Shooting stuff, collecting things, jumping about, driving cars and beating up mutated freaks with your bare knuckles are all tried and tested foundations for classic videogame experiences. With enough polish, each can stand on its own, negating the necessity for a gripping narrative to keep you engaged, and it was on this belief that Realtime Worlds founded the original Crackdown. It was a game with minimal plot that became the archetypal sandbox; playing was its own reward. Since Crackdown launched, however, the world of sandbox gaming has seen some pretty significant advancements…advancements that for Crackdown 2, Ruffian Games has chosen to ignore, instead opting to get right back to what Crackdown did best – yes, that’s right, shooting stuff, collecting things, jumping about…
Crackdown 2 opens with what can only be described as an archaic training section; in 2010, it’s disheartening to be presented with a clunky systems calibration as means of teaching you the ropes. The thinly veiled artifice of being asked to point the reticule at a series of lights just to ensure that your character’s neck works and that you, as the player, have the required dexterity to manipulate an analogue stick (though a means to an end) results in a distinct lack of dramatic bang and foretells of the narrative weakness that inevitably follows.
Luckily it’s not long before you’re unleashed and left to explore the game’s setting, namely Pacific City. As is to be expected, Pacific City is in all kinds of trouble; hordes of mutants have broken out of a research facility and a rebel group, known as The Cell, have risen against both the mutants and the government. The only thing standing in the way of utter anarchy is the (somewhat overwhelmed) Agency, whose dwindling resources must quash the dual-uprising, and wrestle back control of the city. It is fortunate that they have a group of super powered agents within their ranks and that some fool has scattered superpower-enhancing agility orbs across the city’s rooftops, just waiting to be snuffled up by fledging Agents.
As with the original, it doesn’t take long to realise that Crackdown 2 has the ability to devour your time, mainly as a result of the ingenious action-reward loop that is spun out by the levelling-up system. In short, the more time you put in, the more your character grows. Every orb you collect, every enemy you kill and every race you win increases your agent’s capabilities, in turn putting more agility orbs within reach. It’s a simple formula that once again serves to make an extremely addictive experience. Ruffian have expanded on the original’s agility orb fetch quest with the addition of ‘online orbs’ (that can only be collected with a partner), ‘rogue orbs’ (that actively flee) and ‘driving orbs’ that require you to mount up and put the pedal to the metal. These additions are more than welcome, adding yet another layer to the rich tapestry of Pacific City.
While the original’s orb hunt is still present and correct, Crackdown 2 is no longer structured around the task of bringing down gang Kingpins. Instead, your main objectives are the destruction of freak lairs, the capture of Cell strongholds and the activation of Absorption Units. Lairs can only be destroyed once you have activated a required number of Units, and captured Cell strongholds are quickly lost if you fail to obtain control of two neighbouring strongholds within a given time. Though the lack of Kingpins can make your task feel a bit impersonal, the Cell/Freak set up does tie-in well with the overall sense of chaos; you could say that Pacific City itself is your enemy, a character that must be overcome, tamed and wrestled back to normality.
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