‘Unprecedented’, ‘unmatched’, ‘ultimate’, ‘unparalleled’ – just a few of the words that don’t deserve to be on the fact sheet for Crackdown 2. There’s scarcely a thing to be said for this game that can’t be said far more confidently, perhaps while thumping the table for emphasis and dribbling a bit, of fellow open-worlders Just Cause 2, Saints Row 2 and InFamous. Rather sad, that, because the latter, randomly-picked threesome wouldn’t be the success stories they are without lessons learned from Crackdown’s high-altitude hopscotch, ability-augmenting collectables and synchronisable explosions.
Sold to many on the strength of a Halo 3 beta key, the Realtime Worlds original came out of nowhere and practically built its own subgenre, a vertically inclined, more than usually trigger-happy spin on the action sandbox. The sequel, by contrast, hits the stage at the height of that formula’s popularity, and while old tricks like the rocket-juggle and SUV tennis are still good for a little polite applause, there are bigger bangs to be had elsewhere. If this game were at Glastonbury 2010, it’d be Gorillaz.
Crackdown 2 lacks heart, to put it bluntly. One of the developers has called it ‘a game of complete distraction,’ which is rather neat but counter-productive wording: this game is, indeed, all distraction, all sidequest, all secondary objective, with no real focal points, no game-raising knots in the fabric to escalate proceedings beyond the basic satisfactions of ‘woo, stuff exploded’ or ‘damn, I kicked that car into that house pretty good’. The newly bust-up, feebly textured Pacific City feels quite empty and unvaried, despite the scrap-metal junkers who tear through its streets by day and the ghoulish grenade-fodder who spam its alleyways by night.
Players once again take charge of an Agent, a genetically engineered grumpy-face in coloured Kevlar with five development paths: explosives, firearms, driving, strength and agility – the first four levelled up with application, the last by collecting those infamous Agility orbs. Though cleansed of its gang warlords, Pacific City is still no place to bring your mother-in-law for tea and scones: one of gaming’s many lefty resistance organisations, CELL, has set one of gaming’s many mutating viruses loose among the populace, and the Agency is trying to put down the resultant nocturnal fracas by dropping UV bombs into nine mutant lairs.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it rather than trotting off in search of mobile ‘Renegade’ orbs, vehicle stunt gates and other diversions, is to conquer/activate trios of charging stations scattered around the city’s rooftops, then travel to the nearest lair, call in a UV bomb and defend it till ripe for detonation. These set pieces, together with 25-30 CELL strongholds that harbour weapon and vehicle drops, constitute the Crackdown 2 versions of the original’s gang hideouts, but lack even their mild sophistication. While strongholds and charging stations are sometimes to be found in more out-of-the-way, interesting places, like offshore rigs, the freak lairs are generally just caves filled with oil drums and spawn-holes, rather than the complex pressure points their prominence within the narrative would suggest.