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[Review] Crackdown 2

Posted under Reviews by Kevin Roberson on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 -

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I’m not sure what I expected out of Crackdown 2. When I first saw the television ad, my immediate reaction was “are they serious?” Who would air an ad showing your game slowing down to 15 frames per second and explosions amid terrible lighting effects? But they were serious; dead serious. And Crackdown 2 certainly lives down to the hype.

And to think, all this could be easily avoided if the Agent would admit his flaws and use an elevator once in a while.

Crackdown 2 is a sandbox game in theory. A sandbox game generally refers to a game with an open environment to be explored and interacted with. Usually there are side quests which may or may not be relevant or helpful to the plot. Crackdown 2 throws all the required features in to merit the name “sandbox” without capturing the intent behind the word. Simply put, it entirely forgot what made Sandboxes fun: the sand.

So there’s a city. It was lifted from the last game block for block.  In this city there are three things: zombies, gangsters and civilians. The entirety of their programming is summed up as follows. Zombies: attack everything until reduced to paste by bullets/fists/motor vehicles. Gangsters: shoot player character until reduced to paste by bullets/fists/motor vehicles.  Civilians: walk in directions at random until reduced to paste by bullets/fists/motor vehicles. And here is what the player character can do with them. Zombies: set up a satellite grid by going to three triangulation points, then attack their base and defend a capture point for a certain amount of time. Gangsters: attack their base and defend a capture point for a certain amount of time. Civilians: race them. Also you can reduce all of them to paste using guns, your fists and motor vehicles. And that’s it, that’s literally all there is to do in this game. Here is the entire list of characters: tutorial guy who talks in your ear, lady who is the leader of the gangsters, and you, a nameless cloned Agent. This is sort of like filling a sandbox with large rocks to save time. Sure sand and rocks are molecularly indistinct, but one is fun and the other is painful.

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There isn’t a plot; it would be literally impossible to give spoilers. There are zombies and you need to get rid of them by going to their nine bases and killing their dudes. The bases, by the way, are not well designed tunnels or hideouts, they’re just one platform you stand on and murder things until you’re done. There is also an unrelated terrorist organization called Cell. At one point I thought the game was actually going to have a plot or character development when the terrorist leader tried to talk to me and convince me I was working for the wrong people. Too bad the writing is atrocious: “they don’t care about helping people, they just want power.” Any Anarchist would say that about any government, yet here I am helping people by getting rid of zombies and murderers: your argument is invalid. Perhaps that tiny shadow of a plot was the result of the one time someone at the design meetings perked up and said “I have an idea,” because it is certainly the only spark of original thought to be found anywhere in Crackdown 2.

The character, or lack thereof, that you play is a genetically engineered super agent, because that particular idea hasn’t been run into the ground yet or anything. As you gain skills by murdering people and collecting skillup orbs you’ll become able to run at 25 mph and jump several stories high. You’d think this would make the map easily traversable, but the game has some serious issues determining what it classifies as a ledge. While I climbed up window sills my character suddenly decided they aren’t a valid surface and slid down a skyscraper and eventually caught himself on the painted trim on the bottom of a sign. Yes, paint, roughly an eight of a millimeter thick, is a more valid ledge than dozens of protruding window sills. This makes finding a valid surface to climb frustrating and unintuitive at best. And to think, all this could be easily avoided if the Agent would admit his flaws and use an elevator once in a while. Too bad none of the buildings have interiors.

The shooting mechanics aren’t very interesting, though once you have the aiming system down the bigger gun battles can be pretty fun. You lock on to your enemy and nudge the right stick to target specific body parts. Based on their distance you then have to wait for the reticule to acquire a new lock and then fire. At close range this doesn’t take very long and you can engage dozens of foes without confusion or hesitation. So at least something works as intended, and since gun battles are most of the game it does relieve the game of being totally without merit.

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As you progress, the Cell get better weapons that change the terms of engagement. Though it’s a little frustrating when you’re nailed into the ground by several dozen rockets at a time in an unending stream, it does make for a decent difficulty curve. The problem is, to progress the plot, or lack thereof, you have to fight the zombies. The zombies had the word “curve” in mind when they start upping the difficulty. But rather than making the fights interesting, they just throw in a fast moving zombie that puts your character into a ragdoll state on contact. This isn’t even really an attack, you just sort of slip and fall unconscious for several seconds, there’s no countermeasure or warning animation, they just sort of zoom around and unplug your controller.

The graphics are as messy as they look in the trailer. The explosions are half rendered in 2D, the polygon count is abnormally low and somehow the framerate still manages to slow down a lot. I’ve seen better productions on the Wii lately.

What it does it does alright, but there isn’t very much of it and it looks like garbage. During the end credits the makers of the game all smile at you in a series of photographs. I’m not sure what allowing you to see the face of your tormentor is meant to accomplish. I like to think those photographs represent the entirety of the smiles this game has or will ever generate.

Wounded 2/5

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