The original Crackdown was one of the best sandbox games that I’ve ever played. Sure the story sucked and was a minimal part of the experience, but that just meant it never got in the way of the game’s most important element: the ridiculous amount of fun that you could have. Add to that solid controls (with the few complaints never really hindering the experience), a large amount of powers and vehicles to screw around with, co-op that brought the levels of fun to a peak rarely seen, a massive open world, and a graphic style that was unique at the time, and you had an incredibly well-built title. While Crackdown could’ve been left at that, fans wanted more and the story warranted a sequel, and thus, Crackdown 2 was born. So now that Crackdown 2 has arrived, does it prove to be a worthy follow-up to the original? Not really.
Crackdown 2’s story is one of epic proportions and emotionally wrenching drama, as you, a super-powered agent with a troubled past, seek redemption and truth in Pacific City. Guided by your shadowy supervisor, you’ll fight against the morally grey faction that is the Cell, and the mutated freaks that are more human than they seem. Truly, it is an epic tale to match the best…nah, the story is a load of crap, or at least what little of the story there is. Basically, s*** has hit the fan in Pacific City, and a “terrorist” organization called the Cell has started fighting back against the Agency’s power, which has already been severely weakened by the outbreak of mutant freaks. So, it’s up to you, a new agent, to clean up the freaks while restoring justice and order. All of that is gleaned from one cutscene at the beginning of the game, and that’s about all there is to the story…and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I said, I was happy the story was so minimal in the original Crackdown because it never got in the way of my fun, and the same is true for Crackdown 2. I mean, your overseer, so to speak, is more annoyed this time when you chuck a car at a group of civilians (which is made more annoying by the fact that the ensuing onslaught of Peacekeepers can actually kill you this time around), but overall, Crackdown 2’s story takes a backseat to gameplay, and for this type of game, that’s a good thing. And that’s coming from someone who always enjoys a good video game plotline.
However, I do have a complaint about the storyline: the repetitive structure. Basically, all you do in the game is go around activating absorption units so you can drop beacons into freak holes, which you then must defend until they explode in a flash of UV rays. All of this is part of the Agency’s grand scheme to curb the freak population, but it grows tiresome after you do it for the tenth time, let alone the twentieth. There are subtle changes with each beacon drop (i.e. larger numbers of freaks or bigger freaks) and the locations are vaguely different, but it still grows tiresome. In the first Crackdown, the story structure consisted entirely of killing the 21 gang bosses, sure, but each location and way of completing the mission was different enough that it kept the “go in and kick some ass” routine of the boss battles fresh. And hell, each battle was also an exciting shoot-out, whereas the beacon drops are bland and amount to nothing more than unexciting gore-fests. So while I don’t mind Crackdown 2’s story being a minimal part of the experience, I do mind that it’s so repetitive. In fact, it down-right annoys me.
Speaking of gameplay, Crackdown 2 takes the formula of the original and makes some changes, for better or for worse. You still level up your agent through use of your skills, collecting orbs, and doing races, but now there are six levels of progression, and there are now rewards unlocked for leveling up. For instance, leveling up your Firearms skill will allow you to spawn with new and more powerful weapons, while leveling up your Driving skill will give you access to more Agency cars. However, this also means that you can’t store some weapons before you unlock them by leveling. I guess this was to counter the fact that your buddy could give you a homing rocket launcher at the beginning of the game in the original Crackdown, which made the early bosses a cakewalk (by the way, guess which weapon you can unlock without leveling up), but I really don’t see a point to doing that. Crackdown isn’t some RPG that needs to be balanced; it’s a game about screwing around, and if I acquire a weapon that I’m not supposed to have yet, then whatever (and that’s coming from an old-school WRPG nerd who values balanced mechanics). As for Driving, I said that you don’t have access to every Agency vehicle at the beginning of the game, but this also means that vehicles no longer level up with you; you just get a new Agency super vehicle each level. This one I really didn’t the see point for, especially since some of the vehicles have been butchered in the process (where are the guns on the Agency supercar?).
There are also more orbs to collect, because apparently, the 800 orbs in the first game weren’t enough (ironically, there are seemingly less weapons and vehicles, which there should be more of; speaking of which, where’s the Agency truck?). In addition to the 500 agility orbs and 300 hidden orbs, there are now renegade driving and agility orbs, which move away from you when you try and get them. This means that they’re partially interesting, but mostly a pain in the ass. There are also co-op orbs, which as the name suggests, can only be collected in co-op, and again I have to ask, “What’s the point?” Most people are going to play co-op anyway because that’s Crackdown’s strongest aspect, so there’s really no need to force the mode upon players who want to collect everything. And at that, they’re basically just like hidden orbs, except they pointlessly raise the total number of collectibles to around 1000; they’re still fun to find because it’s Crackdown, but it’s now an even more monotonous process. Making this process even harder is the fact that you can’t set waypoints…why?! Really, what’s the problem with being able to set waypoints? Is it just thatmuch of a hardship to program into the game, because I think it would be worth the hardship when it means that the player doesn’t have to search around aimlessly for key locations of the map! Honestly, if I need to refill my ammo at a supply point, why shouldn’t I be able to know where I’m going instead of driving around without any sense of direction? What, did Ruffian assume that because it’s the exact same city, players would be able to find their way around? That’s just lazy, let alone infuriating. Oh, and what happened to being able to customize your agents instead of everyone having the same cool looking yet bland suit? I mean, it was only different character models in the first game, sure, but that’s way better than just choosing a different color. So yes, most of the changes or additions that Crackdown 2 made weren’t exactly in the game’s interests, nevermind what Ruffian failed to include.
As for positive changes and additions…well, Crackdown 2 adds a glide suit and makes the melee combat more lively. There’s also a competitive multiplayer component that I honestly couldn’t care less for, because the only multiplayer I play in Crackdown is co-op (which now supports up to four players), and that remains the strong suit of the package. The multiplayer isn’t bad though; it’s just not something I could see myself getting into. However, that’s really it. Crackdown 2 definitely has a number of differences from the original, but most of them aren’t for the best. Do they take away from the fun of the game? Sort of. Do they ruin the game entirely? No, but they do drag the gameplay down, especially since you now have new problems along with ones from the original Crackdown that weren’t fixed. So overall, while the gameplay is still solid and fun, it’s not as solid not quite as fun as that of the original Crackdown was.
As for the graphics, Crackdown 2 doesn’t look much better than the first Crackdown, and considering the sequel went for the “destroyed city look” that seems to be all the rage these days (something that often impedes your exploration of the city, if you actually want to “explore” the same city again), one could argue that it looks even worse, or at least the art style does. And for the record, I’m a massive Fallout fanboy, so it’s not like I have something against the whole “destroyed civilization/post-apocalyptic” art style; it just doesn’t work in some games, such as Crackdown 2. Likewise, the soundtrack has also taken a hit. It’s not that I don’t like the songs; it’s just that most of them aren’t good driving songs. I didn’t know any of the songs from the first Crackdown, but at least they were nice to listen to while driving. Not that I had to worry about the soundtrack in Crackdown 2 that much because for some odd reason, you can’t listen to the radio in Agency vehicles, which is stupid because those are the ones you’ll be driving the most. Other than that, the game runs very well, and is able to draw up thousands of enemies on screen and have you plow through them without a problem.
I’m not going to say that Crackdown 2 is a bad game, and I would say that Crackdown 2 is still definitely a fun game, which may be enough for some of you. However, I would also say that it’s a disappointment. To wait three years or so for this game only to have it lack in so many categories when compared to the original is a let down. I’m glad that there were changes made, and definitely a few of them (read: a very small number) made the experience better, but most of them just get in the way of the point of a Crackdown game: the fun. On the other hand, while I’m happy that the story is still a small part of the experience, I wish they had done more with it to make it less repetitive, especially when the location is the same as in the first game. But to sum it all up, you should definitely buy this game if all you crave is more Crackdown. However, if you’re looking for an experience that at least equals the first Crackdown in quality, or if you never played the first one and are deciding which one to get, I’d say save your money to the former and buy the original to the latter. At best, Crackdown 2 may be a step in the right direction for changes to the series, but it’s a pretty small step at best, and a weak one at that.
+ The story doesn’t get in your way, some of the gameplay changes make the experience better, the game runs with few technical problems, and be it single player or co-op, the game is still a blast to play, with all the mechanics from the original still remaining fun (mostly the unchanged ones though)
– The story is ridiculously repetitive and boring, many of the changes to the gameplay hamper the amount of fun you can have with this game, the art style is ugly and gets in the way of re-exploring the city, and the way the soundtrack was handled was stupid, let alone not being very good to begin with