Xbox 360 Review

Crackdown 2

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The first 481 agility orbs are the easiest. Once again, 500 of the buoyant green collectibles have been scattered around the freshly ruined Pacific City; getting the last 19 is still an absolute pain in the backside. It's classic Crackdown, basically. Until you get access to the helicopters and realise pressing up on the d-pad locates nearby orbs on the mini-map, that is, and then it all becomes quite easy.

Three years later, the calming hum and delightfully enticing greenness of those agility orbs has become the most iconic feature of the original Crackdown. Ruffian has flung their orb obsession outwards instead of upwards: sneaky hidden orbs return, along with evasive renegade orbs (they run away from you) and also co-op orbs which require you to have at least one online partner to collect. That's 925 shiny orbs scattered around the city. Most of us will probably never get them all, but everyone who plays Crackdown 2 will try.

As one of the new genetically engineered super Agents, who all feature homogenised body armour (but with colour options!) and absolutely no visual variance after you get a helmet fifteen minutes into the game, your prerogative is still to clean up the city's streets by any means necessary. This loosely equates to you spending most of your time fannying about trying to scale the Ferris wheel on the beach. It's conclusive proof that, if you really were able to jump 25 feet into the air and lift a lorry above your head, you'd spend most of your time mucking about.

Opting for the ain't broke approach, there are still six levels of your five attributes; Agility, Firearms, Strength, Explosives and Driving. Using each skill levels them up further, so while your superhuman strength gives you the power to punch someone ten feet at the start of the game, doing it enough will ultimately send them flying a yard. It's like going to a restaurant and ordering a piece of cheesecake, only to have a waiter deliver a whole cheesecake as reward for finishing slice. The game is backed up by the return of the splendid Agency announcer, who once again reminds you that it's "skills for kills" with his quintessential detached enthusiasm.

There are some additions. Max out your Strength and you're given the ability to ground pound, which turns anything you land on into a fine spray while creating a visually pleasing ripple of shockwaves, and grinding up your Agility gives you the wingsuit so you glide across Pacific City like a wombat. These perks are a nice bonus for your hard work - the wingsuit alone is enough to spend a few hours mucking about with - though it would have been nice to see similar unlocks for the other three skills.

Set a decade after the original, Crackdown 2 feels undeniably familiar; though it still starts with an entirely unnecessary and unskippable tutorial sequence (RT shoots? Thanks for that, Ruffian) and a detailed introduction to the new Pacific City. The delivery at this point is a bit po-faced, and it would be far more indicative of the game if you saw people harpooning enemies to their cars before getting splattered by an SUV in the middle of a barrel roll.

Ten years has seen the kind of devastation even a prolonged credit crisis and a wonky coalition government could never hope to achieve, including the rise of a subterranean gang of nocturnal mutants, affectionately dubbed Freaks, and the rebellious rapscallions who make up terrorist faction The Cell. The city has crumbled, the confidence of the people has shattered and everyone's favourite totalitarian Agency is struggling to assert its authority. The increased hostility from these newer, angrier foes is almost enough to make you wish for the comparative gentility of your former Los Muertos, Volk and Shai Gen gang foes.

There are other times you'll probably find yourself longing for the old days, too. Crackdown was a fairly Spartan open-world canvas to begin with, but Ruffian has pared away some of the original's features to create the loosest open-world environment to date. In some respects it works a treat, allowing you to revel in the kind of zany accidental hijinks that so characterised many people's most memorable experience of the original, but sometimes you're left scratching your head and wondering where the structure has gone.

Poor mission variety was a frequent criticism of the original, and Ruffian has simply switched out the former's single objective, where you killed a certain character to progress, with the new single objective of having to kill all enemies to progress. You want to close down some freak breaches? Shoot everything that comes out. Take over a tactical insertion? Wipe out all Cell in the area. Detonate a beacon? Blow away the freaks until it explodes.

It seems odd that Ruffian wouldn't have opted to mix things up a bit. How about, say, turning the missions where you fight the Cell into the kind of target assassination thing we saw in the original? It would have spiced things up a bit, at least. Instead you'll find yourself fifteen hours in and a little reluctant to go on because the mission structure feels like little more than going through unremarkable and excessively repetitive motions.

There's also a bit of a problem with the variety of enemies flung in your direction. While the Cell roam during the sunlight hours and the Freaks come out at night, at the end of the day it simply doesn't matter if it's dribbling acid or sporting a hoodie and some nice chunky knits: fling a rocket in its general direction and its going to die.

In order to compensate the potency of your arsenal, Ruffian sometimes breaks the game's central component - a superhuman power fantasy - by throwing in plenty of cheap enemy combinations. Nice and pleasant early Cell opponents, armed with SMG's and shotguns, are quickly replaced with hordes of tougher foes that relentlessly pelt you with machine gun turrets and homing rockets. It can be a bit annoying to see your ultra-long health bar reduced to nothing the second you enter a hostile area, and requiring you to duck out and cower behind the nearest spot of cover. There's no death penalty, but it still feels cheap.

It's always easier in co-op, of course, and while the game supports 4 players over Xbox Live it shoots itself in the foot by denying mission progression to anyone except the host. It means you're more likely to play together after you've finished the main missions, hunting for orbs and trying to score some of the game's many co-op Achievements. It's not an ideal implementation, but it ultimately provides many of Crackdown 2's finest moments: the bits when, after a few seconds of quiet in any location, one of your friends will inevitably blast another with the UV shotgun and laugh as their body dramatically cartwheels through the air and eventually lands half a mile away in the ocean.

Then there are Achievements. Few games embraced Gamerscore in the same way as the 2007 original, and Ruffian is doing its best to carry the torch now that many developers are on par. Some of the highlights this time round include points for driving an SUV into a helicopter, playing a game of keepy-uppy with a car and killing an enemy in a turret-equipped vehicle whilst upside down. Simply irresistible. In an odd attempt to break down the fourth wall, the Agency announcer is always quick to congratulate you on each Achievement you unlock.

Still, it feels like there's something's missing, and that's because Ruffian has opted to produce the safest of safe sequels. It's the exact same city, for a start, and if I was to take off my glasses and squint I could probably fool myself into thinking I was playing the original. But its problems run deeper than just the environment: it often feels like exactly the same game, albeit with dilapidated buildings and a greater reliance on orange and blue hues.

Crackdown 2 is a clear sideways step that makes very little attempt to address any of the original's low points, and some of the most baffling moments come when you realise the game would be better off if Ruffian hadn't mercilessly removed some of the original's best bits. I like how a helicopter drops off an Agency vehicle when you spawn, for instance, but why have they removed the fantastic car transformation sequences?

But there's the moment when you look out across the city and survey what you've accomplished: Cell and Freak opposition has been dramatically thinned, rooftops have been jumped, orbs have been hoovered up and you've even tried the odd wingsuit race. Only in that precise moment, when you've spent 26 hours playing the game without realising it, do you realise the game's power to compel you to do, well, not a whole lot when you stop and think about it. Crackdown 2 is still a blast to play, but Ruffian definitely needs to shape up if they want to take the series forward.

E3 Trailer