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California Literary Review

Video Game Review: Crackdown 2

Video Games

Video Game Review: Crackdown 2

Crackdown 2 box art
Crackdown 2

Release Date: July 6th, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Four-Player Fascist Fun
ESRB: Mature

CLR [rating:1.5]

Crackdown 2

Surprisingly, the best way to obtain large quantities of both jam and muscles in Pacific City is to simply punch the ground.

In “Crackdown 2” you play as an Agent.
Like any Agent you have no personality to speak of, have at least one major addiction, and you’re totally replaceable.

Crackdown 2 is less an actual game, and more a dealer of a drug. As it’s in the guise of a game, you might think it will be a fun super-cop romp filled with exciting gun battles and ludicrous stunts. It contains some of these elements, but along the way, you’re going to do some orb collecting. Then you’ll do some more. And then even more. Eventually you’ll run out of orbs and hit rock bottom, wondering how it was that you ever got here.

Playing as a cloned super-human “Agent,” Crackdown 2 immediately introduces you to Pacific City, two-time winner of the “Most Generic Name Used for a City” contest. It’s quickly explained that the place is in a state of complete chaos after a mutating virus is released which causes the monsters from the recent I Am Legend adaptation to stop attacking Will Smith and start attacking everyone else. To make things even worse for “The Agency,” the citizens of this quaint berg apparently decided that they didn’t want to die. So they grab a bunch of guns and start fighting both these “Freaks” (yes this is the actual name of the monsters) and the Agency itself under the name of “The Cell.” Since you’re just laying about in the “freshly cloned” room , it becomes your job, and possibly the job of up to 3 of your online friends, to put a stop to all of this and restore Agency well . . . agency over Pacific City.

It becomes very difficult to care about much of this though, as you inhabit a totally emotionless shell who can only commit violence, and the Agency is painted as a fascist organization. This is mostly due to the game’s core (and practically only) personality being the “Voice of the Agency” who is filling almost all of the roles normally provided by an interesting cast of characters here. He’s a narrator, he’s an announcer, he gives advice or hurls insults, he breaks the fourth wall with every achievement unlocked, he’s probably your father, and he’s definitely annoying. Through his often sinister comments and the bits of story scattered in the game world (via the tired trope of the audio log) it becomes rather obvious that you, the player, are the true bad guy in the game, if only for never questioning his orders. This is really the only interesting note in the narrative, but how it is delivered ends up being excruciating enough to nullify any interest it might have garnered with the audience at home.

Crackdown 2

Are they Zombies or are they Vampires? The Answer: Yes!

In order to progress you will do two things, and two things alone: You will take back key locations from Cell, or you will set off “Beacons” underground to kill off the freaks in a series of ever-increasing-in-frustration-level bomb defense missions. You get to choose which of any of these tasks you want to do and in any order, but this is like an Army Barber asking you to pick from a dozen slightly different styles of a shaved head. There aren’t any boss fights, or a truly unique mission scenario (such as a chase or even stealth sequence) appearing in the game to mix it up even once!

The gunplay used during this bevy of boring battles has notable problems. The biggest is simply the large “dead zone” that is apparent when you try to rotate the targeting reticule quickly. When you get attacked by Cell militants from behind (which will happen every time you fight them) you can turn around nearly instantaneously, but there’s a lot of lag on the reticule before it catches up to speed. Even though the game has a lock-on system, you still have to center the camera on the proper target, lest it stick onto an errant explosive canister (of which there are many) or nearby car. This camera issue results in many a frustrating death from enemies that you can’t react to quickly enough and only becomes worse when they introduce foes that can lock up your Agent with a barrage of ragdoll inducing attacks. The worst part about all of this is that you can never change it!

That’s right folks; the developers at the primarily Scottish Ruffian Games have decided that the player gets no say in how sensitive they want the camera. The option isn’t even present. Why? Well it might be because neither the combat nor the driving (which the poor camera rotation also hampers) are what the game is really about. What it’s really about is collecting orbs and the jumping required to get to them.

Crackdown 2

Forget the freaks, the terrorists or even the other Agents all out to get you. You want to target these green bastards.

After so many years down the line it seems that jumping would have been perfected in videogames by now. But in Crackdown 2, you have one of the strangest, poorly executed jumps I’ve yet to see. Despite the ever growing size of your Agent, who goes from big to just barely fitting into tanks, the jumping is rather slow to rise and never conveys a proper sense of weight when he falls. It’s also heavily oriented towards purely vertical leaps; when you attempt to make horizontal jumps, it just ends up feeling as if the force of gravity is turned down for a bit rather than actually bounding with strength. When running on the ground the character has little friction, and the sense of momentum is conveyed poorly at best. These are things that were perfected in the original Mario Bros!

Even though it’s a flawed jump, you’re still highly encouraged to spend most of your time hopping around the city like a kangaroo due to enemy placement and the fact that the only way to improve your movement skills is to jump into ever taller and harder to get to locations in order to grab “Agility Orbs.” Considering the sheer heights of the game’s later locations, you do need to improve these skills in order to finish, so getting after those orbs become a huge priority. It’s this collecting element of the game that’s refined to a razor’s edge and is by far the most engrossing activity in Orb Hunt Jungle-Gym: The Movie: The Game, er, I mean Crackdown 2.

Each orb slowly builds up your ability to get more orbs, in a bright green explosion of happy little sound effects, and one of the game’s sole innovations is the ability for one type of orb to run away. These “Renegade” orbs further add credence to the narcotic nature of this activity, as it mostly resembles the parody game Heroin Hero originally seen in South Park. As with any drug, in the end it becomes very difficult to discern if you’re actually having fun doing any of this.

It also quickly becomes apparent through several odd or simply pointless decisions such as the aforementioned lack of a camera sensitivity option that the designers either don’t fully understand what they’re doing, or they’re purposefully making the rest of the game less fun so you stay addicted to the orbs. Why is it every time you start up the game, the option to change the face of your Agent appears, but it’s inconsequential since after your very first armor upgrade (obtained easily within the first twenty minutes) you never see the Agent’s face again? Why can’t you set a waypoint, a feature in nearly all free-roam games? Why do you have the ability emit a burst of sonar on your mini-map that shows you where all of the orbs are, which defeats the purpose of the “Hidden” orb sub-type, but won’t show where the audio logs are? This makes the audio logs harder to find than the hidden orbs!

Then there’s the game’s music. After playing the game for the first few hours it became apparent that it felt rather dead aurally. This wasn’t due to the sound effects or the voice-over work; both elements that are handled well. No it’s because there is almost no music in the game. I was then surprised to see that as the credits rolled, a huge list of licensed music scroll on by. So why won’t you ever hear the apparently dozens of songs in the game?

Well it’s because the only way to listen to them is to drive around the city in Cell vehicles, but all of the best vehicles for any actual task are the Agency cars. You will never want to drive the Cell vehicles as a result. So why did Ruffian Games pay probably a rather large sum of money for licensed songs that no one will listen to? Or why not allow for the Agency cars to listen to the music? What were they thinking? Were they getting high off their own supply of orbs, or just focusing on multi-player?

Crackdown 2

On the plus side with the music, I’ve discovered putting on the recent Iron Man 2 AC/DC release in my custom soundtrack mixes with this game in an eerie Dark Side of the Rainbow way.

Yes, there is cooperative online play and it does redeem the game a bit. With up to four players in the game world, it has every feature found in the single player running smoothly, which if nothing else is an impressive technical feat. Unfortunately nothing else is added in co-op other than a new type of orb. There are no team-up moves like you might find in Splinter Cell, nor the life saving importance found in Gears of War, none of the diverse abilities to allow for unique strategies as in Borderlands. This is a co-op without purpose when compared to many other titles that off similar features, and doesn’t foster teamwork or camaraderie at all. This is Crackdown 2‘s best non-orb feature, and like its other best feature, the Avatar Awards, it’s a rather shallow one.

This fundamentally is the problem with the game. It has no soul, no purpose other than to infect with compulsion. It seems often as if it’s going out of its way to say nothing new, to stay safe with tried and true concepts and old ideas. It presents the base activities and psychological reinforcements of an opiate with barely the fun of a trashy game. It presents a banal mediocrity that is alarmingly easy to get used to and just go along with for hours on end. It might have its thrills, but unless you want to get hooked to such a pointless endeavor, do what they taught in D.A.R.E. and just say no to Crackdown 2.

As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the "California Literary Review," who still haven't decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional "Missile Command" high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to "follow" him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas @TheCromulentMan

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