Three years ago, Crackdown landed on the 360 amid a ton of hype largely due to it also containing a Halo 3 beta code. Once that thrill wore off, people discovered that Crackdown was actually a great game in its own right. It placed you in the roll of a nameless agent of The Agency tasked with taking down organized crime groups in the massive sandbox known as Pacific City. Crackdown stood out from other sandbox games with its over the top gameplay style that let you boost your character’s stats by collecting agility orbs and making use of your driving, shooing, and hand-to-hand fighting to such a degree that you can basically turn into Superman - leaping high and over long distances and throwing cars around like they were nothing. Its minor use of cel shading helped give the game a comic book-style look, so all that craziness was perfectly in keeping with that kind of world.
Fast forward 10 years from the end of that adventure, and Pacific City has now been split into two factions - the Agency and the Cell, a group formed by an ex-Agency member who went against the Agency by releasing the freak virus and causing the city to be overrun by monstrous zombie-like creatures at night. That might sound like a lot, but there’s no real story to speak of outside of the first half-hour of gameplay, and much of it is covered in the tutorial areas. Crackdown 2 plays identically to the first, only instead of trying to kill a handful of gangs taking over Pacific City, you’re now out to take over the Cell’s many strongholds, as well as take over nine freak lairs to set off beacons and take control of the city once again.
Since Pacific City is largely the same as it was in the original, this sequel has to rely on gameplay changes and improvements to stay fresh. New moving orbs, weapons, and vehicles have been added, and you can now build up your agility to such a degree that you can glide around the city and gain access to helicopters, and having the freaks roam the city at night trying to kill all who get in their way really mixes things up. While your character can be overwhelmed by them early on, after a few hours, you’ll be able to beat most of them to death with just a few hand-to-hand strikes. The most fun you can have with the freaks, and easily the biggest visceral thrill in the entire game, comes from hopping in a car and mowing down a big crowd of them ala Carmageddon. This tactic (along with long-range gunfire) works wonders against the acid-spewing freaks as well and racking up a ton of quick kills while driving will boost your driving stats very quickly.
Tackling the Cell’s strongholds is similar to the gangland takeovers of the original, only there aren’t heads of the gangs you have to kill, and you’ll face off with more enemies here than in the first game. Plus, there are far more strongholds here than there were in the first game. The biggest change is the shift from two-player online co-op for the campaign mode to four-player. Having multiple people tackle the campaign isn’t essential, but is very effective for the harder stronghold missions and pretty much all the freak lair areas. In each, you can have one person pick off enemies while another either calls for help with the strongholds or in the case of the freak lairs, have one person protect the beacon and the other(s) tackle the dozens of enemies that swarm the screen. Playing co-op not only makes the game’s biggest challenges easier to tackle, but also gives you access to exclusive multi-player-only orbs to boost your stats.
It’s worth noting that the four-player limit only applies to the co-op game - up to 16 can compete in deathmatches and those are a riot. You don’t have access to the full city, but can fly around and just unleash pure mayhem against all comers or as part of a team. The new rocket tag mode is even crazier. As the name implies, your only weapon is a rocket launcher, and the goal of the mode is to hold onto a yellow orb for as long as possible before being killed and having the orb stolen from you. The person who controls the orb for the longest period of time wins. This is the hardest multi-player mode available, and also the most rewarding. Just getting ahold of the orb for a second feels like a major accomplishment given the firepower used in it.
Unfortunately, as great as the multi-player-only aspect of Crackdown 2 is, the campaign suffers because the few changes to it, while good, aren’t really enough to prevent the game from getting stale pretty quickly. Because the gameplay and map are basically unchanged from the original, and only a few vehicles and weapons have been added, there’s a big sense of “been there, done that” in Crackdown 2 that only takes a couple of hours to set in. The campaign only offering you two types of modes that you just repeat hurts it greatly as well. The freak lairs are rewarding to overcome the first few times, but after that, they just become monotonous. The same goes for overcoming the strongholds. Hit the back button to summon help, kill people until they arrive, and then go onto the next one.
While the driving and jumping controls are fantastic, the targeted aiming system is a nuisance. It targets the next available thing you can shoot, which works well enough when you’re just surrounded by enemies, but when vehicles are nearby, they’ll also be targeted - resulting in you shooting a car when you want to shoot an enemy. The manual targeting works well at avoiding this, but is so slow-moving that you’ll still take damage due to the faulty manual targeting.
Visually, Crackdown 2 underwhelms. The character models are very basic, as are the environments themselves. Textures for nearly everything are a bit muddy, explosions look last-gen, and while the dazzling views from afar show off just how big Pacific City is and make the world seem gorgeous when you‘re jumping or gliding through it, when you get up close, the flaws shine brightly. On the bright side, the water effects look fantastic, but that’s about it. Everything else seems nearly identical to the ‘07 original, and flaws that people were willing to overlook three years ago in what was then an innovative game aren’t going to be forgiven when three years have passed and the visual bar has been raised further.
Crackdown 2’s audio fares a little better than its graphics. The Agency boss/narrator from the first game returns and remains hilarious with his snarky, sternly-spoken comments. The licensed soundtrack is pretty good, but you can only hear it in civilian vehicles. The standard-issue Agency vehicles, which handle better and are easier to drive, don’t let you listen to music. It makes storyline sense to not have the Agency encourage distractions amongst its agents, but it sure doesn’t make for a fun gaming experience. The sound effects are excellent, just like the first game. The explosions all sound pretty violent, and the plethora of guns all sound how they should, with lower-end ones not making much of a sound, and the uber-powerful stuff sounding like it should knock walls down instantly.
Crackdown 2 is a tough game to score because while it has a lot of flaws, it is very fun. I can see the Xbox Live-only stuff giving people months of enjoyment out of it, but unfortunately, the limited campaign mode relegates this to rental-only status for anyone without the ability to make use of those modes. Beyond that, there simply isn’t enough new here to justify the full price of the game to anyone who already has the first. When this drops in price, pick it up, because it does basically everything the first game did, but better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do enough things new or anything well enoug to justify its $60 price tag when the original can be had for so much less right now.