|Crackdown 2 | For The Xbox 360 | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Ruffian Games | Published by Microsoft Game Studios|
It's the curse of the sequel. Crackdown 2
isn't a radical departure from its predecessor. But it feels like a letdown. The original Crackdown
— which would have been released to little fanfare in the winter of 2007 if it hadn't included a code for a Halo 3
beta test — was a revelation. It was a power trip in the best sense, with your character becoming exponentially stronger through his every action. Before the game was over, he'd be hurling cars at foes, pegging headshots from miles away, and, yes, leaping tall buildings in a single bound.
All those elements are still present in Crackdown 2. Once again, you step into the genetically enhanced shoes of a crime-fighting superhero taking on the dregs of Pacific City. You start powerful and end up godlike, all through a sensible feedback loop. Shooting enemies will eventually turn your agent into a crack shot. Winning road races and mowing down bad guys will make him a better driver. And grabbing green Agility Orbs off rooftops will cause him to run faster and jump higher.
It's here that Crackdown's dominant genes still pump through the sequel's DNA. Hunting for the orbs is a blast. As your agent powers up, he soars ever more gracefully from rooftop to rooftop. Like the original, Crackdown 2 evokes a sensation of joy in movement unmatched by any game this side of Super Mario Bros.
But the cracks start to show, too. The process of climbing buildings needs to be a little more fluid. There are times when your agent will bounce away from a clear handhold, and inertia will prevent him from doing anything but plummeting. The designers have stuck all sorts of inexplicable obstacles in the way of your ascent. These seem to be there as challenges, or as incentives to level up elsewhere and try again, but for a game that's all about freedom of movement, such arbitrary barriers are a killer.
The heavy hands of the developers extend to the rest of Crackdown 2. Ideas that must have sounded good on paper are dubious in practice. Take the "Renegade Orbs," which can vastly increase your stats — at least, they would if they didn't run away from you. Something about chasing a dancing globe of light, and failing to catch up with it, feels dainty. All the while, the narrator implores you, "Catch it!" Playing Crackdown is supposed to evoke feelings of omnipotence, not sheepishness.
Speaking of the narrator: he never shuts up! Like a sit-com sidekick, he repeats the same stock phrases over and over. The entire fiction of the game gets repetitive fast. Nobody expected Crackdown 2 to have a good story. (It disregards entirely the plot twist at the end of the first game, in which your agent was revealed to be engaging in a coup d'état.) But the threadbare narrative — something about mutants — results in a stultifying mission structure that feels worn out before you've accomplished the first objective. Your job is to capture and hold certain strategic points against armies of attackers. True of most games, perhaps, but Crackdown 2 doesn't even shoot for mission variety. See one, you've seen them all.
It's telling that the core gameplay concept is strong enough to make portions of Crackdown 2 worthwhile. But it's also clear that the ingenuity and execution that made the first game a cult success aren't something that can be bottled. We don't even get Halo beta codes this time around.