Released: 9th July 2010
Format: Xbox 360
Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Having bypassed Realtime Worlds' original game released in 2007, I came to Crackdown 2 knowing little of what to expect. Not that I hadn't heard great things of the prequel, with a number of nods toward its “orbs” and devilishly difficult achievements. The direct sequel, now developed by Ruffian Games, follows the super-human officer working for the Agency (simply referred to as “Agent”) who looks to put a stop to the mutants that that have escaped the research facility from the original.
Granted a 30 minute demo with the game, it becomes immediately apparent what the team strive for, in a flash bang of explosive, fast, frenetic action with the beautiful cel-shaded metropolis of the open world sandbox Pacific City glistening in high def, fantastically realised, superbly composed and rendered. Considering a quick press of 'Start' unveils the map of the foreboding city, and you'll begin to admire the enormous play area that will be available to rip through in the main game, although here only a portion of which is playable. The cel-shaded feel only subverting your gaze away from similar open-world clones, and yes, it is indeed, beautiful.
But suppress premature applauds, since the combat system is where the game can truly be tested. And thus, it's where the game is perhaps least adequate. The over-the-shoulder third person perspective mitigated and underwhelming when 'firing from the hip', although the targeting system (a click of 'LT') does little to alleviate any problems since such lock mechanics are extremely rigid and far from dynamic. Specific targets can not be targeted, instead you'll be hoping that the system correctly guesses your plan of attack in a frustrating display of combative nuance. It'll certainly take a good deal of your hands-on if you're to get to grips with the mechanics behind such a system, although thankfully meleeing your way through the AI hordes is satisfying and deadly- going some way to alleviating such problems. It's a testament to its kinetic design that this is the case, since you'll most probably wade through the wave of enemies so quickly that such frustrations fail to hinder the impressive weight of the rest of the experience.
The variety in the arsenal of weaponry is certainly pleasing, with the usual shotgun, assault rifles and SMG's all complimented with the more powerful additions of the grenade launcher, rocket launcher and projectiles- cluster grenades and the like. All of which will be unlocked upon further progression in the game, and available to you from calling in weapon and vehicle drops (from a roll-caged buggy to a hefty steel truck) from Agency controlled areas. The demo, in fact, speeds up the rate of upgrades sufficiently in proportion to the limited 30 minutes with the hands-on that there is a smooth sense of progression felt in the half hour. The game's design is in fact so devoted to the feeling of ever-evolving suit abilities and the like, with the help of the collection of the number of orbs (ability, vehicle, strength etc.) scattered over the city, that soon you'll be adding verticality to your level of play, jumping from rooftops and over Pacific City's sprawling urban jungle instead of driving in any of the vehicles on the roads, as an increased skill-set is given- increasing running speeds, or the height of jumps, for example.
Of course, with sandbox gaming comes a level of freedom. Whether you choose to take up the Agency's missions, here in “restoring Agency dominance” or “establishing power networks” with the eradication of Crackdown's aptly named “freaks”, or choose to quench your unabashed desire for sheer mayhem in choosing to deviate from any required actions. The addition of its side missions are satisfactory and fulfilling in addition to the weight of the main game, whether in checkpoint races through the streets in vehicles, or 'free-running on steroids' in the free-running missions, leaping from checkpoint to checkpoint over rooftops. Audio logs can also be picked in order to flesh out the back-story in regards to the foundations of the city, and handily play over the top of game play.
The demo that is now available on Xbox Live is exceptional in delivering key aspects of Crackdown 2's design. It's engaging, exciting and not amiss to the odd splashing of claret. Also featuring up to four player co-op and the ability to unlock achievements within the demo, it'll get no doubt get you revved up for the full package. It's taken me by surprise, certainly that I'm now actively awaiting its July 9th release.