Also available on: N/A
Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
If one game could summarise this console generation, it would be Crackdown. It has all the elements that we've come to expect from adventure games today - an expansive open world, drop-in drop-out co-operative play, and a campaign driven by skill progression, collectables and Achievements. The sequel continues these trends and adds a few more in for good measure, with Horde mode-inspired gameplay segments as well as the inclusion of four player co-op and online multiplayer. While it's essentially more of the same, as a follow-up its place is justified from a simple few features.
Set a decade after the first game, a battered Pacific City is controlled by two warring factions; the gun-wielding terrorist group Cell and a breed of genetically-mutated Freaks. Similar to the Mob hunting objective of the original, the repeating objective here is to reclaim solar generators within Cell strongholds before heading into Freak lairs and activating beacons to eradicate their numbers. As before, wiping out the enemy threat before tackling these objectives can make your task significantly easier, and there's an additional layer of strategy when it comes to timing, since each respective faction emerges at different times at the day. At night-time Freaks populate the streets in their hundreds, for example, making their lairs easier to target.
Even though these core objectives are copy and pasted throughout the city, the manner in which you undertake them is diverse enough to make the campaign feel fleshed out. The Cell often establish grunts on the ground as well as turrets on rooftops, ensuring you have to flank and cover effectively to survive the torrent of rockets and bullets. Meanwhile, Freaks simply rush in droves while you defend a charging beacon, leading to plenty of panic-filled situations and the hasty use of wide-spread weapons. Although locking on to specific enemies can be troublesome (it'll sometimes rather focus on a distant car than the foe five feet in front of you) the weaponry makes all these sandbox situations far more satisfying, whether it's rendering a dozen Freaks into ash from a UV blast or watching flaming corpses ragdoll their way from a rooftop from a well-placed rocket.
There are obviously times when you don't fancy either of those objectives, and thankfully there's always something else to do. Stat-building Orbs are back in their droves and are as addictive to collect as ever, especially since there is almost always one in plain sight. They are placed to naturally flow on to another, and act as the perfect incentive to scale skyscrapers and explore more of the city. While the abilities they bestow remain largely the same, acquiring enough agility will give you a wingsuit for swooping around buildings, controlling not unlike the cape from Super Mario World (with the learning curve to match). Add in the eventual opportunity to go hands-on with a fleet of Agency helicopters and the late game hijinks are a little more fleshed out this time around.
As well as traditional Ability and Hidden Orbs, there are also some new varieties to find. Online Orbs require a friend's presence to collect (a pain for solo players) and Renegade Orbs have you chase them across rooftops and highways. These are particularly frustrating to collect, since they swoop erratically and unpredictably, and you'll often find yourself giving up well before you get close. Thankfully all collected Orbs are now tracked on to a series of maps, so finding those last stubborn few is a little bit easier.
Visually, the game does the job; its cel-shaded look is clean-cut and sharp but never particularly detailed, but it makes up for it with an impressive draw distance that ensures you'll see every island no matter your vantage point. The frame rate can come to an absolute standstill at times, especially when rockets rain down on you from all angles, which makes these troublesome spots a little harder to escape. The map system is also quite poor: there's no option of what to put on the mini-map, and it often points you in the direction of the furthest beacons rather than those right opposite you.
And like many other sequels in the past year, there's the addition of multiplayer. With a simple selection of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Rocket Tag (think of it as an Orb holding version of Halo's Oddball), it's very much a case of shooting anything that moves. Except bullets are mostly useless, meaning the first person to grab rockets or damage multipliers will be advantageous. It feels a little too manic and unwieldy to be enjoyable, and since there's no skill progression there's very little to keep you hooked in. Still, it lacks Achievements and never intrudes on the campaign content, so consider it a nice little added extra.
Despite the lengths taken to give Pacific City more of a personality - from the ever-present voice of the Agency to the audio files littered across its many rooftops - it still feels a little soulless. Even though you'll come to explore every nook and cranny through its objectives and hunting down Orbs, there are few memorable locations or significant set pieces you'll come away with. What attachment you may have is through its relation to the original, and it's all very much fodder for the gameplay.
But in the end that's perfectly fine. It's not like other open-world games with a pretence that the city plays host to an emotional story - this is very much the setting for archaic gameplay with stacks of stuff to collect. It's designed to that end, and it does a superb job in doing so. Besides, after a few co-op sessions with friends you're likely to come away with a few memorable moments of your own. It's simply a very entertaining sandbox, and if you love collecting, shooting and exploring vast environments, you can't do much worse than Crackdown 2.
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