PAX East 10: Hands-on with Crackdown 2 multiplayer

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“That game that comes with the Halo 3 beta” is getting a sequel, and like just about every game made to appease young adult males, it’s got online competitive multiplayer. As we’ve learned this generation, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Just as gamers quickly began to expect that every game have online multiplayer, they have also come to expect that a lot of the time, the multiplayer modes will feel forced and tacked on. Bionic Commando‘s multiplayer demo infamously helped that game to bomb at retail, and BioShock 2‘s multiplayer mode was pre-hated by fans of the first game long before they even played it.

Where does “rocket tag,” one of Crackdown 2‘s multiplayer modes, stand in this current climate of mandatory-but-maybe-crappy online multiplayer madness? Hit the jump to find out.

For the record, I didn’t play much of the first Crackdown. The concept was great, but in practice, playing a game where you have the strength and jumping ability of The Incredible Hulk and the arsenal of The Punisher was oddly un-engaging. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by that. I have a track record of enjoying games where you’re vastly underpowered, and in Crackdown, you’re basically playing GTA in God Mode. That’s about as far from underpowered as it gets.

Still, I felt like Crackdown had the potential to be engaging, if only the game featured more challenging opponents. Enter Crackdown 2, a game that gives you the same overpowered, ass-kicking power of the first game, but now pits you against other players with the exact same powers. It’s a formula that is destined for greatness, right?

Well, so far, not so good.

I had three major problems with Crackdown 2‘s multiplayer mode. First, I could not for the life of me auto-correct the camera. I pressed everything on the controller, including both analog sticks and the control pad, and I could not get the camera to snap to a position behind my back. I had to manually move the camera around with the left analog stick for everything, which is a major setback in a game where enemies may be surrounding you from all angles.

Maybe I was doing it wrong. I can’t be sure, because in general, the game’s controls were pretty inconsistent. I had no problem with the basics: running, shooting, jumping, melee attacks, and tossing grenades all worked just as they should. When it came to locking on to enemies and performing mid-air maneuvers like skydiving and ground-pounding, things went a lot less well. Again, maybe I was doing it wrong, but if so, it may have more to do with over-sensitive controls than my incompetence. I was told to press “Y” in mid-air to perform the switch from a regular jump to a skydiver’s posture, but when my attempt failed, I was then told “don’t press Y, hit Y,” as if that meant something different.

The worst of the control issues came from the game’s lock-on system. The left trigger activated lock-on to whatever enemy is closest to you, and from there, any shot you fire is a near-guaranteed hit. That’s great if you’re the guy who’s doing the shooting, but if you’re the one getting shot, with no method of defense whatsoever, it’s about as fun as getting hit with the blue shell in Mario Kart.

I asked if there was a way to break the lock-on once you’ve been targeted — if performing one of the game’s super-jumps or some other move would break the targeting. I was told that there wasn’t any way to get the lock-on off your back — that a player could jump away, but that the bullets could still follow you. “That’s fine,” I thought, “as long as we’re all getting blue-shelled, it’s all fair.” Thing is, that’s not how the game played out. There were more than a few times when I went from being locked on to an enemy, to locked off, to dead, all in a matter of a few seconds. My enemies didn’t jump away, or do something else to potentially cause my targeting to fail; it just did.

I asked Adam Dork, who was playing the game against a different team, if he knew what this was all about. He told me that he heard that to lock-on, you either have to not touch the left stick or the right stick, or else the lock-on would fail. As weird as that would be, I didn’t find that to be the case. There was no consistent cause for the lock-on to fail, at least, none that I could find in my ten minutes with the game.

Unresponsive and unpredictable controls aside, it was still a lot of fun to bound about the game’s relatively small arena. There is an undeniable thrill to jumping fifty feet into the air onto overhead structures, catching an enemy in your peripheral vision, and jumping down on him with an Earth-shattering ground-pound, only to take to the air again to avoid multiple rocket-shots and grenade-blasts. Still, for all the super-powered delights here, there are forced design decisions that limit the amount of depth and strategy available to the player. To compensate for the fact that any player can leap tall buildings in a single bound, over-sized walls are strewn about the entire arena, making it hard to see where you’re going and where your enemies are. This leads to a near-constant need to stay airborne. Most of the time, I and the people I played against were jumping around, only stopping occasionally to grab a power-up and pop off a few shots. If the ability to jump at full height needed to be recharged, and/or if there were some other super-powers like super-speed or flight to keep things interesting, the game would have felt a lot less like a one-note tune.

As it stands, I’m not particularly excited to get back into Crackdown 2‘s multiplayer. It was fun, just like jumping up and down on your parents’ bed was fun when you were a little kid, but it’s not going to change your life. Topher Cantler made it a point to warn me not to judge the full game by my experience with multiplayer. To paraphrase the man, “Crackdown 2‘s multiplayer is like a mini-game, like something out of Mario Party. You can’t judge the real game from this little add-on.”

I hope he’s right. More so, I hope the game’s developers don’t use the multiplayer mode to demo the game on the Xbox Live Marketplace. I think it would turn a lot of people off to what may turn out to be an excellent single-player and co-op experience.


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Jonathan Holmes
Destructoid Contributor - Jonathan Holmes has been a media star since the Road Rules days, and spends his time covering oddities and indies for Destructoid, with over a decade of industry experience "Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Just like in a Gameboy game... a nice tight little world... and all its inhabitants... made out of little building blocks... Why can't these little pixels be the building blocks for love..? For loss... for understanding"- James Kochalka, Reinventing Everything part 1 "I wonder if James Kolchalka has played Mother 3 yet?" Jonathan Holmes