In the original Crackdown, Pacific City had character. Its three colorful districts – ruled by three competing gangs – all presented their own unique landmarks and platforming challenges. In Crackdown 2, 10 years have passed; the gangs are gone and the city is derelict, overrun by masses of zombie-like mutants. Police barricades block off street corners, smashed storefront windows sit neglected, and a thick layer of dust oppresses the entire city. A once-great metropolis lies tarnished – much like my fond memories of the first Crackdown.
I went into this game hoping to be amazed, and I am. I’m amazed that Ruffian Games developed a DLC-quality experience. I’m amazed that Microsoft has thrown it into a box and stamped the numeral “2” on the cover. Mainly, I’m amazed that this game took three years to produce. Crackdown 2 doesn’t merely follow the formula laid down by its predecessor; it delivers an experience that is, in many ways, indistinguishable from the first Crackdown. You still play a cybernetic super-cop sent to clean up the streets by a mysterious booming voice. You still collect orbs and level up your various abilities by pulling off crazy driving stunts, jumping across the city’s skyline like Daredevil, and using rockets to turn enemy nests into volcanic eruptions. That part of the game remains a blast. However, Crackdown 2 sticks so rigidly to the first game’s formula that it just comes across as lazy: We’re still exploring the same city, still driving many of the same vehicles, and still firing the same weapons.
A lot has happened in the video game world since the original Crackdown’s release. Games like Assassin’s Creed and Infamous have changed how players expect to navigate large cities and engage in open world combat. These advances make many of the first Crackdown’s quirks – such as the inaccurate melee combat, enemies who juggle you through the air with rockets, and fussy platforming sections – seem like major flaws.
I wish I could at least say, “If you loved the first game, you’ll love this,” but in many ways this feels like an inferior replica. Crackdown’s colorful gangs have been replaced by a single terrorist organization called The Cell, a flavorless enemy who tries to thwart your attempts to rid the city of its mutant population for reasons that are never entirely clear. In fact, the mutants themselves are about the only unique twist to Crackdown 2. The game does a good job of throwing hundreds of enemies at you without a hiccup, and the action can get pretty frantic once the ranks of flesh-hungry mutants start closing in.
Crackdown 2’s worst mistake is how it changes the series’ overall structure. In the first game, the city was broken into districts, each controlled by a different criminal organization. By taking out key figures, you would gradually chip away at the gangs’ infrastructures and take down their kingpins. This freeform approach to open-world design was unique, and it offered up some rewarding goals and delivered a sense of progression – two things lacking in this sequel.
Crackdown 2 feels like it tried to duplicate the first game’s freeform structure, but missed the point. There are no crime bosses in Crackdown 2. Instead, every main story mission literally falls into one of two categories: liberating terrorist strongholds, or activating beacons so you can clear out mutant spawning grounds. Only side missions like racing and orb collecting provide any variety in the formula. Then, just when you think the game is about to change its pace, the credits slap you in the face. Even the twist at the end is a regurgitation of the first game’s closing revelation.
To experience the handful of cool tweaks to Crackdown 2’s combat, you have to nearly max out your abilities. For example, when you reach level five in your agility skill, you are able to glide short distances. And when you reach level five in the explosives skill, you gain access to a weapon that lets you magnetize two large objects together, allowing you to send vehicles colliding into large groups of enemies. Unfortunately, you can easily beat the game before maxing out many of your stats, so you spend most of the game without these new talents, making them a wasted improvement.
What hurts the most about Crackdown 2 is that I would have been content with a simple, by-the-numbers sequel with a few token improvements. But this isn’t even a Xeroxed sequel; it’s more like a photocopy of a photocopy. The structure is largely the same, but some of the colors have faded, and parts of the picture are missing altogether. Let’s just hope that Microsoft uses some fresh ink for Crackdown 3.
The first Crackdown offered two-player co-op. Crackdown 2 knocks that number up to four. If you can get that many friends together, it’s wholly worthwhile. Nothing from the single-player experience is lost, and in some cases, you’ll have an easier and quicker time completing mission objectives. Co-op isn’t the only multiplayer experience in Crackdown 2, either. Crackdown 2’s deathmatch and rocket-tag gametypes are worth a solid weekend of your time. All the maps are based on sections of the city from story mode and the frenzied action doesn’t require a lot of skill, but the hyperactive gunplay and the building-sized explosions are enough to make up for that.