The sequel to the surprisingly excellent and addictive 2007 open-worlder Crackdown has done an interesting thing in brushing itself up for a new release. Instead of moving to a new city or area as so many games of the genre like to do when people have explored every nook and cranny of the sandbox, Crackdown 2 keeps the same environment, but completely rethinks the format of the gameplay and the story that drives it. We’re still in the “open-world” oeuvre here, but now Crackdown 2 is less GTA and more Dead Rising. In other words, more wanton violence against zombies, and now with four-player online co-op.
Set in Pacific City ten years after the events of the first game, you are once again a super-skilled operative of the Agency, fighting to get the city under control by any means necessary. The organized gangs you defeated are no longer threats, but new menaces have appeared. A man-made virus has turned large swaths of the population into monstrous, mutated freaks who tear the city apart by night, and many of those who haven’t been infected have gathered up arms against the “man” (i.e. the Agency) and are engaging in an insurrection under the banner of “the Cell.” All these freaks have been tearing Pacific City to shreds, leaving it a smoking hull of what it once was, and the Agents who are trying to get them under control aren’t doing the town many favors with their light regard for collateral damage. So the Cell is here to fight the good fight. Too bad you’re not on their side.
In the first game, you played a pretty traditional style of open-world game where you fought to get factions under control, neighborhood by neighborhood, wresting full control once you had defeated the regional boss. This time though, it’s about doing massive damage to the Freaks, while avoiding the meddling of the Cell. To wipe out the Freaks, you must bring a massive weapon called the Sunburst online one piece at a time, first by capturing the generators from the Cell, then activating what is essentially a huge blast of ultraviolet radiation (anathema to the nighttime loving Freaks) in the middle of the Freaks' underground lairs. These Sunburst-launching objectives form the framework for the game’s overall narrative.
Of course, the game is still very much about powering up your skills by capturing different types of orbs that improve your agility, your firepower, your strength and so on. While the personal upgrading system is largely the same -- with the addition of new rogue orbs you actually have to chase down -- it feels much more balanced this time around. Most people playing the first game found their explosive and shooting levels gaining ground faster than their driving and fighting, simply because those actions lent themselves to racking up the orbs in greater volume. But nighttime streets full of crowds of Freaks give you plenty of opportunity for high-density orb collection, by driving your car through the hordes or simply mucking in and karate kicking your way out. It can get orb-tastic.
And of course it’s more fun with friends. Like in the first game, your co-op buddies can be anywhere in the world, allowing you to complete multiple objectives at once. Doubling the number of players only doubles (or perhaps quadruples) the kind of fun you can have like that. Full-on multiplayer is new too, and 16-player matches can be pretty wild. But that feels like a diversion from the real core experience of completing the game’s narrative objectives with a team of three of your toughest online homeboys.
Come July 6, gamers will finally get their hands on the new weapons, vehicles, and trademark Crackdown action that many of them have been waiting quite impatiently for all this time. No one can declare whether an unfinished game will be worth it, but even at this point, Crackdown 2 seems bigger, better and badder than its predecessor, as if that were even possible.