Worlds 2007 “GTA clone” was a resounding success with its Comic book style Super Hero Agents and the inclusion of a complete co-op story mode.
Now three years on the developers, with a new moniker of Ruffian Games, have to live up to the increased expectation with arguably one of the XBOX 360’s most anticipated sequels. Can they live up to the hype? Read on to find out.
Crackdown 2 is set sometime after the original game. Gone are the previous fractions, instead you are left with two opposing forces. The Cell Terrorist group led by Catalina Thorne, a former employee of the Agency with grievances over her dismissal, and the mutants, lovingly known as Freaks, let loose around the city after an experimental virus was released into the general population.
The background to the story mode has been released in short episodes and can be downloaded from the Xbox Live marketplace free of charge or watched on youtube. It tells of how Catalina Thorne developed and released the virus herself and then headed up the terrorist group who lay the blame at the door of the Agency. You take on the role of one of the Agents tasked with battling the Cell by day and the Freaks by night.
You begin with a brief training level. Your Agency guide runs you through the basics of jumping (A), locking a target (LT), Shooting (RT) and throwing a projectile weapon (RB). You also learn to target specific areas of the body by locking on to the target and then flicking the right stick to select Head, Arm or Leg shots.
Driving is equally straight-forward. You enter and exit a vehicle with Y, accelerate with RT, reverse with LT and brake with A. Some vehicles have weapons attached which are fired with B, which is also used as the horn or siren on those vehicles that are not armed.
From here, it is straight into the action. You are initially tasked with infiltrating a Cell stronghold in order to provide the Agency with a key tactical location on the docks. You will be met with a pretty strong resistance but at this point in proceedings the enemy are relatively weak in number and a few well positioned fuel barrels give you plenty of opportunity to chain some explosions and start levelling up your chosen agent.
For those of you who have played the original, levelling up is a little quicker this time around. Your Agent’s skills are split into the same five categories of Agility, Strength, Weapons, Explosives and Driving. Agility is upgraded by collecting the 500 green agility orbs scattered around Pacific City or completing roof top races. Weapons, Explosives and Strength are all levelled up by killing with the assigned skill. For example blow up a group of Cell and gain an explosives boost, kick some Freak butt and gain a strength boost. Driving awards are given for completing races, getting stunt markers and running over enemies.
You can also gain an all round level-up by collecting the hidden orbs located around the City. These are much harder to find than agility orbs as they are often outside the standard line of sight under a barrier or behind a wall but are worth finding for the bonus you’ll receive. There are also a number of audio logs scattered around the City. These serve to fill in the holes of the story and give you some much needed tactical insight into some of the more fortified strongholds.
It is fair to say I have never been a fan of “collect” style tasks in video games be they flags, pigeons, orbs or any other object. However, having said that it never feels like a chore in Crackdown 2. The agility orbs are all fairly visible and you can see and feel the benefits easily enough as your agent transforms from a slow, cumbersome lump into a lean energetic Super Agent capable of jumping over a house.
The other primary task in the Pacific City clean up is the elimination of the Freaks. In order to clear up the streets you need to reactivate Absorption Units which enable Beacons to be deployed in Freak “Lair’s”. Reactivate three Absorption Units to get a Beacon which then needs to be protected from the Freaks long enough to be activated.
The story mode follows these two major tasks on the whole and I would be lying if I said it does not get a little repetitive at times. There are road and rooftop races as well as Freak breakouts to keep you occupied along-side the aforementioned collection tasks but it can be a little samey.
I also have to point out a couple of minor issues I have with the game. Firstly, as my colleague James mentioned in his Demo Impression, there is no cover system in place here. Sure you can duck behind a crate or hide around the corner of a wall but that is it and you cannot help but think the developers missed a trick. Neither is there a sprint option. Your Agent will move quicker as he levels up but at no point can you change pace, a little odd for a Super Agent methinks.
My other bug bear is within the Agency Intel screen and specifically the map. You cannot view multiple tasks on the map at once so you need to first select what you want to look for (tactical locations, rooftop race) then enter the map, neither can you zoom in or out on the map to get a wider overview of where your destination is in relation to your current location. Finally you cannot set a waypoint or highlight a target to assist you with navigation. These are minor issues but ones which do irritate at times and could so easily have been avoided.
What Crackdown 2 lacks in subtlety it certainly makes up for in sheer brute force. There are explosive barrels located all over the city and explosions can be chained for achievements and just pure fun. To say the screen literally lights up when you link four or five explosions together is an understatement of epic proportions. Watching Freaks and Cell flying around the screen at these chained explosions is about as enjoyable a sight as I have seen in a video game this year.
The weapons on offer are pretty awesome too. From standard Grenades to a rubber duck, (unlocked via Facebook) from a machine gun to a Harpoon gun and from a standard shotgun to the quite magnificent UV shotgun which will wipe out a group of ten Freaks in a single blast and clear any other obstacle in its path to boot. The weapons are diverse, imaginative and in most cases just really good fun.
Visually, Crackdown 2 follows its predecessor almost a bit too much. By that I mean some will criticise the game for looking a bit too simplistic compared to other big name titles. The cell-shaded effect is primary in the simplistic feel but serves to keep that comic book feel to proceedings that set the original game apart. The draw distances are on a par with anything else I have seen and are a fundamental part of the game mechanics. You can stand atop any building and look around to clearly see an agility orb or race marker in the distance removing any frustration often experienced in a “collect” task of missing anything you are not stood next to and looking directly at.
Pacific City itself has plenty of diversity too. From industrial areas like the docks, to cavernous mountains. From underground lairs, to the downright dereliction of Union Heights. The overall feel of the City is one of degradation, as you would expect with it being a battle ground at the centre of a three way fight for supremacy, but you can see the promise it offers if not for the terrorists and the Freaks.
Another fundamental issue I want to mention is the one of slowdown. A trait I cannot stand in modern video games and one which does not come close to appearing here. During some of the Freak breakouts and Stronghold battles there is quite literally not an inch of screen that does not have something going on. Explosions, right, left and centre are complemented by running battles and bullets flying backwards and forwards and throughout it all the game runs as smooth as the proverbial babies bum.
Enough to make you scream
The game has little in the way of background music but the effects are sharp and clear. Freaks give a somewhat pleasing scream when taken out. When entering a Cell vehicle you are greeted with some intense tunes be it heavy rock or a base filled hip-hop track. If you take over a civilian vehicle it is more of a mellow, softer number. Every new day is met by a celebratory sounding melody. One of the perceived joy and success of seeing through another night of the Freak attack. It all fits very nicely.
Your Agency guide is the same as in the previous game. He is clear and concise and offers a word of wisdom or two when needed (as well as a derogatory swipe when you fail to perform). It is hardly a glorious musical score but it fits the game and sets the tone in the right way.
Welcome to the Party
There are four multiplayer modes in Crackdown 2. I will come to the co-op in a moment but first, for those of you who like your FPS we have the introduction of the now obligatory deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. These work in much the same way as in any one of a trillion other games currently on the market. Maps are pretty varied and there is an added challenge of avoiding “suicide”. Accidently blow yourself up with a grenade or fall a bit too far and you lose ten points. The other point of note is the difficulty in getting a kill with standard weaponry. On a number of occasions I found myself emptying a machine gun magazine at an opponent only a few feet away only to see them still standing.
We also have “Rocket Tag” which is akin to your capture the flag game mode. Up to sixteen players, one Rocket Orb. The idea of the game is to get and keep the orb for as long as possible. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Let me tell you this is anything but the case as literally, as soon as you get near the orb you will have UV shotgun blasts ringing in your ears. This mode is hugely entertaining and frustrating in equal measure, I cannot recommend it enough.
So to the co-op. This is a fundamental factor of what makes Crackdown 2 a special game. You and a group of friends can play through the entire game together or you can drop in on another game or have someone drop in on your own game from time to time. Throughout this you can work in close proximity or separate to complete the story mode objectives from multiple angles. You can completely ignore the objectives and just roam the streets of Pacific City kicking some serious Freak or Cell butt. You can also go off and compete in street or rooftop races, it is entirely your own decision and throughout it all you can pick up your own achievements.
It is worth noting though, that the host will be the player who is credited with story mode objectives and in order to collect the Xbox live orbs you need to be in close proximity to each other. This mode is great fun, total freedom in every respect and a really enjoyable experience. As far as I’m concerned Crackdown 2’s co-op mode is what sets this generation of gaming apart. Get a group of friends together over Xbox Live and just enjoy.
Agents at the Ready
Crackdown 2 is a triumph. It follows on from the original just enough to keep fans happy but not too much to alienate newcomers. There is a diversity of gameplay to satisfy the masses and yet it is not confused to the point it falls between stalls. It is unique enough to offer a new challenge but not so much to fall into a niche market. There genuinely is something for everyone.
It is not without its flaws and I doubt it will win any awards for originality or the depth of the story but overall this is an enjoyable, exciting video game that genuinely ticks all the boxes. It looks good, it sounds pretty decent and above all it plays supremely well. I cannot recommend it enough.