Like many gamers, I was pleasantly surprised with the additional game that came with my purchase of the Halo 3 beta back in 2007. As far as open world, third-persons shooters go, Crackdown was pretty fun, offering an interesting art style and addictive collection elements that kept me playing for hours. The game did have its shortcomings, namely the lack of a story and repetitive mission objectives, but surely all of those would be addressed in the eventual sequel, right?
Well, guess what. They weren't.
Crackdown 2 is very similar to the original. And when I say very similar, I mean nearly identical. The fact that the first Crackdown came with the beta to one of the most anticipated console games of all time, however, seemed to help people overlook some of the game's flaws. But this time, there is no shiny beta invite attached to the $70 price tag, which puts every single imperfection and shortcoming of the game under the microscope... and there sure are a lot of them.
The game once again takes place in Pacific City, although several years have passed since the original. For some reason, zombies (affectionately referred to as "Freaks") have overrun the city, and the Agency is tasked with wiping them out using "Project Sunburst", which is a large bomb composed of sunlight. However, a terrorist group known as Cell stole all of the absorption units used to gather the sunlight and detonate the bombs. As a super-powered police agent, it is your job to reactive the absorption units throughout the city, and detonate the beacons to kill off the Freaks.
Literally, that is all you do. There are nine beacons throughout the city, each with three absorption units to power it. You simply turn on the generators, defend the bomb from a wave of freaks for a minute or two, and repeat. That's the entire game. There are side missions as well, such as clearing out Cell strongholds or taking part in races, but they are just as boring as the main objectives.
There are audio logs to collect around the city that help give some background information on the Freaks, but not enough of them to string together a coherent narrative. Most of the time, you're just wandering around from beacon to beacon with no real urgency or motive, and it just makes you wonder, "Why am I playing this game again?"
Now, I'm not against playing games with little or no story... as long as the gameplay is good enough to back it up. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a good, recent example of this kind of game. But the gameplay in Crackdown 2 is not even CLOSE to being strong enough to carry the entire game. The combat is horrible, using a lock-on mechanic that takes care of aiming for you... as long as you can get it to lock on the target you want. There is no way to cycle through targets while locked on, forcing you to continually press the L trigger in hopes of locking in on the target you want. The melee combat is clumsy and awkward, and can't be used with the lock-on targeting system for whatever dumb reason. The AI is also incredibly stupid, and the awful physics cause your character to fall like a ragdoll at the most inopportune times.
All of the alluring orbs make a return in the sequel, and are easily the best part of the game. It's still fun and addictive trying to collect every orb throughout the city, but if you've already gathered them all in the original, it's not nearly as appealing the second time around. Partly, because Pacific City looks pretty much the same as it did in the original. There were numerous times where I had a wave of deja vu wash over me as I jumped from recognizable building to recognizable building. And exploration plays a much lesser role in the sequel. There are insertion points scattered throughout the city, and you can simply warp to whichever one you want at any given time. Exploring Pacific City in the first Crackdown was pretty fun, and this system seems completely counter-intuitive, especially for a sandbox styled game.
Like in the first game, you power up your character in various categories, such as explosives and driving. The system is the exact same as in the original, and works well enough. The agility attribute is the most fun to increase, as it eventually allows you to jump dozens of feet in the air. Jumping around like a superhero is still fun, but climbing buildings is a serious pain. It's difficult to tell which ledges can and can't be grabbed on to, and sometimes your character just won't behave how you want him to. It doesn't help that no matter where you happen to be climbing, people are always around to shoot at you.
Graphically, Crackdown 2 fails to impress. The same cel-shaded style is used, however the game is darker overall, which results in a lot of dull, drab settings. Environments are bland looking, and explosions (which there are a lot of) look downright ugly. The Freaks, which are the most prominent enemies in the game, animate badly and look even worse. The audio isn't anything special. The announcer is well voiced, however he never shuts up, repeats far too often, and is poorly written.
The game has a competitive multiplayer, but it feels tacked on, and is made mind-numbingly easy thanks to the auto-aim. The 4-player co-op is an obvious improvement, as nearly any game can be improved by playing with some friends. But other than being able to play with three other people, Crackdown 2 fails to offer anything of note over its predecessor. If you really have the urge to play a game like this, go buy the original Crackdown. It'd be much cheaper.
You've already beaten the first one, you say? Well guess what - you've pretty much already beaten this one too.