When the opportunity arose to fly in a terrifyingly small plane to Dundee and sit in a darkened room to play Crackdown 2
for two solid days, even missing the opening salvo of the World Cup failed to dampen our excitement. There just isn't anything quite like Crackdown. Sure, you can easily draw parallels with Infamous, Prototype, Mercenaries - even GTA and Saint's Row 2 - but the core leaping about, heavy gameplay and dreamy cel-shaded aesthetic retain a wonderful identity all of their own. So, for this sequel, did new devs Ruffian stick or twist? They stuck, no doubt about that. But was it the right move? Frankly, we're in two minds...
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When Crackdown first rose to prominence - ironically primarily as the surrogate for the Halo 3 beta - it literally had nothing to lose. It was rough, ragged and intensely entertaining; screw the fact that it was near-broken in places, it boasted a collection of zany ideas that ranged from half-baked to great, all haphazardly glued together by a genius core theme. But times have changed. The original is now a cult favourite, there's a weird sense of nostalgia and childlike enthusiasm surrounding it that few other 360 releases can rival. Yet boot Crackdown up today and it's probably not as good as you remember. And the problem with Crackdown 2 is this: despite a veritable Argos catalogue of tweaks and revisions, this sequel is pretty much the exact same game.
That's probably seems a bit harsh. For one, it's all change when it comes to the players threatening the superficially benign (but actually, plain evil) rule of The Agency. In place of the nefarious Los Muertos and Volk gangs - not to mention the twisted Shai-Gen corp - a fresh twin threat has emerged to assault Pacific City. First up are a terrorist cell called, er... The Cell. Lurking behind them are the Freaks, an army of mutants who emerge from beneath the earth to rampage across the metropolis at night. This 'Cell is strong in the day, mutants rule at night' mechanic is presumably intended to have a dramatic effect on the way you go about your business - but once your Agent is particularly wimpy and under-levelled or you're playing on 'Sadistic' difficulty we'd argue the effect is negligible. Fights against the two different factions do play out markedly different though, while it's undeniably fun to leave a squelchy trail of mutant ooze in your wake as you mow them down in their hundreds in your Agency Tank.
Essentially, Crackdown 2 is a simple game and a simple sandboxer. It eschews the narrative drive of a GTA to essentially let you do pretty much anything and go pretty much anywhere you want. Maybe the truth isn't quite that simple - venture to the more heavily Cell-infested crevices of Pacific City with fledgling stats and you'll be blown to smithereens tout suite, and try to leap for higher ground without a sizeable number of agility orbs and you'll soon find your verticality fatally compromised - but there's certainly a commendable level of choice. Happily (and you surely know the drill by now), the fun is in the finding, and it's that challenge of sniffing out just one more orb that constantly underpins your true motivation for playing.
Orbs aside, your two main mission-orientated tasks revolve around burying The Cell while scrubbing the city clean of smelly Freaks. The first bit involves forages into gang territory in order to secure strategic locations - which boils down to murdering a prescribed amount of resistance fighters before calling in the militia to tidy things up. Seizing back a single Cell hideout in an area buzzing with them will lead to it being retaken if you're away from the scene for too long, so it pays to clean up entire vicinities lest you lose the tactical advantage you've accumulated. Seized hideouts then turn into heli-drop points, where you can summon up Agency vehicles and pass back seized weapons for integration into your whacking great armoury. These bits are passably entertaining, if occasionally frustrating when you're forever being blown off your feet by swathes of grunts packing laser-guided missile launchers during some of the tighter reclamation missions.