Crackdown was released in early 2007 to generally positive reviews. Players had a blast bounding over rooftops, throwing cars off of bridges, blowing up everything they saw in glorious mega-explosions. Now, over three years later, developer Ruffian Games has re-released the popular platformer fo- Wait, this is a sequel? Seriously? Oh. My bad, everyone.

Ruffian has taken the old idiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and turned it into a cautionary tale. As it turns out, even if it isn’t broken, sometimes you should still attempt to fix it. It’s true that when making a sequel, you want to carry over all of the successful elements of the preceding game. But if you don’t significantly add onto that formula, there’s no real point to making a sequel, which is something that Crackdown 2 suffers from.

Crackdown didn’t have much of a story so it’s no surprise that the sequel shares the same lack of plot. You again are an Agent of The Agency. Pacific City is once again overrun with crime. Also zombies. And your handler is still one untrustworthy creep. But it’s not the complete lack of plot that’s odd. Because there is a little bit of a plot, strewn about the city in the form of audio logs. You can find these and listen to them to hear little tidbits of Pacific City’s history. While the inclusion of audio logs isn’t new to videogames, they’re usually used to provide supplementary material. In BioShock, they exist alongside the narrative and serve to flesh out the city of Rapture. In Halo 3, terminals filled in some backstory. In Crackdown 2, the logs are the only instance of story in the entire game, save for the short opening and closing cutscenes. Basically, you have to scour the game world to find the plot. And what’s worse is that there seems to be four separate stories to keep track of – all dealing with different aspects of the city. By the time you’ve found an additional piece of one of the stories, you’ve completely forgotten where the last left off.

From what I remember, I think the head of the terrorist organization Cell is a zombie reporter who blew the whistle on The Agency. Or maybe I’m smashing all of them together, I don’t know.

It could be argued that story – not the story, but story in general – is supplemental to Crackdown 2. Do you really need to understand your character’s motivations for harpooning a criminal to a rusty pick-up truck and then throwing the truck into the ocean? Or what about when he climbed atop a car, stuck that car to a helicopter via magnetic mines, and then rode it into the sky? Why would he do such a crazy thing? Because it’s damn awesome, that’s why.

The biggest addition to the “story” is the addition of full-fledged freaks. I say full-fledged because they were introduced in the first game, as experiments of the Shai-Gen Corporation, but you didn’t see much of them. Now they flood the streets at night, attacking everyone in their path. They’re essentially zombies, which is a bad roll of the dice for Ruffian. Videogames have been completely oversaturated with the undead as of late and gamers are finally starting to get sick of them. But the freaks are a product of what little plot the series has, so Ruffian was just following through on what Realtime Worlds had started, not necessarily trying to cash in on the craze.

I can't see shit through this helmet. Did I hit em?

The core skills from Crackdown have been retained – strength, agility, firearms, explosives, and driving. There seem to be six skill levels on the meter, but I’m not sure if level six is truly more effective than level five from the first game or if it’s more of a “this one goes to 11″ type of deal. The weapon and vehicle unlocks top out at five and that’s also when you’ll gain the ability to glide. I didn’t get to spend much time gliding, but when I did I looked like a retarded Rocketeer. It definitely takes some time to get used to.

If you manage to pry yourself away from goofing around and focus on the actual objectives, you’ll be doing one of two things: assaulting Cell strongholds or activating Absorption Units so that you can assault underground freak lairs. Actually, I don’t think you have to take back the Cell strongholds to complete the game, but doing so gives you additional locations to call in weapons and vehicles. This is where the repetitiveness begins. Whichever task you’re performing, the objective is simply to kill everything in sight. To take back a stronghold, kill Cell until an Agency chopper can arrive. When clearing out a freak lair, kill freaks until the Agency beacon can detonate. Do these things over and over again until you beat the game.

There are also optional freak breaches, which sounds hilarious, I know. Freaks will occasionally breach the surface. When this happens, your job is to assault the freak breach until an Agency chopper can bomb it closed. See the pattern here? These are entirely optional, but also entirely unappealing. Why would you go out of your way to do more of the same?

Games can get away with monotony as long as the gameplay stays fun throughout, which sadly isn’t the case here. It’s definitely fun for a length of time – and I mean really fun – but that length of time is criminally short bursts. If you put the game down for a certain amount of time it will be fun again in the future, but eventually it will overstay its welcome completely.

Demi, what have you done?!

Another problem with the Cell stronghold/freak lair gameplay is a lack of any feeling of progression. The first Crackdown had its own problems with tedium, but the way you dismantled gangs before going after the gang leader was both fun and semi-strategic. Here, the only way you know you’re making any progress is pictures on the map and statistics on the pause menu. Pacific City is no different when you first start the game as it is when you’re on the cusp of beating it.

There are improvements made over the first game. Your arsenal, of both weapons and vehicles, has grown substantially. You now have access to plenty of shotguns, machine guns, SMGs, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and humongous weapons that belong on turrets, but you can go out into the field and just lug them around. There are plenty of explosives, including the aforementioned mag mines. Multiple mags will stick together, which does nothing when throwing them on solid fixtures, but when they’re stuck to cars and corpses there’s fun to be had. Our own Demi Adejuyigbe has a nasty habit of calling in Agency choppers and then sticking them to the ground, which gets us all yelled at by the Agency handler.

As for vehicles, not only is there plenty of Cell and civilian transportation, but the Agency alone gives you the standard cruiser, a buggy with a mounted machine gun, the speedy supercar returns, an SUV that can jump in the air, and a tank that you can unlock at level five. So yeah, when it comes to guns and cars, Ruffian delivered.

RAGE QUIT WARNING

I’d like to take a brief departure from the main review for a moment to share a couple things with you. I’m an angry person, and sometimes I get mad at videogames. I got mad at Crackdown 2 more than a few times, and here are the reasons why.

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!

I understand that your Agent is wearing half a ton of armor, but is it really that hard to get back up after you’ve fallen down? We’re talking about a super soldier who can punch a car in the face and send it flying backwards, but as soon as an explosion or a freak knocks him on his ass, he just lies there and contemplates giving up entirely. Seriously, it takes the better half of ten seconds to get back on your feet after you’ve been knocked down, which quickly adds up when it happens over, and over, and over again.

The dreaded building lip

Just like the first problem, this is another glorious holdover from the previous game. One of the coolest things to do in Crackdown 2 is take a running leap off of a high rooftop and sail to another, but far too often a concrete lip probably a half-inch tall will throw the whole thing off. They run around the edges of far too many surfaces in Pacific City and they’ll catch you and cause you to stop running at the last second before you leap, which results in you jumping straight up instead of forward. Since you’re already holding forward on the joystick, you’ll start to go over the side of the building, and if you aren’t quick enough to reverse direction and guide yourself back to the roof, you’ll plummet to the ground below.

Enough with the explosions

The rocket launchers in Crackdown have a pretty high rate of fire. That’s awesome, right? No it’s not. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You clearly haven’t been on the receiving end of a non-stop barrage of explosions that prevent you from doing pretty much everything except blindly shooting everywhere or jumping off of whatever roof you’re currently on to take your chances with the ground below. I’ll all for a challenge, but being trapped inside one continuous explosion is ridiculous.

You forgot to put the seat down, Agent!

Thanks a lot, Agent! Now my guests are going to think I’m a slob, Agent! I’m having close friends over, Agent, and I’d like them to remain friends. And why were you in my bathroom anyway, Agent? That’s my private bathroom, Agent, and it’s reserved for my personal use. You forgot to put the seat down, Agent! Thanks a lot, Agent! Now my guests are going to think I’m a slob, Agent!

STOP TALKING TO ME!!

Alright. I feel better. Now let’s get back to wrapping up this review.

The Nintendo Power Glove is unlocked at strength level five.

At first it was a little disappointing to be back in Pacific City, but it is undeniably cool to see the city in its current war-torn state. It doesn’t look as colorful and lively as before, but that’s the point. The city is within an inch of its life and its drab, dystopian look reflects the current state of affairs. Recognizing proud structures that are now piles of rubble is nostalgic in all the right ways.

One thing that is completely new about Crackdown 2 is the competitive multiplayer.

Rocket Tag is great if you’re hopped up on meth and don’t own Blur or Split/Second. In Rocket Tag, one person has gets the orb, becomes it, and everyone tries to tag that person. With rockets. Tag, you’re dead. It’s a mixed bad, because half the time you’ll either be raining hellfire down on whoever has the orb or running for your life from incoming rockets, both of which are extremely fun and exhilarating. The other half of the time you’ll be caught in an endless chain of explosions and it’ll be difficult to do so much as move. If you’re looking for quick, frantic fun, Rocket Tag provides. But like the main game, it works in very short bursts.

Team Deathmatch is where the fun is, though there isn’t that much. Deathmatch is also fun, but not so much as being on a team. For the most part, the Crackdown formula works well for multiplayer and Team Deathmatch is possibly more fun than the entire single player campaign, though that isn’t saying much. You can lock-on to enemies but you can’t sub-target, which is great, because that would make it far too easy. It actually works a lot like Grand Theft Auto in that you automatically target the center of mass and move your reticule around from there.

When I said the formula works well for the most part, it was because the action is still frantic and there were more than a few times where I died not knowing who or what killed me. This is not a game for strategy. This is where you stay on your toes and blow the shit out of every enemy you see, the second you see them. With no room for tactics, it can get old pretty fast. Also, if you see a helicopter, you lose the game. At least I think that’s how it works.

Multiplayer ultimately feels tacked on, but the core Crackdown formula is fun enough that it isn’t total garbage. You won’t be putting down any of your favorite multiplayer shooters, but if you have the game, it’s worth a spin. Just be prepared for a pretty shallow experience.

Crackdown 2 is an absolute blast when you’re just screwing around with friends. But as soon as you start to take it seriously, it falls apart. Any problem you had with the first game, unless it was a lack of weapons and vehicles, you’ll have again here. And taking on Cell strongholds and freak lairs just isn’t as fun as waging war on the gangs the first time around. Ruffian took everything that worked, everything that didn’t, and didn’t add nearly enough of their own.

The Rundown

+ Just like Crackdown
+ Unparalleled, mindless, open-world fun

- Just like Crackdown
- Zero depth
- Painfully repetitive, right down to the handler’s dialogue

Crackdown 2 was developed by Ruffian Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360, The game released in the United States on July 6th 2010 with a retail price of $60.00 USD (Xbox 360). The copies used in this review were for the Xbox 360 and provided to us as digital downloads by Microsoft. The main campaign was played to completion for the purpose of Dylan’s review. However, considering this title allows for four player co-op, here are the opinions of the three others who tagged along at various lengths.

Second Opinion

Stephanie Gutowski

I constantly crave story-driven, cinematic games. That’s probably why I never picked up the first Crackdown or any other sand box game. Crackdown 2, however, had just enough intrigue to keep me interested. No, I don’t think there’s much complexity in the plot (it’s about as basic as it gets: The Agency is good and Cell is bad), but that’s not what this is about. Open worlds are for blowing up your friends and playing tennis with their cars. This is going to be the game you play when you’ve got a few buddies online and you’re hankering to blow up a helicopter. Sure, it’ll get old after a while, but the first few times are completely worth it.

I’m also a huge fan of the aspect level system, where your abilities evolve based on how you fight. There’s a huge difference between agility level one and two and it makes all your effort seem worthwhile when your progression actually rewards you with greater running speed and better jump capabilities. It just seems like after you finally ding level two in all your skills, the leveling slows to a crawl. Sure, you can dive back into the main story missions, but that’s only so entertaining. Especially when a lot of your objectives involve infiltrating Cell strongholds, activating a beacon, and running away. Rinse, repeat, go to bed. The repetition really starts to wear on you during the solo experience, but a couple of friends can make this much more entertaining.

There’s just enough content in here to keep you going, if only to see what new abilities levels four and five have in store for you. I see this as a decent single-player experience, but the real fun is in the co-op.

Third Opinion?!

(Everyone’s a critic)

Demi Adejuyigbe

The game has you detonate nine beacons that destroy “freaks” around the city, and when you try to plow through these detonations, you start to feel like it’s more of a chore than anything fun you would do out of pure will. Around the time you detonate the fourth beacon, you’ll find yourself realizing that you’re doing the same thing over and over, though Ruffian tries to trick you into thinking things are different because the Cell soldiers and freaks are getting tougher – this isn’t the case. While they may seem like they’re getting more difficult, they’re actually just getting upgraded with a few weapons from your previous arsenal, and in fact are still pretty easy to get rid of.

Crackdown 2′s multiplayer experiences, while complimentary to the single player mode of the game, feel as if it’s the main course. Sure, the two are technically one and the same, as any single player game can become multiplayer if another player jumps in, but playing the game co-operatively actually opens up a variety of new things you can do together that would be near impossible to achieve alone. The game even encourages you to play co-operatively with Xbox Live orbs that can only be gained with another player, but Crackdown 2 doesn’t really make you feel like grabbing these orbs is at all necessary.

I’ve always said that graphics aren’t integral to how good or enjoyable a game is, but with Crackdown 2, they don’t seem to have changes at all. The faux-cell-shading style remains, but the explosions look much less grandiose and impressive than they did in the first game. An explosion is essentially now a puff of black smoke surrounding a cloud of orange. You see the same three styles of cars in different colors every few seconds. There’s not much variety amongst enemies, and buildings, while actually different, all start to blend together after a while.

Unfortunately for anyone who hopes to enjoy some four-player co-op in the game, the co-op experience of the game is possibly the buggiest multiplayer experience I’ve had on Xbox Live. As is to be expected, whenever you are in an area of incredibly heavy fire and explosions, you start to experience a frame rate slow down that makes it difficult to move or see where you are moving.

Believe it or not, that’s the least of Crackdown’s bugs. The first time I jumped into a game with four other editors, we ended up in a Cell stronghold where for some reason, sniper rifles began to generate instantly – forever. I’m not sure what triggered this bug, but when we ended up in an area where you have hundreds upon thousands of rifles generating every second, the game slowed down to a speed of 4 FPS. It was literally impossible to move without extracting and landing elsewhere, far from the stronghold. We also encountered bugs where cars would end up in different parts of the city while we drove them, and players would get stuck mere inches off of the ground, unable to move anywhere.

This machine gun mounted buggy has got plenty of Crackdown 2 bugs to keep it company.

That’s not to say that the co-op play in Crackdown 2 isn’t a metric ton of fun. The tools Ruffian Games gives you for enacting inadvertent mischief in Pacific City are incredible, and honestly, some of my favorite weapons in video games to date. From the very second you start the game, you are given access to a magnet grenade that has the ability to pull together any two items in the game, and this can be used to creatively kill enemies … or friends.

Leveling up a bit also gives you the UV shotgun, which is probably the best gun I’ve used in any video game since Half-Life 2′s gravity gun. It allows you to propel any item or human in the air i.e. Half-Life’s gravity gun, but when you have an open world, magnets, explosions, and large cars (and helicopters!) that you can throw at your enemies, the possibilities are endless. Hell, I recently detailed two of the ways that I had fun with the helicopters in the game , and I’ve already found more.

I wish Crackdown 2′s assisted targeting mechanic would allow you to target your friends, though. As weird as it sounds, some of the most fun we had in four-player co-op play was when we wailed on each other, blowing each other off of rooftops and playing UV Shotgun Tennis with Stephanie — which you can get an achievement for (even if you don’t have access to Stephanie). And speaking of achievements, many of them are easily attained, though some are near impossible to grab without a friend. I had already grabbed most on the demo, but the achievements in the full game are much more focused on plot advancement. (Despite the secondary plot that Crackdown 2 tries to shoehorn in).

It’s too bad the game doesn’t try to make you accomplish these achievements together. As it stands now, if you jump into a game where someone else is completing objectives while you’re idle, you will still get credit for them. While I’m not sure how difficult it would be to ensure that these missions are done together, leaving something like this out of the multiplayer kind of defeats the purpose of co-operation.

I'd love to hit you with a mid air punch, but I'm unfortunately incapable of performing melee attacks while jumping.

Aside from the co-op, Crackdown 2 also features 3 different multiplayer modes in which you can fight with up to 16 players, but these matches aren’t as enjoyable as you’d think. The first game I jumped into was Rocket Tag, which was fast and frenetic, and very reminiscent of Unreal Tournament. I hated it. The speed at which you run and shoot meant that explosions went off literally twice a second, which made it hard to keep up in the maps. That is, if you can play it at all. It’s just as buggy as the main game, and trying to connect and stay with a game is probably the hardest thing to accomplish.

The two Deathmatch modes, while better than Rocket Tag, lose their excitement early on. The Deathmatch formula isn’t messed with much, and the addition of speed makes it both hard to kill your enemies and easy to die. When you die every few seconds (and you most likely will), you’ll start to hate the game you’re playing. Plus, the mix of high buildings and low grounds makes Deathmatch absolutely terrible. You start to shoot somebody as they’re running and they can instantly move behind a building and disappear out of sight. After a few times, you’ll start to get annoyed with the not-so-multiplayer-friendly world design.

The one thing I’m sure you’ll hear about Crackdown 2 is how repetitive it is- and it is. It’s incredibly repetitive, to the point where you will think “Wait, haven’t I cleared this area yet?” over and over. If you’ve played the original game, going back to the same city will feel just like you’re playing the original game with an expansion pack.  Sure, you’re getting flashier weapons and skills, and a new underlying “plot” (and I use the term in the loosest way possible) but unless you skipped the first game, Crackdown 2 will just feel like a shell upon its predecessor.

I feel like I have to reiterate this again, as I’ve mostly criticized the game, but the game is a lot of fun. While it has a bunch of glaring faults, it’s hard to cast dispersion on a game that honestly, I have and am enjoying quite a bit. That said, if you are hankering for some fun (but currently buggy) co-op multiplayer, you should probably pick up Crackdown 2- especially if you can get it less for the $60 retail price.

Oh, and fuck those agility orbs.

What? A Fourth Opinion??!!??

Chad Lakkis

Would you like to blow shit up with me? If you answered yes, then read on.

I must say, as the resident Crackdown 2 homer in this group, I love Crackdown for what the game truly is at it’s core — a great way to pass time with a long distance friend (or friends). Of course these friends don’t have to be “long distance,” but it’s my opinion that the game is at it’s best when you’re running around mindlessly in a giant virtual sandbox, collecting orbs, talking shit on your headset, and blowing up a bunch of friends you aren’t able to see every day.

The reason I stress the long distance aspect, is partly because I got into the first Crackdown right around the time my friend moved to the west coast, and it was a great way for us to stay in touch. It was very much like an interactive phone call, and the mindlessness of it all is what separated it from it’s competition. You might be thinking “how the hell is something being mindless a good thing?” Well, when all you want to do is enjoy the virtual company of some friends, the best way to do that is to be in an environment conducive to doing so. The fact that nothing in Crackdown or Crackdown 2 really poses a threat to you is a positive in my book. Sure it would be nice to occasionally have the “raid boss” of sorts, that if encountered, would demand the full attention of your co-op party, but outside that the game is little more than a means to level your character, taunt your friends, and run away before they get you back.

You want examples? No problem.

No actual Stephanies were harmed while playing this game.

One of the first things I did the moment I got into the four player co-op with Dylan, Demi, and Stephanie, was seek out the amusement park. I then challenged Dylan to climb to the top where I was already perched. And after he did, I kicked him in the face and knocked him down for shits and giggles. Conversely, one of the first things Dylan did in the game was drive the pickup truck I was standing in the back of into the ocean, ejecting himself at the last possible moment. Why? Because we could. It’s events like this in a game like Crackdown (1 and 2) that could never be scripted, and it’s why any attempt at a plot is darn near futile.

While fun in its own right, the multiplayer addition to the game attempts to build on the co-op aspect that made the original Crackdown so much fun. However adding a bunch of strangers to the mix waters down the close-knit feeling, and turns it into a much more generic experience. The fact that it uses the same world map you use for campaign mode doesn’t help either. A little multiplayer specific map variety would go a long way here.

Overall, the ability to play co-op with four friends in Crackdown 2 (as opposed to two in the original), is probably the biggest non-multiplayer addition to the game. There is an added emphasis to plot and presentation, and the world itself does get a bit of a visual overhaul, but none of these aspects alone truly set the sequel apart from the original. The game is also a bit buggy at times, though I’m sure the developers will work hard to fix any and all bugs the game currently contains.

In short, if you’re looking for a great way to pass some time with two or three of your friends, and are open to the notion of blowing up a few multiplayer agents in the process, Crackdown 2 is at the very least worth a rental.