What We Already Know:
In Crackdown 2 we return to the crime-ridden metropolis of Pacific City, 10 years after the memorable skyscraper-scaling and rocket-juggling of the first game. The city's a bit grimmer and the developer has changed (say hello to Ruffian Games) but this is Crackdown through and through, with all the barely controlled chaos of the original.
What We're Seeing Now:
I was a bit taken aback when I first grabbed the controller because Crackdown 2 really is a direct continuation of 2007's surprise-hit city-roamer. Once again you assume the role of a burly operative of the morally ambiguous Agency, and the controls and animations seem literally identical (a few new melee moves are the only apparent exceptions).
Crackdown 2 pits you against two distinct factions, the Cell Militia and the mutated "Freaks" who were infected by your actions in the first game. Cell tend to attack during the day and Freaks at night, which makes the day/night cycle a bit more relevant to gameplay.
The E3 demo started in a relatively flat space packed with enemies, which meant what I had to do a bit of the shooty-shooty before getting to the delicious roof-jumping I consider the series' hallmark. The combat is just like before, with a helpful lock-on that lets you jump around like a maniac while ejecting lead into enemies. As before you can carry two guns and an explosive weapon—grenades, to start with—and slain baddies drop more than enough munitions to keep you stocked. So by all means, chuck those pineapples and cause some Crackdown-style havoc.
Upon clearing the local area of Cell militia the first real change became apparent: The Agency gained control of the area. The territory capture system is an evolution of the first game's supply points, so you'll be able to warp to any captured area and change / restock your arsenal. The main advantages of this modified system seem to be that the restock points are more accessible and more numerous.
Capturing territory will also drive the storyline forward. Sometimes you'll re-capture and activate bits of the Agency's Sunburst Defense System, a weapon that focuses UV light to kill the Freak virus and open the path into Freak lairs. Three Sunburst units surround each of the eight lairs, and you'll need to capture all three to get a shot at a given lair's super-freak boss.
And fret not, obsessive collectors: Orbs are back, and with a vengeance. In addition to the 500 jump-boosting agility orbs and 300+ secret orbs, you'll also be hunting special story orbs (basically audio logs that fill in the storyline) and co-op orbs, which you can only obtain during multiplayer.
Speaking of which, the expanded four-player co-op and 16-player deathmatch features should give the new game greater online legs than the original ever had. Split-screen seems to be out, though, so be sure your Live account is paid up.
It's clear that Ruffian's really tried to faithfully recreate the enjoyable elements of the original game for this sequel, perhaps even to a fault. While they've certainly succeeded in reproducing all of the original's gameplay, we'll have to play Crackdown 2 at greater length to determine if they captured that certain something that allowed the first game to stand apart from the Halo 3 demo it came packaged with.