Review: Crackdown 2 – Freak Breach Boogaloo

When the original Crackdown dropped in 2007, many people took it at face value, not bothering to acknowledge what an achievement it was. Realtime Worlds were pioneers. Crackdown was one of the first open world experiences that could be shared with a co-op buddy online, and while it was flawed to say the least, the sheer insanity with a fellow agent and never ending hunt for orbs was a lure that I found almost impossible to resist… even now. With the sequel handed off to Ruffian, the question on everyone’s lips is, is it more of the same, or a genuine evolution?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that simple. There are so many aspects that I loved, some that brought back fond memories of Crackdown, but so many others that shirked and annoyed me. This is a really difficult review to write, but at the end of the day, the answer is simple. If you know what Crackdown is all about, and dig the repetitive nature of the gameplay, you will enjoy yourself, though I highly recommend you play with at least one other person (as I played the entire campaign with Nachos Justice in co-op), for the single player experience is lacking, and that’s being generous. Lemme break it down for you.

Set in Pacific City, you play a cloned super agent for a mysterious police force imaginatively known as The Agency. As you use each of your abilities to jump, lay the smack down, detonate explosives, shoot firearms and burn rubber, your skills increase… or to put it simply, the more you do something, the better you get at it. The entire sandbox has been recreated almost pixel for pixel from the original Crackdown, and those that know the prequel well, will feel a jarring sense of deja-vu as you traipse across its breadth. The city has seen better days, with the once shiny and picturesque locale, now a dilapidated, broken husk of its former glory.

Gone are the three colourful gangs that populated the previous incarnation, replaced with a resistance movement that questions The Agency’s motives, known as Cell. These revolutionaries have various strongholds located throughout the city (27 in total) and its up to you to seize these areas and get them under Agency control… and this is just a side mission, and a repetitive one at that. Each zone requires you to activate a marker and wipe out all resistance, thus claiming the tactical hot-spot, giving you a new weapon/vehicle spawn point, and making your navigation of each island a little less stressful.

While Crackdown let you “uncover” these bases, working your way through the minions of each gang, before you cut the head off the snake, in Crackdown 2, they are all laid out for you, with little or no exposition to keep the plot (and I use that term loosely) motoring along. It simply became a matter of triggering each conflict, wiping them out, and rinse, lather and repeat all over again. I found Cell to have absolutely no personality at all, and though the Volk, Shai-Gen and Los Muertos from the first Crackdown won’t be winning any awards for depth and development, they were all entertaining enough for their ethnic diversity and gave you a distinct visual reference as to whose territory you were traversing. Crackdown 2 has none of this, and I found myself at times wondering what differentiation there was between each island, if any.

That said, the Crackdown franchise has never been known for its expansive plot-lines. It’s all about grabbing them orbs, leveling up your abilities and putting them to the most outlandish uses possible. Whether it’s chasing down agility orbs to max out your jump, or beating the crap out of anything to get a powerful hand to hand finisher, there’s a powerful uncontrollable urge to just get one more orb… just one more. The exhilaration from leaping 40 feet and landing on the ground with a Matrix styled superman punch decimating anything below you (or turning them into a smudge on the cracked pavement) is my preferred method of crowd control. I’ve done it thousands of times, and it really doesn’t get old, though I must grudgingly admit that the leveling up felt more a matter of fact, than an actual achievement as it did in Crackdown. You power up awfully quickly, and with a few exceptions, you can pretty much own the entire game without breaking a sweat, which was a huge disappointment.

New abilities like glide and the revamped renegade orbs, which you must give merry chase to capture, feel tacked on and really have no purpose or extended use in the game, and help reinforce and remind that Ruffian only had eight months to develop and package Crackdown 2…and it shows. There are times where I longed for the cel-shaded look of the original, as well as the bad-ass morphing features of your character as they develop, such as facial tattoos or radical hair designs. It gave each agent such a distinct look from your co-op partner. Here, you get a mask. Whoop-dee-doo. While this amused Nachos Justice, as he commented on the Crysis 2 nature of his agent, I let out a sigh, longing for a bit of personality to be injected into the game.

All of these tasks, destroying resistance cells, orb hunting, making enemies go splat, are but entrees, appetisers if you will. The meat and potatoes of Crackdown 2 is the new mutated enemy, the Freaks. These bad boys only come out at night, as they have an allergic reaction to UV radiation and sunlight, giving them an acute case of death. Remember that time? When monsters were still sensitive to sunlight… fuck you Twilight! Ahem. Moving on. There are breaches throughout Pacific City and as soon as the sun sets, they come out to play, en masse! Pacific City is littered with them, and there’s no better fun than grabbing a car and conducting your own “Clean up the Streets” initiative. Power-sliding is particularly effective, but I digress…

To combat this mutated menace, you’ll need to gain control of various “Absorption Units” and when you connect three, you’ll be lead to a Freak Breach, with The Agency generously dropping off a UV dispensing beacon (nine to knock out in total) that needs to be activated. Then it’s up to you to protect it while it charges to unleash a pulse wave evaporating any Freak in the vicinity. As you get closer to the last breaches, Crackdown 2 ups the ante with some truly enormous mutants, and it was at these times that a co-op partner was, dare I say it, necessary.

In fact, most of the latter Cell tactical zones and Freak Breaches need at least a second player. With the Freaks, it’s just sheer numbers that overwhelm you, but with Cell, their AI gets them to spam grenades and rockets with outrageous accuracy, no matter where you are, so one takedown usually leads to a domino effect of explosions as you try to get to your feet. Crackdown also suffered from the same lazy AI, but it’s more rampant here.

With exception of the final mission, there’s very little deviation from Ruffian’s set formula, and I keep thinking of Crackdown 2 as LittleBigPlanet, where the actual gameplay is just a warm up to what shenanigans users can get up to and create for themselves. The biggest threat you’ll ever have are your buddies online, as all ground pounds and explosions (which, when maxed out are so over the top that even Michael Bay is going “Dude! How about a little restraint?”) damage both friend and foe, but then again… some of us consider that just icing on the cake.

If you’re sitting there thinking, “ko-zee-ii, you is one bi-polar mofo in this review” you may have a point. Each time I wanted to smash an aspect of Crackdown 2, I’d remember jumping to the top of a building only to witness Nachos taking out some poor sap with a shot-putted boulder to the face, or I’d land an epic ground pound turning 20-30 freaks into street salsa, and inadvertently (on purpose) launched an unsuspecting Nachos into the stratosphere, and that’s the crux of Crackdown 2. Sure it’s bland, and generic, and feels more like an expansion pack than a true sequel, and all those comments may sway you from buying it for a solo campaign, but even as we’d knocked over the final stages, all that rings through my head was Nachos final comment… “I can’t wait to try this shit with four people”

On your own, it’s passable, barely, with a mate it’s fucking hilarious, with four? A god damned riot. It evolves into more than the sum of its parts, becoming a never ending game of one upmanship as each gamer shouts “hey, check this shit out!”, and then the rest of you try to out do them.

How could that ever be an entirely bad thing?

5/10 for the single player campaign, add another point or two if you’re down for co-op

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Dave Kozicki

Shotgun Samurai
Video game reviewer, presenter and enthusiast. Film and TV-aholic. Pop culture geek. T-shirt and sneaker addict. All around nice guy and one hell of a sexy beast. Writer for Official PlayStation Magazine AU, AusGamers and Hyper Magazine.