Welcome to the introductory paragraph! In a normal review, this is where we might explain the concept of the game, or recount the history of the franchise, or hook your interest with a particularly dramatic description of something that happened to us while playing. For Crackdown 2, however, we feel a rare journalistic responsibility to cut the bullshit and drive straight to the point: This is the same game as Crackdown 1.
That could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. If you loved the original and just want a second, slightly enhanced sandbox in which to explore and experiment with your friends, then you'll be satisfied… though never surprised. If you liked the original, but were expecting big improvements to address some very obvious flaws, then you'll be disappointed, frustrated and possibly even angered… yet once again addicted for hours at a time.
Confusing, right? Let's explain in detail…
What's still great about Crackdown
You don't jump. You launch into the sky, soaring higher than the roofs of buildings and landing with a concrete-cracking tremor. You don't run. You speed through the air like a human bullet, leaving exhaust trails and startled pedestrians in your wake. You don't hit. You pummel and pulverize, sending enemies hurtling across entire city blocks with a single punch, kick or throw. No franchise is better at making you feel like a godly, all-powerful superhero – a crazy combination of Superman, Flash, Hulk, Spider-Man and The Punisher – than Crackdown.
And in Crackdown 2… You can fly! Sort of. Once you've leveled up your agent character enough, you receive a "wing suit" upgrade that enables you to glide through the air like a leaf on the breeze, grabbing much greater distance out of every leap and every freefall. The new ability isn't explained too well (a tiny text box is the only tutorial) and requires a lot of trial-and-error practice, but once perfected, basically adds Iron Man to the superhero list above.
Before you can learn to fly, you must learn to collect. Fortunately, searching for Agility Orbs – the shimmering green power-ups that act as Crackdown's XP – is the most addictive part of the game. They're everywhere you look, and yet somehow always just out of reach. Spend ten minutes figuring out how to climb a tower for one and you'll discover another dozen beckoning to you from the horizon, each demanding its own unique and inventive approach. Suddenly it's 4:00 AM and you're still hungry for more.
And in Crackdown 2… The developers feed your habit even further. In addition to the 500 Agility Orbs, 300 Hidden Orbs and 80 Xbox Live Orbs (visible at all times, but attainable only in co-op), they've thrown in Renegade Orbs, living power-ups that will actually run away from you. If you thought you were obsessed during the last game, wait until you try to grab these – the endless chases are both maddening and ridiculously satisfying.
Crackdown could arguably be called the best co-op franchise of this generation. You're not merely shooting enemies side by side, or manning a turret while the other guy drives. These games are giant playgrounds, designed for DIY play - much like the famously imaginary Calvinball, you and your friends are free to make up your own rules, your own contests and your own fun.
And in Crackdown 2… That fun grows exponentially every time another player joins in, so the follow-up smartly increases co-op from two to four. More importantly, though, Crackdown 2 gives your group major incentives to stay together as often as possible. New toys like the webby mag grenades – with which you can hang a car between two buildings, or attach a tank to a helicopter – are wasted unless there's someone else there to see your bizarre construction / destruction. New Achievements require that multiple parties be involved – how are you going to "leap from one fast moving vehicle to another" for 10G unless your friends are driving both?
Finally, the new missions are much easier when tackled with multiple guns. Sections that you'll fail by yourself over and over, sometimes even on the lowest difficulty level, are suddenly a shoot-and-forget breeze once co-op help arrives. While this is a fantastic way to encourage teamwork, it often ends up punishing those who want to – or have to – play alone. Which brings us to the next page: What's still crap about Crackdown.
What's still crap about Crackdown
MISSIONS AND ENEMIES
This was our biggest problem with the original Crackdown. When you were messing around and improvising gameplay with friends, the game was a blast. When you eventually attempted to finish the campaign and check off all of the official objectives, however, the game became a repetitive and unimaginative chore. Why were we, the amateurs, so much better at thinking up cool stuff to do than the experienced developers?
Sadly, and a little shockingly, the missions are just as bad in Crackdown 2. Instead of taking down a series of forgettable gangs, you're slowly rebuilding a forgettable super weapon in order to eradicate an army of forgettable zombies while being harassed by a forgettable resistance force. Honestly, even with our snark added, that last sentence makes the campaign sound pretty damn interesting, so here's an actual example of gameplay to put things in perspective:
You rebuild the super weapon by… standing? Yup, only multiply that image by 27, because that's the number of super weapon pieces you'll be asked to repair in the same tedious manner. Occasionally, you'll be told to activate a beacon as well. Those missions undoubtedly look like this:
You drop down a dark hole and protect the beacon from a relentless swarm of zombies for several minutes. It's exciting and intense the first time… not so much the ninth, nearly identical time.
And everything else? Clearing out zombie and resistance force strongholds. In other words, pretty much what you did in the last game.
Pacific City, the futuristic metropolis you cleaned up in the original Crackdown, lacked depth, detail and personality. We never cared about the buildings – they were just props for us to climb. We never cared about the citizens – they were generic fodder for our fists, or bloody decoration for the grills of our supercars. We never cared about the fate of the city, either – the place didn't seem that safer or nicer at the end of the game than it did at the beginning.
With some nice diversity and a beautifully crisp, cel-shaded comic book style, however, Pacific City was good enough for the first game. Then on to a new and improved setting for Crackdown 2, right?
Sorry. Same city. Same landmarks. Same basic layout. Pacific City has fallen into crumbling disrepair since the previous game, and while we did enjoy recognizing certain landmarks in their slightly more deteriorated states, that's seriously the only noticeable difference. And that is not enough of a difference to make Crackdown 2 a truly new experience.
Of course, the other drawback from barely upgrading a location after three years of technological advancement? It starts to show its age in incredibly distracting ways…
That's not a cable or rope lying on the beach. That's two polygons of beach texture sewn together with their stitches showing. Welcome to 2010.
He's back, and bossier than ever. Your Agency employer / handler was the sole character in Crackdown, compensating for his mysterious lack of a face or name through the constant use of his smug and condescending voice. But at least he usually had something helpful to say about the mission you were tackling or the vehicle and weapon you were handling. And once he was finished, he shut up.
Not in Crackdown 2. Trying to fight off enemies? He'll ask why you're taking so long. Trying to defend a beacon from zombie attacks? He'll interrupt every 10 seconds to remind you that - no shit – zombies are attacking the beacon. Trying to escape a danger zone with a sliver of health bar left? He'll order you to return once you've "grown a pair." Trying to drive down a street, but accidentally hitting a few policemen because they're almost indistinguishable from every other NPC? He'll send attack squads after you as punishment, and say so with the exact same snippet of dialogue he used in the original game. Trying to stand still so you can temporarily take care of something in the real world? He'll angrily bark at you to "get a move on!" He's a mean old bully, and we hate him.
So little, so late
But in spite all the negativity on the previous page, we don't hate Crackdown 2. As the first section of the review made clear, everything that was fun, addictive and original about the last game is still just as fun and addictive – if no longer original – in the second game. If you never played Crackdown 1, you have many long days and sleepless nights of orb-grabbing, agent-enhancing, chaos-creating, goal-improvising entertainment ahead of you.
The rest of us, however, aren't given very many compelling reasons to jump back into Pacific City… or to shell out another $60. Four-player co-op is fantastic. The wing suit is neat. Tanks, helicopters and spider web grenades are inspired inclusions. After that, what else? The setting is the same. The missions and enemies haven't been improved; the story and characters continue to be nonexistent. Most of the weapons and vehicles operate exactly as they did in early 2007, and if you bought Crackdown's DLC a few months later, the dune buggy and harpoon gun aren't new either. Even the addition of multiplayer doesn't change much, as you get only three basic modes – deathmatch, team deathmatch and rocket tag – which are always won by whoever reaches a helicopter first. If you want a full report on this side of things though, check out Dave H's in-depth multiplayer appraisal.
Clichéd as this might sound, Crackdown 2 honestly is Crackdown 1.5. We're happy to get a little more of a formula we love, but after waiting three years – the amount of time in which Rockstar gave us Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas in GTA – we expected and deserved so much more than this follow-up has to offer.
A second (player) opinion
From the desk of Brett Elston, GamesRadar Executive Editor
"Charlie and I spent tens of hours playing the original Crackdown, so much so that it’s the only game of the modern generation I’ve played until the sun came up. It’s strange then, that I found myself complaining about the sequel so often. All of the first game’s problems are still present, and what little new content that’s here doesn’t come into play until way late in the game. The map is borderline identical and the various agent powers appeared to be unchanged or so minutely altered that they didn’t factor into gameplay. Honestly, it feels a bit ballsy to ask for $60 when the two games are so similar.
But, as a co-op experience Crackdown 2 is still pretty fun. There’s little direction and the missions themselves are rarely exciting, but running around in a group, tossing cars and leaping from building to building in search of something to harass/play with/destroy/climb will still devour hours of your free time. It’s an incredibly tough game to walk away from when in a group, as there’s always someone saying “oh look at this!” or “hey I found one of the Xbox Live-only orbs,” which continually distracts you from just how bland the story and missions really are. There’s fun to be had, especially with two, three or four people, but going solo is not recommended."
Is it better than…
Crackdown? Yes. The four-player co-op multiplies the best parts of Crackdown's addictive formula, and some inventive new toys provide that larger group with plenty of opportunity for improvisation. If you played the original to death, however, you'll be shocked at how little has really changed for this so-called sequel. Crackdown 2 is better, for sure, but not better enough.
Just Cause 2? No. Both sandboxes are built for creative mayhem, but Just Cause 2 includes boats, planes, zip-lines, a massive environment filled with Easter eggs and – oh yeah – an actual story with actual missions. You can't play with a friend, of course, but with so much more to do during the campaign, you won't need to. The graphics in Just Cause 2 – especially the explosions, of which you'll see a lot – are prettier as well.
InFamous? Depends on what kind of superhero game you're after. If you want to play through a gritty origin tale in a relatively believable setting, pick InFamous. Your powers won't be as exciting or exaggerated, but at least you'll have a compelling reason to use them. If you'd rather act out your own comic book story – with no rules, no morality and close to no gravity – go Crackdown 2.
Just for you, Metacritic!
What was good is still good, but rarely better. What was bad is still bad, and sometimes worse. Changes have been made, though only the addition of four-person co-op makes much of a noticeable impact on the experience. This is a sequel you've sort of already played.
Jul 5, 2010