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Pacific City is once again at the mercy of The Agency, but it seems not a lot has changed...
RealTime Worlds’ Crackdown was something of a surprise hit back in 2007, although undoubtedly the fact that it came bundled with a beta token for Halo 3 went some way to explaining its success. Three years later the sequel finally arrives courtesy of a new developer, Ruffian Games, and we’re guessing Microsoft must be hoping that the sequel can stand on its own merits and won’t be left regretting the fact it didn’t hold back the Halo: Reach beta for inclusion.
Immediately Crackdown 2 smacks of a sequel that lacks a little ambition. Beyond a decrepit look to Pacific City, Crackdown 2 is a virtual carbon copy of the original both in terms of design and visual style - the only surprise seems to come from the fact that it’s taken 3 years to arrive. Unsurprisingly, the actual game stays very close to the original blueprint, a curious amalgamation of action and jumping as you leap around Pacific City in search of Agility Orbs scattered around town while waging war against Cell militants by day and mutated Freaks at night. The sheer action draws comparisons to the likes of Just Cause, but in truth, Crackdown 2 is quite its own take on the open world format.
Once you’ve realised that it’s largely the same game set in the same game world, the slight differences begin to emerge. Whereas the original merely offered the task of eliminating gang members across Pacific City, Crackdown 2 finds the Agency at war with Cell militants and infested with mutated Freaks during the night. In an attempt to wrestle control back from the Freaks, the Agency sets about to unleash Project Sunburst. This is manifested by groups of Absorption Units dotted throughout Pacific City that must be activated, which in turn presents a Beacon that must be defended until its fully activated to harness the power of the sun to destroy the Freaks. Rinse and repeat this nine times over to win the game with slight variety coming in the shape of races (on the road and along rooftops) to win and Cell Strongholds/Freak Lairs to destroy.
Like the original, repetition is a key component of the Crackdown experience. Crackdown 2 is less of a trial of attrition than the original, but it’s still largely a case of doing the same thing over and over again without a plot to push you along. Repetition is often a dirty word in video games, but like RealTime Worlds before them, Ruffian Games have taken the concept as a key component of the game. The simple fact is that despite the sheer repetition, lack of narrative, or even the slight reward of cut-scenes, Crackdown 2 still manages to keep you playing.
The key comes from the development of the agent under your control. Collecting Orbs and killing Cell members and Freaks alike upgrades the agents skills across Agility, Firearms, Strength, Explosives and Driving attributes. It’s this constant sense of development and progress that manages to overcome the relentless repetition of Crackdown 2, and like the original, manages to create a surprisingly engaging and enjoyable experience. Being able to jump further, run faster, and throw cars is all the reward that’s really needed; a sense that you’re becoming an increasingly powerful super hero that really comes into its own when you’ve upgraded the various abilities beyond level 3. At its core, Crackdown 2 is a simple and pure video game experience that doesn’t need a plot or characters to propel the game along. The simple fact is that jumping around Pacific City and blowing things up is a lot of fun.
One of the most exciting premises of the original was the inclusion of a two-player co-op mode, which was a novel feature for open-world titles of the time and certainly reinforced the notion of double the players, double the fun. Crackdown 2 takes the natural step of upgrading this to four players. It works well and has been neatly integrated into the overall experience. From the start you’re asked about assistance, whether you want to go it alone or join up with up to three other players. Co-op specific Orbs are dotted around Pacific City, which can only be earned with friends, while trivial tasks such as activating the Project Sunburst units is made speedier when there’s more players. In addition the game also boasts all-new 16 player competitive modes, covering Team Deatchmatch and the slightly more engaging Rocket Tag. We can’t imagine these will dent the supremacy of Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox Live, but they do at least provide a little extra replay value once the 12 hour campaign is over.