My findings? In its current state, Crackdown 2's multiplayer definitely isn't a good enough reason to buy the game. But looking at the great fun that can be had in it, there's a lot of unfulfilled potential I'd like to see realised. Which is actually a quite pleasing revelation, considering that in theory it really should be crap...
Why it should be crap
Being such a straight, no-frills adaptation of the main campaign’s mechanics, on paper Crackdown 2’s multiplayer gameplay should be zero fun. Auto-aiming lock-on is present and correct. It’s just as powerful at close-range, while remaining just as utterly useless at distance. With fully powered-up, health augmented Agents in play from the start, the basic shotgun and machine guns are so ineffectual that you might as well start each round unarmed.
Above: Look anarchic? There's a good reason for that
And while Crackdown’s super-powered gameplay mechanics are built for the liberating freedom of open-world exploration and the chaotic, broad-stroke destruction of stupid AI, they haven’t been adapted at all for the more focused needs of multiplayer.
But Crackdown 2’s PvP mode is a game of ironies. Yes, it’s chaotic, but it’s also tactical. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s also satisfying. And while certain elements of the weapon-set allow even the noobiest noob to triumph over those players better than him, skill and thoughtful play are important and reap benefits. On paper it’s crap. But in practice it’s distinctly better than crap.
Why it's fun instead of crap
The thing is, when fighting against human players more intelligent than the campaign’s AI (which is everyone, we hope. The taxing issue of switching the 360 on should filter out everyone else), Crackdown’s offensive toolset suddenly proves itself to be quite a bit deeper – or at least providing of more options – than the campaign would lead you to expect.
Above: A proud Agent stands alone and ponders. Ponders exploding stuff
It’s the verticality that does it. The huge, floaty jumps and gravity-defying boost pads might put the core gameplay firmly in Quake 3 territory, but Crackdown’s emphasis on creative environmental navigation brings a refreshing touch of Prince of Persia to proceedings as well.
Here's how it all plays out
You wander into a three-way skirmish on a high-rise rooftop. Normal multiplayer logic dictates that it’s circle-strafing time, with the last man standing being the one lucky enough to get off the first shot or have the biggest gun. But how about if instead you vault over the edge, quickly drop to a balcony a few floors down, then leap across to the other side of the street and lob a grenade back up to the adjacent rooftop, killing everyone in one hit?
Above: Inches below his foot, someone is rapidly praying. It won't work
Or how about if you run into the same scenario on ground level? How about if you escape in the confusion, track thebattle from the rooftops, and then drop out of the sky at the opportune moment, crushing everyone like the hammer of Thor with a 300 ft ground-pound? Crackdown 2’s weapon-set might focus mainly on close-to-medium range effectiveness (a holdover from the way campaign mode forces you into the heart of combat areas), but you can still snipe with murderous relish, albeit vertically and using your body rather than a bullet.