It wasn't a surprise when Crackdown sold well. It came with exclusive access to the Halo 3 beta and, because of this, the game's success was guaranteed. In fact, many people bought Realtime Worlds' open-world shooter without actually intending to ever play it. What was surprising, however, is that it was actually a good deal of fun. It had some fantastic cooperative multiplayer action and thrilling gameplay. It wasn't phenomenal by any means, but it was a strong title, and one entirely deserving of a sequel. It seemed as if this wasn't in the cards, though, as Realtime Worlds went on to begin development on All Points Bulletin after finishing the original. In order to keep the franchise alive, Microsoft tasked newly formed developer Ruffian Games with creating a sequel. Now, coincidentally within a week from the launch of A.P.B., Crackdown 2 has been released for the Xbox 360, looking to show that the series can stand without Halo holding it up.
Ruffian takes the series on a slightly different path than Realtime Worlds did. Players once again step into the shoes of an Agent in Pacific City, though the world has changed much since the original game ended. Mutant "Freaks" have taken over the streets, and a terrorist group called The Cell is battling both the Agency and the Mutants, hoping to take the city for their own. At the start of the game, the player is awakened by the Agency and sent onto the streets of Pacific City to help reclaim the lost ground. This means taking over Cell Strongholds, beating back Freaks, and, most importantly, defeating the Cell who have stunted the progress of Project Sunburst.
Project Sunburst is a plan that involves weaponizing the sun's rays against the mutants, who are weak to any UV light. To complete this, the player must first reclaim generators located around the city, most of which are atop tall buildings and guarded by Cell. After a few are charged, a new mission is opened up, which allows the player to call in beacon into a mutant stronghold that must be protected from attacks while it charges. These are the "story" missions. There are all almost completely identical. There are nine of them, and then the game is over.
When compared to the original game, which had an open mission structure that allowed players to take out gang leaders in different ways in order to weaken their grip over the city, the new style is utterly archaic. Other missions, like Cell Stronghold takeovers, are even more simplistic, and there's no sense of progression beyond the occasional inclusion of more difficult foes. Because the game employs a leveling system that allows players to freely and independently upgrade their Agility, Firearms, Driving, Explosives, and Strength, the missions never take advantage of these skills, and most of the game's missions could likely be completed with the skill set from the beginning of the game.
The only real reason to level up Agility is to make it easier to reach more Agility Orbs, which, you guessed it, simply reward the player with more points in Agility. These floating green orbs were a high point in the original game, mostly because they gave the player access to areas he wouldn't have been able to reach, which often helped for doing missions. Now, they don't help for anything beyond getting more green orbs. Ruffian even added Renegade Orbs that will run from the player, and Driving Orbs that will do the same, and can only be caught with vehicles. They're only scarcely a part of the game, working parallel to the mechanics of Crackdown 2, whereas the original game actually incorporated them. For some, the compulsion to collect everything might be enough, but for others, the heavy-handedness will come across as sloppy.
On that same note, there are a number of issues with the core mechanics of the game that end up getting in the way of the gameplay on several occasions. The controls are laid out poorly, and there's no way to simply zoom in with weapons. Instead, the only options are firing from the hip, which is usually inaccurate, or locking on to enemies. This alone wouldn't be much of an issue, but the lock on cannot be switched or aimed all that well. Once locked, the only options are to either attempt to aim at the legs or head, or to let go of the trigger and try again. It's nearly impossible to accurately hit a specific enemy, and the game will often, for no reason at all, target a nearby object in the environment instead of an enemy. Climbing, too, simply isn't up to snuff, and there are often times where it looks like the Agent should be able to grab on to a ledge that he, for some reason, can not.
The only saving grace is the cooperative multiplayer, which allows up to four players to join together to complete the game's campaign. It's much more fun with friends, and obviously built around the co-op experience, but the missions are so uninteresting and repetitive that even playing with friends can't help it too much. Competitive multiplayer options are also available, but fail to impress, even amidst the otherwise unimpressive gameplay. Crackdown 2 thinks it knows you. It assumes you're going to become addicted to collecting green orbs simply because it wants you to. It thinks you'll smile like an idiot every time the Agency jokes about earning an achievement. Meanwhile, if it actually knew fans of the original Crackdown, it would know that it's a leap backwards, and a drastically worse game than Realtime Worlds' surprising gem.