Crackdown 2 Review

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The first Crackdown is one of my favorite games for Xbox 360. It’s an action sandbox and you’re given plenty of toys to play with. You take on the role of a superhuman Agent and are thrown into a city ruled by gangs and must systematically eliminate them. And as you play, you become stronger, more efficient, and gain new abilities. It’s fun, addictive, and action-packed. It did spawn a sequel, Crackdown 2 which I believe I acquired the day it released and remember giving up after a few days of playing. Developed by Ruffian Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Crackdown 2 was released for Xbox 360 in July, 2010. I forget why I gave up but I remember not enjoying it as much as the first game and now that I’ve played it again, I can honestly say I do think the first game is better.

Set in Pacific City, ten years after the events of the first game, mindless monstrous humans called “Freaks” are running rampant. They are the result of a virus that was unleashed by a former Agency scientist who has since formed a terrorist group called “Cell” who are devoted to destroying the Agency. In response to the crisis, the Agency dispatches Agents to plant bombs of direct sunlight in Freak lairs which will eradicate them when detonated. Unfortunately, Crackdown 2 doesn’t have the same satirical edge as its predecessor and despite the attempt at a deeper story, I can’t say I found the plot very engaging, overall. Most of what you need to know is conveyed to you in the beginning and most of the backstory comes from audio logs found throughout the city.

Much like the first game, Crackdown 2 is an action sandbox. Despite many improvements, it doesn’t come anywhere near the same highs as the first game. That’s not to say Crackdown 2 is terrible but I prefer the concept of systematically wiping out gangs than what’s on display here. Instead of eliminating gangs, you’re ridding the city of terrorists and monsters. I can’t fault the developers for wanting to do something new and different but what they have you doing is not as fun.

On the plus side, if you stay away from the story elements, Crackdown 2 proves to be a lot of fun. There’s plenty of shit to shoot and blow up and plenty of ways to do it. The problem is your main objectives – doing what the story wants you to do. To put it simply, many objectives aren’t fun and the game is repetitive. The first game is repetitive as well but despite the repetition, exploring the city and wiping out the different gangs is a lot of fun. The objective is simple and straightforward and you can tackle it any way you want. Crackdown 2 has you protecting beacons and standing on platforms. Yes, standing on platforms is actually an objective you must complete to advance the story.

So this is how it works. Scattered throughout the city are absorption units that need to be activated. When you find one, you must stand on one of the platforms near it until it activates. There are three absorption units per beacon so once you activate the three units, you then travel to the Freak lair and summon air support to drop the beacon inside. Then you must defend it from the Freaks until it detonates. And that’s how you advance the story. It’s not a lot of fun.

This sucks because you’re not given a lot of freedom and freedom is one of the main reasons why the first game is so enjoyable. To eliminate the gangs, you have to take out the bosses. That’s it. It’s that simple. Each boss is located in a different hideout and you can reach them and take them out however you want. The game tells you what’s going on and then throws you into the world and basically says “just get it done”. Crackdown 2’s objectives like to keep you contained and each Freak lair kind of looks and feels the same. You simply move around a small area killing hordes of Freaks until the beacon detonates.

Before you jump into the action, you must choose your Agent’s head and suit which comes in different colors and up to four players can team up to tackle the story mode. To show you the basic mechanics, the game forces you through an obstacle course of sorts and pits you against some enemies and just holds your hand the whole way through. It doesn’t last that long so it’s really not that bad. However, I am disappointed with the lack of a cool factor. The way the first game introduces you to the world is really cool. It’s that moment when you first exit the Agency tunnel and see gang members and Peacekeepers in the middle of a firefight. It’s like a “holy shit, that’s awesome” moment. There’s nothing like that here.

Now let’s talk about some of the positives. Once again, players take on the role of a superhuman Agent and can improve their skills as they play and it is addictive. The same five core skills return – agility, strength, firearms, explosives, and driving. As your skills improve, you’ll unlock new abilities, vehicles, and equipment. You’ll get to drive many weaponized vehicles this time around, most Cell vehicles look like they came straight out of a Mad Max film, you’ll get to fly helicopters, and even get to soar through the sky in a wingsuit.

The agility skill is one of the most important skills because jumping is often the best way to get around and doing so is a lot of fun. However, the entire skill is mitigated by the Thrusters which are jet boots. I discovered I had access to the Thrusters early on and thought it was odd that the game would give them to me so soon. It seemed like they should be a reward for maxing out the agility skill or something. I later learned they were introduced as DLC. The Thrusters allow you to basically get anywhere at any time. They also make Rooftop Races significantly easier. They almost eliminate the need to improve your agility skill to reach previously inaccessible areas. Regardless, they are a lot of fun to use.

The Cell have strongholds all throughout the city, identified as Tactical Locations and some strongholds have multiple. Once you capture a location or multiple within a stronghold, the Peacekeepers take it over and you’re granted access to a landing zone where you can store and access vehicles and equipment like weapons found in the world, fast travel to other landing zones, and equip your agent. I do find capturing Tactical Locations to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game. Although, it is another example of the game keeping you contained for some reason. Once you reach a location you must clear the area of enemies to capture it and if you stray too far, you’ll fail and have to start over.

Crackdown 2 does introduce several conveniences. As already mentioned, there’s a lot more ways to get around the city. You can jump, drive, fly, and use the Thrusters. You no longer have to enter a menu to store equipment. The moment you walk near a landing zone, any new equipment is automatically stored. You no longer have to drive to a single garage to store vehicles. You can drive to any landing zone and call in a helicopter to take it away and store it. The only thing I don’t like about this, specifically, is that if the vehicle is moved or bumped before the helicopter arrives, the helicopter will just fly away. So it sucks when the landing zone is close to a road where a lot of cars are and action is going down. Cell and civilian vehicles will swerve and can easily bump into the vehicle you’re trying to store and it can be a nuisance.

I am happy to report that it’s easier to avoid killing Peacekeepers and civilians this time around mainly because a lot of enemies populate the streets at night. This means you can cause more carnage in the streets and drive recklessly without worrying about repercussions. As a result, I enjoyed driving around a lot more than I did in the first game. Freaks appear at night and flood the streets and there’s an addictive quality to driving through a horde and watching them all explode as you rake in the experience orbs. The Cell will drive weaponized vehicle as will the Peacekeepers so you’ll often witness and encounter a lot of action within the city.

The Cell consist of various enemy types and more tough types are thrown at you as you progress. It is wise to improve your skills before moving to different districts because some encounters can be really tough if you’re not prepared. There’s a portion of the city filled with snipers and guys with grenade and rocket launchers and turrets and you’re shields and health will deplete rapidly when they’re all gunning for you. The Freaks also come in different types and sizes. Many are just mindless and rush you. Others are more agile, leap around, some unleash acid, and then there’s the Goliaths which are massive and only appear in specific lairs.

Luckily, with all the shooting you’ll be doing, the gunplay is satisfying although I do think the sounds of weapons fire could be better. But weapons do have good feedback. I do prefer engaging the Cell mainly because encounters with them are usually more action packed and interesting. You’re not limited to only shooting, you can beat enemies up and chain attacks together as well as pick up objects to use as weapons and/or throw at your foes. Furthermore, you can run them over or gun them down in vehicles. When you’re soaring through the sky, thrusting around, and utilizing the environment and skills to your advantage, that’s when the gameplay really shines.

Much of the side content that was present in the previous game does make a return. This includes Stunt Rings, Road Races, and Rooftop Races. Crackdown 2 does introduce some new stuff like Wingsuit Ring challenges, renegade orbs that you have to catch, online orbs that can only be acquired in multiplayer, and Breaches which can only be completed at night. Breaches are locations where Freaks attempt to escape their lairs. You need to close the breaches and kill the Freaks that do escape.

Crackdown 2 does feature competitive multiplayer modes that support up to sixteen players but I was only able to play through the offline modes. An additional game mode called Deluge was added in as DLC and supports up to four players but it can be played solo. Your goal is to eliminate waves of enemies before time runs out and successfully defeating a wave increases the time. There is a scoring system in place which actually makes it quite addictive. You earn points for kills and can chain kills together to rack up combos. It proves to be a lot of fun and I spent more time in this mode than I initially thought I would. Finally, there’s the Keys to the City mode which is where you can progress through the main game with cheats but progress is not saved.

Visually, Crackdown 2 does look a little better than its predecessor. It retains the cel-shaded style and is going for a darker and more grittier look which I think is suppose to compliment the whole Freak monster thing. The city is in shambles and parts of buildings are destroyed, so despite Crackdown 2 being set in the same world as the first game, I feel there is enough visual changes to make it feel slightly different. On the audio side, the soundtrack is filled with many licensed tunes and the audio work is decent. As indicated earlier, many weapons sound a bit weak when fired. But explosions sound satisfying, you’ll hear a lot of shouting when the action gets going, and Freaks make all kinds of disgusting noises. On the technical side, I did play this on a Series X and encountered no major issues.

I did have fun with Crackdown 2 but it’s nowhere near as good as the first game. Crackdown puts you in a bright and colorful playground rife with action and lets you do whatever you want, however you want. Crackdown 2 puts you in the same playground, with a darker atmosphere and tone, and the story restricts your freedom in some ways. As a result it struggles to capture what made the first game so great even though there is some cool new stuff. If you don’t stick to the story elements, Crackdown 2 can be a fun time. It’s an action game, platformer, and collect-a-thon all in one. It’s fun to jump around, collect things, and cause carnage. But much of Crackdown 2 is simply more of the same and the story elements only hinder the experience. I honestly think I would have enjoyed it more if it was the same game but with the new and expanded features. So I guess what I’m saying is, a lot of this feels like it could have been DLC for the first game.

I would recommend Crackdown 2 and for two reasons. One; you can find copies for pretty cheap as of this review. And two; it’s not a terrible game. It’s a good sandbox action game but a disappointing sequel. It’s more of the same but less fun. It introduces some cool new stuff but doesn’t have the same lasting appeal as its predecessor.

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