When I first learned that I was going to attend an event downtown to play Crackdown 2, I thought it would be the perfect time to pick up the original. Having purchased my Xbox 360 well into the current generation, I completely missed out on the first Crackdown game and all of its orb collecting glory. Picking it up years after hearing all the opinions and getting a good sense of what the game was about meant it was refreshing to actually enjoy the experience brand new. Since I only played single player, I thought my big question to the Billy Thomson, Creative Director of Ruffian Games (the developer of Crackdown 2), would be whether or not the game could hold up without all of the multiplayer and coop bells and whistles that were added.
From our discussion, Billy made sure to point out that he had been playing the game almost exclusively single player during his time with it. He maintained that the game was much more serious and objective based when you were sitting down with a set of headphones zoned in on your play. Coop was more for fun and having good times with your friends, but the challenge offered by the single player experience would be very different. I thought I’d give it a try – taking on the game at the mid-range difficulty and gauging how the game would pan out with just that.
What I found was a mixed bag of experiences. Crackdown 2 is at its core centered around progression of skills through various challenges. The more you do something, the better your character will become at performing that exact task. If you like running and jumping off tall buildings, leaping around like some super-powered parkour professional than you will find solace in collecting Agility Orbs scattered throughout the city, each one moving you closer to running and jumping faster and higher. If you would rather spend your time knocking around bad guys with your fists, pistols or grenades you will find each of those approaches have their own skillset that are enhanced by performing those tasks, allowing you to lift cars and throw them across city blocks or shoot a rocket that destroys a legion of enemy vehicles. The latest skill is useful for those willing to take hairpin turns, street race for glory and generally mow down lines of bad people in vehicles not suited for such activities. Increasing your driving skill unlocks better cars and allows better control of what you’re doing on the road.
The progression of these skills at the beginning is the driving force to the entire game. Sure there is a story – the population of Pacific City are being terrorized by an extremist faction by day and a zombie plague by night – but what you really want to do is cause chaos and collect orbs. Getting only a few kills or a few orbs at the beginning levels you up and give you a quick demonstration of what will happen should you continue to take the path of gathering experience. The missions will offer marginal benefits, such as reducing the amount of annoying bad guys that get in your way along specific orb-rich avenues and also providing drop points to grab vehicles and weaponry, but this constant moving forward in collecting and destroying is the meat of the experience. The problem with this is that the progression begins to slow down very fast.
Once you have hit level 4 or so on each of the skill levels the ability to reach the next level becomes exponentially more difficult. While I still have a penchant for the obsessive collection of Agility Orbs, as you move forward in the game I feel more restricted by some of the control limitations. Agility in the game is all about timing and gauging how far you can jump so that you can find the best route to the green glowing bits. It is also about picking the best way to scale large buildings – finding the right edges to grab on to and the right angle to leap off. This becomes a big issue later into the game when you are scaling large structures, jumping to a ledge only to find that it wasn’t a ledge at all. Sure, it looked like a ledge and it may have even talked like an edge, but it was for whatever reason made of teflon and you will slide down to the bottom of the building and possibly to your death. Sometimes this is true even for ledges you have just grabbed, where when you fall that same ledge that saved you is no longer able to be gripped and then you plummet to your death.
The same is true for the progression of many of the other skills. The strength skill – which is enhanced through the act of punching dudes and throwing heavy objects at dudes – is hindered significantly by the inability to lock on to an enemy and use a melee attack. Only weaponry can be used when you have locked on to an assailant, so the process of stopping that and then attacking the enemy is almost too much at points when you are surrounded. I tended to favour guns for that specific reason, and even using almost guns exclusively still did not warrant the full level of progression well into the main game.
When I reached the point that the level progression had slowed and I wanted to shift my attention the more structured objective-based component of the game. The unfortunate lack of depth therein settled in quickly. I had done a few missions on and off when they came my way, including collecting audio logs and stunt missions when I felt compelled, but the main story is composed of a few simple tasks. The first is eliminating a set of enemies on a platform and standing in a specific location while a machine powers up. Once this has been completed three times a dungeon-like mission opens where you must defend a critical object from a continuous onslaught of zombie-like enemies until the timer winds down. While it did become monotonous, it was compelling enough to continue all the way through the game. What I didn’t expect to happen was to hit a wall very near to the end of the story that stopped me dead.
I had gotten to a point where progressing my skills became a long and arduous task, so I assumed my ability to complete the game even at the higher-than-normal difficulty level I had set it to would be rather simple. However, the last two dungeons that I encountered had such a vastly increased difficulty level that the constant task of restarting and trying varying tasks became too much to continue.
My single player experience ended in frustration, and that is not somewhere I like to end off generally. I can see how the game would benefit from coop play, especially when a mission has you facing a wide berth of beasts attacking from all angles with pin-point accuracy and deadly power. I enjoyed my time playing alone for the most part, but it quickly came to a point that I felt I would have been more comfortable in the company of friends or at least toning down the difficulty. I did not feel the game offered a control system that was meant to offer me a significant challenge at a moderate difficulty level, and the joy of being a Super Cop becomes tasking when you are forced to restart the same mission multiple times.
Crackdown 2 was developed by Ruffian Games and published by Microsoft. Game was provided courtesy of Microsoft. Played on the Ruthless difficulty level for 11 hours.