Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360)
Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
To be released: July 6, 2010
Those returning to the world of Crackdown are going to be somewhat surprised. Thematically, the game feels quite a bit different than its predecessor. Taking place years after the events of the original, a virus has infected the denizens of Pacific City, and the resulting Freaks are wrecking havoc upon the populace. Much like zombies, the Freaks are out and about, and while they don't pose much of a threat individually, they can do a lot of damage in large numbers. Also, they cannot be out and about during the day, biding their time underground beneath the city until night. Dealing with them is one of the Agency's primary goals, and certain missions are harder or easier depending on what time of day it is. A nice side effect of these hordes of freaks is that they act as cannon fodder, so unlike other open-world games, Crackdown 2 glorifies the rampant chaos in running over baddies. It's much like Dead Rising, as there is always something to mash and destroy.
The Cell, a resistance group fed up with the Agency, is a lot less interesting this early on. They just pose a threat in that they have taken over certain control points that charge up a massive UV explosion that would kill a group of Freaks. The Cell has some interesting cars, but at this point, they were just dudes to deal with. I didn't care about them, as they didn't explode in green goo when I ran them over, thus they were not important.
And that's pretty much the plot this early in the game. The Cell had taken these control points, and after fulfilling my task of clearing out the Cell members guarding them, I was able to enter a Freak lair. After a quick moment in which I would defend a UV bomb from the enemy freaks, the bomb would go off, ending that mission. This mission structure is all I saw, and while there were plenty of racing missions and other diversions to try, I generally ignored them. As it was right now, missions were mostly getting to a point and doing some shooting, then getting to another point and doing more shooting. Not necessarily bad, but I'm hoping Ruffian has some more ideas in store.
Like the original, collecting Orbs was one of the most satisfying portions of the demo. Running around, leaping higher and running faster, exploring Pacific City is as satisfying as in Crackdown, and the addition of the Renegade Orbs -- orbs that require you to chase them down or grab them with a car -- as well as Live Multiplayer Orbs, which require a certain amount of multiple players, means that collecting Orbs is more diverse than ever. The additional emphasis on Orbs means fans who loved collecting them will find a whole lot more interesting ways to chase that dragon.
Another new element is the addition of a crap-ton of weapons and vehicles. Players now have to alternate between UV weapons (light-based guns that make short work of the Freaks) and traditional arms for the Cell. Couple this with many of the vehicles and upgrades, and your Agency character can become very powerful very quickly. None of the abilities were terribly new or different, but being able to glide down from a massive tower as opposed to falling to a horrible death is always a nice skill to earn.
Unfortunately, visually, the game feels a little behind the times. While the city is large (considering it is quite a bit like the original city), and thankfully Ruffian allows players to run around anywhere from the get-go, the somewhat bland and flat textures were disappointing. Mission locations were just points on a map, and there was little guidance on how to get to these places, which often resulted in players bunny-hopping up the side of a building or mountain to gain a back-door entrance. It was weird. Those expecting a revolutionary change from the original will be disappointed. However, the draw distances are great, and the game does certainly keep things moving. It's just a letdown that after other sandbox titles, in which the cities and worlds feel like living, breathing environments, Crackdown 2 comes across more like a sandbox per se, with a lot of boxy buildings to leap and jump off of, but not a literal place to embody.
Multiplayer shows some promise, although co-op was not without its share of concerns. When playing in co-op, one player is the host and receives all the plot progression; everyone else is merely along for the ride. This isn't too bad, as with more than one player, difficult elements can be more easily addressed, but communication became somewhat of a problem. The map is huge, and while it's really cool that four players can run around doing whatever the hell they want in real time, when it comes to missions, and setting things up, just working together became difficult. Asking your buddy to meet you by the gray building next to the highway is, well, largely ambiguous. If there was a teleportation option, or something to that effect, multiplayer co-op could be a lot of fun. Without that, you have to really know your map and communicate often. As it stands, this early hands-on with the co-op was a little frustrating, and mission goals usually resulted in the first person who got to a spot just doing it by themselves.
However, the competitive multiplayer was a lot more interesting. With up to 16 people all playing maxed-out versions of themselves, the versus modes are fairly frantic and chaotic, with players leaping from many-storied buildings, grabbing tanks and helicopters, gliding about with the Wing Suit, or leaping across the stage with the Jump Pads. Even more interesting was Rocket Tag, a mode in which one player has an Orb that counts down and gives them points. Every other player, on the other hand, has an unlimited supply of rockets to take the current Orb holder down. This was a fun mode, but it could easily just be a diversion from the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes.
At this point in my hands-on, I'm coming away a bit concerned. Crackdown 2 feels like Ruffian has taken all of the elements of the first game, and has just amplified everything -- both good and bad. While fans of the original will not have a problem with this (especially with Orbs to collect...lots and lots of Orbs), people coming to the franchise for the first time might initially be disappointed. It's hard to really tear this game apart at this stage, especially since Crackdown 2 could really shake things up later on. Until more complete game time can be had, new players to the franchise might want to keep a conservative eye on the title.