Before the first Crackdown even released, Xbox 360 skeptics panned it for including a Halo 3 multiplayer beta code in each retail copy of the third-person sandbox game. The thinking at the time was that Microsoft included the Halo 3 beta codes to drive sales of what they thought was a sub-par product. Fast-forward several years, and Crackdown stirs fond memories from those who loved collecting orbs, doing wacky vehicular stunts and watching their supercop turn into a character more akin to a superhero. That whole Halo 3 controversy? Turns out the code was gravy, not the main course. The original Crackdown was great, warts and all.
For Crackdown 2, Microsoft passed the reins to Ruffian Games with what appears to be two primary goals: don’t stray far from the original game’s winning formula, and find a way to add zombies — because driving over zombies in the Supercar is cool. In both cases, Ruffian delivers in a big way with Crackdown 2. Pacific City is exactly like gamers remember it (although in ruins), the gameplay mechanics and orb collecting are completely intact, and the plot has its predictable twist at the end. The addition of zombies, aka Freaks, is purely icing, and although you’ll be hard pressed to find a REAL good explanation of why they’re there, your mind will soon numb to their presence and you’ll simply accept zombies as a logical part of Pacific City at night.
It’s that brain-numbing thing that’s a bit troubling, though, and for reasons that are quite ironic. To understand the irony, it’s important to understand what’s changed in Crackdown 2 from the original. In the first Crackdown, players were presented with a sandbox in which to destroy several gangs in order to bring peace to Pacific City. Each gang had a particular specialty, so defeating each one required slightly different tactics and resulted in a different impact on the other gangs’ abilities. Take out the vehicle mafia, for instance, and the other gangs’ transportation options were depleted. Take out the firearms group, and all other foes’ weapons got weaker because their supplier was out of the picture. Although these strategy elements were somewhat thin, it was at least obvious that the developers tried to inject some sanity and order into the sandbox.
The same can’t necessarily be said for Crackdown 2, in large part because there are no real gangs. Like the gangs in the preceding game, a single omnipresent group called The Cell wants nothing more than to eradicate The Agency, a peacekeeping force in which players are an officer. The zombie-like Freaks, meanwhile, are impartial in their search for destruction and thus fight with both groups across Pacific City’s island boroughs. Each entity — Cell and Freaks — has its own unique set of overall objectives. The Cell’s objectives are all territory-control metagames that give the player new drop points for weapons, ammo and vehicles. The Freak objectives, meanwhile, focus on activating ultraviolet arrays that blanket the city in a protective UV weave and, once enough arrays are activated, destroying the Freak strongholds with an exploding UV beacon.
Yet while this could set the stage for some fun levels and challenges, there’s one small problem: The Cell are The Cell and the Freaks are the Freaks no matter where you travel in Pacific City. The strength, size, number and weaponry of each all grow more challenging as the game goes on (14+ hours), but the strategies and tactics from stronghold to stronghold are largely identical. When you’ve seen one Freak lair, you’ve essentially seen them all, and the same goes with Cell compounds. The T-Rex-sized Freak is a brutal addition later on, as are the Cell soldiers with homing rocket launchers, but the lion’s share of the tactics and gameplay remains the same. Gone are the decisions about which element you wanted to cut off first (weapons, cars, explosives, etc.), and in their place are mindless “wash, rinse, repeat” gameplay segments that are fun for the first few boroughs but end up feeling burdensome and repetitive before you even reach the halfway point in the game.
Make no mistake: what Crackdown 2 does well, it does very, very well. The co-op glitches and spawning issues from the original are completely gone, the versus multiplayer is a refreshing and logical addition, and the verticality of the city and superhero-like ability for the protagonist to leap through it all are second to none. Players can even hop in and hop out of Friends’ campaigns just to see what’s shakin’, although continuous voice chat needs to be set up separately (the only weird decision in the multiplayer roster). The problem lies in that Crackdown 2 does so few things in general that the game soon feels tired, almost as though Ruffian went a little too far with not wanting to stray from the original model. Sequels don’t ever go really crazy in the “new stuff” department, but Crackdown 2 feels hobbled by a developer’s compulsion to wash-rinse-repeat itself into oblivion. Other small changes, like vehicles’ appearances being based on class rather than cars visually morphing when players get into them, seem like going in the prequel rather than sequel direction.
The thinking is probably this: the most enjoyable aspects of Crackdown were collecting orbs, turning the Agent into a super-powered cop, and running around online with friends seeing what wacky stuff you could do to unlock Achievements. If all of those things are accounted for — which they are — then juicing the multiplayer components should be all the additional work required for success. While that theory is sound, the people with whom I played cooperatively for the purposes of this review said the same thing after about two hours: “this is getting kinda old.” In the first Crackdown, the only thing that got old with the co-op was the glitching and unspawning enemies. In Crackdown 2, the gameplay itself gets tired, even when playing cooperatively.
If there’s one thing that can be said about Crackdown 2, it’s that no other game makes you feel like such a badass. Improve your skills to level four or five, and Pacific City is an absolute playground. A dangerous, huge and beautifully rendered playground, but a playground nonetheless. Crackdown 2 also has a knack for getting at the heart of what makes the interactive medium so enjoyable: finding fun wherever you may, and helping players forget about the troubles of the real world. There’s something escapist about Crackdown 2 — even amid its absolutely nuts shootouts — that compels you to take out “just one more stronghold” or “just one more beacon” just to unwind.
All of this makes Crackdown 2 one of the hardest games in recent memory to classify. It’s calming yet intense, a sequel with only one major addition (competitive play), a game that focuses on its predecessor’s best elements yet over-relies on them to the point of repetition. Have I enjoyed Crackdown 2? You bet. Is it something I’d recommend to friends? Definitely. But would I throw a few qualifiers and caveats into the conversation? I’d be remiss if I didn’t. Crackdown 2 feels and plays like an old friend, someone you truly enjoy seeing again but walk away from knowing why you take breaks between visits.
Click the following link to buy Crackdown 2 from Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.6
- The sandbox is fun and the co-op and versus mayhem is wild. Unfortunately, the sandbox feels a bit shallower, making the experience repetitive and old after the first fourth of the game.
— Jonas Allen