Sunday 9 October 2011

Crackdown 2

Because we needed this!

The rest of the world may be interested in the "3"s, but here's a 2. Crackdown 2, complete with plenty of murky browns and dingy blues. A sequel just as pointless as some on offer this winter.

Crackdown 2 is one of those games you love to hate... or at least, that's the impression you get from looking at the aggregate review scores. For some, Crackdown 2 represents a clear improvement over Crackdown 1, so is therefore deserving of a higher score. For others, the lack of imagination and truckloads of recycled content create an impression of a lazy development cycle, and so due punishment is needed.

I'm in an awkward situation because I side with both parties here. Both points are valid - almost everything is improved, but not by much, raising that all important question as to why a full retail release was required. The "expansion pack" and "Crackdown 1.5" comments are perfectly valid as far as I can see, but generally an expansion pack makes the experience better, not worse.

There is little reason for Crackdown 2 to exist. There were always plans to create a franchise out of the concept, but Microsoft chose to publish a sequel at an inconvenient time - Realtime Worlds, creators of the first Crackdown, were too busy with other projects, and Microsoft in all their hasty publishing, IP-owning wisdom, tasked a different set of developers, Ruffian Games to produce a sequel. And thus Crackdown 2 was released last year.

A good sequel doesn't tend to stray too far away from its predecessor (unless its predecessor was rubbish - not the case here), but in order to justify a sequel you need to stray a bit further than this. Crackdown 2 is perhaps the "safest" sequel to a video game I've seen in modern times, being essentially the same game as Crackdown 1 in almost every way. The dismal world of Pacific City was kept as the place to roam because, according to the developers, it was "iconic" and "memorable", and you find yourself tasked with similar goals to the first game. Great.

In fact, the bland, forgettable nature of Pacific City is the only reason Crackdown 2 works. If you blow a few holes in half the scenery, pretend the game takes place ten years after its prequel and move all the objects to different locations it's easy to make this look like an entirely different map. Rather than being pushed anti-clockwise around the world like you were in the first title, you find yourself being moved in the opposite direction. The pointless brown colour scheme also helps to literally paint Pacific City in a new light, but mark my words, had this place not been one of the most generic and forgettable locations in video games, you would notice the blatant copying and pasting immediately.

Crackdown 2 has you, an "Agent" working for "The Agency", clear up the city from a rival gang. Yes kids, same plan as Crackdown 1 - but there's a catch - you clear things up in a different way! Rather than tackling individual people, you target groups, and spend the game attacking and defending pieces of land to get your city back. A surprisingly more sensible tactic than in the original, but just as mundane and repetitive and potentially even less varied than before.

In the ten years that have passed since Crackdown 1, a virus has spread turning large parts of the population into "freaks" - zombie-things that only come out at night. A new gang has formed, "Cell" who have taken over large parts of the city and try to hinder your progress at every move. Your job is to essentially defeat both sets of NPCs - go to a specific location and kill everything in the vicinity. If everything is killed or the time runs out, you win.

This is all you do.

Crackdown 2 is a pointless game because it refuses to address the key issues with Crackdown 1. You don't interact with anyone, there's no story to speak of (well okay, there is, but it's crap) and you spend your days shooting people in the face. Just like its predecessor it is little more than a glorified game of deathmatch (or in this case, Unreal Tournament-style Domination), except not as action packed or challenging and drawn out over several hours.

Like the original Crackdown a huge emphasis is placed on levelling up your character through doing things. Along with all the orbs and side races from the first game (in different locations!) you get some moving "renegade orbs" and stunt markers a human can jump.. erm... glide through. Many steps were made to balance things out here - in the first game, I avoided vehicles because they were worthless, but in Crackdown 2, the cars both function properly and are spawned next to you. There's more of an incentive to use one because they're easier to get a hold of.

The shooting, explosive and driving skillsets are useful this time - they activate new weapons and vehicles to spawn with, and when you start getting jumping cars and tanks you suddenly find the game has more replay value. These are genuine improvements which I like to see, but I suppose one could argue that these features should have been part of the first game.

I found Crackdown 2 to be much easier than Crackdown 1, partly because you're not infiltrating buildings filled with magic doors which spawn enemies. You're killing groups of people, and once they're dead, they don't tend to come back. Rocket launchers are tedious, but it's far easier to acquire one for yourself this time around and fight back. There's gun turrets and vehicles with mounted weapons which don't explode as soon as you get in them - it would be no-doubt entertaining in a multiplayer environment.

The problem is, it isn't a multiplayer game, and co-op multiplayer serves little purpose other than to make things even easier (and forces friends to buy this game too). Also because most, if not all of the action takes place outside, Crackdown 2 has regressed, with a wide selection of missions that all pan out the same way. It is only at the very end of the game where your tactics are forced to change - the rest is simply "shoot cell", "shoot freaks".

There are many little changes, such as aiming auto-switching to new targets, and a more things to climb on, but few of the major problems are actually addressed. Once you've done all your main missions, the game simply becomes a collect-a-thon, i.e. exactly the same as Crackdown 1. Once you've completed the game the result will be identical to Crackdown 1, so you're honestly not missing much here.

Graphically it's a mixed bag. Crackdown 2 opts for a darker tone, defeating much of the purpose of the cell-shaded comic book style. The presentation is clearly better - the textures and animations have improved and things feel more refined as a whole, but the murky skies and bad lighting do nothing but annoy me.

Much of this game relies on the day/night cycle. At night, the freaks come out... but because the game uses a palette of browns and dark blues you're never entirely sure where the "day" ends and the "night" begins. It always seems to be evening in Crackdown 2, and it merely makes Pacific City even uglier and less interesting than it was before.

Crackdown 2 is slightly better with its audio, in that music shows up when you're taking part in rooftop races or are low on health. Citizens don't run around repeating the same three or four lines of dialogue to drive you insane, but these features aren't revolutionary and I still wouldn't claim the music to be "good". Furthermore, the car radio stations are absolutely horrible, adding little more than apathy to the already depressing experience.

On the plus side, I found the game more entertaining than my adventures with Dead Rising 2. Here you can plow "zombies" down in a police car - no messing around with wooden planks. The game feels more like a sandbox adventure than its prequel, and is significantly more fun to screw around in should you feel the need.

And so I find myself struggling to come to a final verdict. On a technical level, sure, many holes have been plugged, but the design lacks thought, from the gameplay ideas to the aesthetics and audio. I reiterate - there is no point for Crackdown 2 to exist. Much of its improvements could have been patched onto Crackdown 1 without troubles.

I want to say that Crackdown 2 is worth buying but it really isn't... unless you're a massive fan of the series... or can get it extremely cheaply. Yes it improves on Crackdown 1 in many areas but the original game strikes me as a more complete experience. Alternatively, wait for the inevitable Crackdown 3.

1 comment:

  1. Crackdown 2 is one of the most horrible game and I does not like to play it anymore. Really most violent game of the arena.