Crackdown 2 Review

By Morgan Webb - Posted Jul 05, 2010

Crackdown 2 delivers all of the orb-snatching, high-jumping fun of the 2007 original with a few twists. Some quirks and issues keep it from reaching its full potential, but you'll still find plenty of fun amidst the chaos.

The Pros
  • Drop-in co-op with up to 4 friends
  • Orb-collection is addictive and fun
  • It's a playground for stunts and tricks
The Cons
  • Controls aren't always responsive enough
  • Not enough mission variety
  • Bland multiplayer

Crackdown 2 drops you right back into the same environment you played in Realtime Worlds' 2007 sleeper hit, though with a few twists. It's a decade later, and you're fighting on two fronts. It's a fantastic game that largely recreates the fun of the original, although it doesn't take any major leaps and strides to drive the experience to the next level. That's unfortunate, but if you have the itch to collect and hoard more orbs, then this one will scratch for days.

The premise is simple. You are a clone - a mindless, overpowered oppressor enforcing the will of a corporation on the disaffected populace. Your mission is to single-handedly destroy the grassroots rebellion, called the Cell, as well as cleanse Pacific City of the extremely aggressive population of mutant Freaks.

 

 

Skills for Kills, Agent, Skills for Kills

You start out your mission only slightly overpowered. You can level up 5 skills - agility, strength, guns, explosives, and driving. You mostly level up your agility by finding green orbs on the rooftops. In all the other categories, you get skills for kills, meaning if you kill a Freak with a kick to the face, you will receive levelling orbs in the strength category. If you run over a Cell rebel with your car, you will receive levelling orbs for the driving skill.  You will unlikely be able to fully level your character during your first play through, adding a huge incentive to keep playing so you can unlock some really grand abilities.

It is the hunt for orbs that really defines Crackdown and this new sequel. You’re not in the game for the story, which is thankfully light. You’re not in it because it’s a great shooter -- it’s an easy lock-on system that loves focusing on the wrong thing. You’re not in it because it’s a great brawler -- half the time you can’t even seem to punch an enemy if he’s right in front of you, so you do a bit of flailing and a lot of button mashing. There is, however, something so delicious about the hunt for orbs, something about the sound they make when you get close, something about the joy of being able to scale a 50 story building and leap between the rooftops, that makes you forgive many of the game’s mechanical shortcomings.

Woah...Deja vu

If you played Crackdown, it will dawn on you at some point that you’ve been here before. You are playing in the same city, though it has gotten the requisite coat of graphical polish.

 


The feeling of familiarity will run a little deeper when you realize that the mission structure lacks any variety. Once you’ve done one mission set, you’ve pretty much done them all. First, you need to locate three solar Absorption Units that are linked to a specific Beacon drop point. You activate an Absorption Unit by standing on an adjacent pad for a few seconds, then you head to the next one. When three Absorption Units are activated, you then guard a Beacon from an endless stream of sometimes monstrous enemies. You then either start the pattern again, or you can choose to take over one of the rebel Cell strongholds, and then go in search of another Absorption Unit.

If you get too bored of the mission structure, however, there are some other activities. You can search for a number of different types of special orbs, like Renegade Orbs, which speed away as soon as you get close. There are footraces that have you leaping across rooftops to earn extra agility, and car races to level your driving. Neither race type is particularly fun, but they’re not horrible, and lets be honest -- you’re just in it for the orbs.

The Freaks Come Out at Night

As virtual worlds go, Pacific City has a dual personality. During the day, the city is full of citizens who always get in the way of your car/shotgun/rocket launcher. You are mildly admonished for the untimely demise of innocent bystanders, but in general the unwashed masses just get in the way -- and pay dearly for their mistake.

At night, Pacific City is home to thousands of shambling zombies, or Freaks, that in some areas are packed in shoulder to shoulder. They come in a number of flavors - big bruisers, quick jumpers, spitters, and even some giants that are two stories high.

 

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Freaks are fodder in the best possible sense. You will start drooling when you see a hundred freaks packed in a small area. Level your explosives skill by lobbing in grenade after grenade, or get in the center of the pack and smash their brains out with a lamp post. Freaks are there for level grinding, and they bring the player endless amounts of joy.

It’s nice to have two different gaming environments in one city, and you will find yourself alternately looking forward to the sunset when the fodder comes out to play, and looking forward to the dawn when you can walk around in peace.

Can I Take the Subway?

Driving, especially in slower cars, is improved. Though it's a minor gripe, handling gets a bit more finicky when you get into the faster vehicles. Climbing buildings and flying across rooftops is one of the best things about Crackdown 2, and sometimes one of the most frustrating. Your mortal enemy, worse than any Freak or Cell operative, is the awning. You will curse a 6-inch overhang more than you will ever curse the hordes of Freaks. Your agent just can’t seem to grab onto any ledge that isn’t exactly flush with the one he left, which begs the question of why Ruffian put those overhangs in the game in the first place.

The building design is often frustrating as well. You are often circling a building trying to figure out how to get to the Absorption Unit at the top, then you start circling other buildings in the vicinity in an ever widening radius. This doesn't come across as a fun puzzle; it comes off as bad design and it's annoying, especially since the sense of freedom in approach is what Crackdown is all about.

You eventually get used to the irritating controls and you learn to overlook them, but get ready to fall a lot. You forgive the game because it’s still fun, but it's sad to think of how amazing the game truly could have been.

 


An Army of Four

The series really succeeds when you’re playing co-op, so the drop-in/drop-out online of Crackdown 2 is more than welcome. You’re to the wall trying to take a Cell stronghold, and without warning, your friend comes flying into view to save the day! There is another type of orb just for online play, the Live orbs, which you and at least one friend need to stand near in order to activate. These are a fun distraction and the mission is often happily interrupted to collect them.

The absolute best part of Crackdown 2 is that its a stunter's paradise. When you and your friends get bored of doing missions, you can collect gas cans and oxygen tanks and create huge explosions. You’ll find gigantic balls you can carry around and throw (Freak bowling, anyone?), even find trucks with stunt ramps on the back, so you can position them for the perfect trick -- which will undoubtedly also involve all those gas cans. The map is littered with fun toys, and you have some great weapons in your arsenal, so get creative and don’t forget to record some of your best stunts.

Multiplayer is not going to be anyone's favorite mode of Crackdown 2, but it’s a passable experience. Rocket Tag, where one player has the orb and the rest chase him down with infinite rocket launchers, sounds better in theory than it is in practice, mostly because the maps seem poorly designed for this purpose -- too many nooks and crannies feel easily exploitable. In one match, a player scaled a nearly-inaccessible point and camped for two minutes. Not fun. The other options are deathmatch and team deathmatch, though the winner of each mode is "whoever found the rocket launcher first," followed by "whoever found the sniper rifle first." There are vehicles available, and you can even fly a helicopter around the map and spam the ground with rockets, but it’s a novelty more than a winning strategy -- you’re a sitting duck up there.

Happy Days are Here Again

Crackdown 2 is a great game, but not one without some glaring flaws. It would have been nice to see more from it -- more polish, more work on the design, and a lot more work on the controls. You can’t help wondering what Ruffian did with all the development time they had, because it feels like they just threw a few twists into the game we saw three years ago. What ultimately saves it, though, is what saved it the first time -- it’s fun to be an awesome supercop, and it’s even more fun to be awesome with friends. Despite the quirks that rob it of the heights of true greatness, Crackdown 2 is a good time, and it's still very much worth the price of admission.