I really went back and forth on this game, and had a lot of trouble deciding whether this game deserved three or four stars. As I thought about it more, I felt that even though I had a lot of fun playing it, this is just not a four star game. Allow me to elaborate...
A common joke is that the first game in this series would have completely tanked if the Halo 3 beta code had not been shipped out in this game (and maybe they are right). I just thought the game looked like a lot of fun, so I bought it, Halo 3 aside. The original was not heavy on plot, and, like this second game, a lot of the "missions" feel grinding and repetitive. However, the first game made that grind a lot easier to bear in a number of small ways, all of which have been completely left out of this incarnation. I'm getting a little tired of developers 'fixing' sequels until they're broken.
So let's talk about the plot, although this will be a short topic. Crackdown 2 has even less plot than the first one, which is hard to do. Now, my entire review won't just be a comparison of the second to the first, but I think for people who didn't play the first game, it is necessary to make a comparison to the first games' plot. So...in the first Crackdown, your goal is to fully eliminate three gangs that have taken over Pacific City. Reclaim it, area by area, one step at a time. You start with rank and file gangsters, and work your way up the gang hierarchy until you finally are able to go after the gang leader in their stronghold. There were personal dossiers on all the important players within that gang, how this effected that, how it would improve your chances of success if you took out every single one of the under-bosses before going after the heavy hitters.
Incidentally, this tiny feature was something I REALLY liked in the original. For those who didn't play it, every time you went after an important gang member, your "Chances of Success" would be displayed. So if you were going after an under-boss and you had already taken out the four lieutenants working under him, your odds of success would be displayed accordingly, a much higher percentage than if you had only taken out one -- or none! So occasionally if you accidentally stumbled into the stronghold of a more senior leader and you saw "Chance of Success: 12.2%," I can't speak for anyone else, but I personally thought 'Sweet, this should be a real challenge then!' Of course if I kept dying, I would just give it up for a while. It was a tiny thing, but it added a bit of tension that is needed when you're playing a character with superhuman abilities.
Now as I stated before, this second game has even less plot than the barely plot of the first one. But let's face it, Crackdown is not really meant to be a story-based game. The fun comes from being able to leap fifty feet from one rooftop to the next, pick up a streetlight pole and bash your enemies, chain together explosions to cause some massive destruction, kick enemies off of rooftops, shoot out a tire on a fast moving car and watch as it slides -- and then flips over...it's an action game, completely. And like a good action movie, there doesn't have to be a whole lot of plot or character development to have fun. And so it is the case of this game. So why do I give a non-story-based game three stars if I am not taking the story into account? Let me explain...
The story is that ten years have passed since the events of the first game, the original agency tower was bombed, a virus leaked out of one of the three gangs' labs, and infected parts of the population (cue 'Freaks'). To go along with this, a new gang has essentially taken over the city. Your objective, your one objective (seriously, in the game there is only one objective [with numerous sub-objectives leading up to it]) is to rid the city of the Freak infestation. You do this by powering up energy sources in groups of three that shoot some sort of magical beams of blue light, and where the three points meet, then underneath that is a Freak lair, where you have to go and defend a beacon that is dropped via helicopter until it powers up, at which point it eliminates all the Freaks in the area. You defend the area by murdering every Freak that attacks the beacon as it is charging. Couldn't the helicopter just let the beacon power up first, and THEN drop it down into the lair? I mean then there would be no need to show a beam of light shooting up out of the beacon to meet the points of light above it...Apparently the beams of light know to shoot straight down to power the beacon remotely...or something. I don't understand...but I don't think the writers and developers really did either. So whatever just go with it. Yeah just don't ask them any specific questions though, ok.
There are no plot twists, no secrets are revealed, you just do this. You activate 27 energy things, and detonate 9 beacons across the entire city. Along with that, you can also reclaim 25 (?) tactical locations from the gang inhabiting the city (basically they become strongholds or safe havens after you reclaim them where you can switch your weapon, grenade, and vehicle load-out). Talk about a drag. The same thing 25 times. As soon as you start the battles, about thirty enemies immediately spawn all around you, some of which have grenade or homing rocket launchers. You better run or jump out of there and take cover fast, because otherwise you're going to get pounded and will not be able to return fire. It's a bit of overkill, but I suppose they couldn't make it too easy or it would just be boring. Either way it does end up getting boring. But I guess it could have been worse, there could have been like a hundred of these tactical locations though. ALTHOUGH, then there are Freak Breaches, places where your beacons have damaged the ground and Freaks are pouring out. Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't the beacons sole purpose to eradicate the Freak presence in that area? So please tell me how Freaks are going to pouring out of the ground at or very near a beacon epicenter. Honestly, do they think we're stupid? Basically it is the exact same thing as taking back the tactical locations. Kill a lot of them until no more come out. Boooooooooring. And that is the whole game. I don't say that's basically the whole game, it is the entire game, plot-wise. Obviously there are still things like rooftop races and road races, and agility orbs to collect. But that is the extent of the plot. Also, the beacon detonations are the only thing driving the plot. The Tactical locations and the Breaches are secondary objectives, and are not necessary at all to complete the story, which is extremely short. What lengthens the game is the desire to upgrade your character's abilities, and this, like the first game, is the real fun.
The ending of the game is another gripe. So...the game ends, I won't spoil anything. And it leaves it open for...downloadable content? Or a third installment ($$$). But the way they did it is dumb. Basically they end the game where you cannot continue playing after you complete the game. You can just go back and reload your last save game after you beat it. But far from making me look forward to a Crackdown 3, I really feel like it's just a cop-out. Plot is a rare commodity in these games, so why not continue the story? God knows it could have use a change of direction...but whatever, we'll see where the downloadable content takes us, if anywhere.
I have read a number of reviews already about Crackdown 2 having lame graphics...but I don't really understand this. The graphics look nearly identical to the original, which is intentional. I would have been upset if the game started to try to take itself seriously and NOT have used cell shading. The game has its own style, and it's one of the reasons I like this franchise overall, because it is original in that way. I know I might be in the minority here, but honestly, can't people stop whining about graphics? Those games you loved to play ten years ago? Horrible graphics, compared to where they are today. Honestly people need to get over having things look nice. Avatar looks amazing too, but I hated it because everything in it was so one-dimensional. So basically what I'm saying is that a game should be judged by what is under the hood, with one caveat: Obviously there are games that boast amazing visuals, or where it would actually be expected of the game, and where this is the case, it can be judged likewise. But Crackdown 2? If what you're looking for is epic visuals or gritty textures, then I'm afraid you have missed the point entirely about what Crackdown 2 is aiming for.
I had a very love/hate relationship with the gameplay in Crackdown 2. It seems like they made it more complex and accomplished even less than the original. I have read numerous other reviews detailing how awful the targeting system is in this game...but for the most part, it's a relatively small annoyance (But don't get me wrong, there are parts when it will really frustrate you. When I went to lock on to one of the ten enemies all firing around me, why did I lock on to an agency (Those are your allies) cruiser way off in the distance? To add on to that, when you are battling a horde of 'Freaks,' (Zombie-like enemies that try to overwhelm you with sheer numbers), I think it would have been better, when you go to lock on to one of them specifically when there are fifty all rushing you, to have it lock on to the one that is the most dangerous to you. I don't know, it makes sense to me. Kinda pointless otherwise.
I had a few issues with clipping and with seeing some npc's start to descend a flight of stairs and then fall straight through them (though I had no problems with that myself, so I don't really hold that against the game, it's just worth mentioning). I did, however, have some problems with on-again off-again grappling when I would try to jump to a ledge. In certain locations (few, but still irritating), I would jump to a ledge, hang there, then try jumping to another ledge, and if I missed, I would try to catch the ledge I had jumped from, but my character would not grab it. Then when I would try to jump to it again, he wouldn't grab it. When I came back at other times though, it was fine...so...I don't know, doesn't make sense to me.
>>The Silver Lining:<<
I should talk now about what the game does right, or, to rephrase, what the developers didn't change from the original. The agility orbs. There are 500 once again, and once again, they are fun to track down. Crackdown 2 also has implemented a twist on this, called Renegade Orbs. There orbs will streak away from you, dive, rise, turn sharply -- as you try to catch them. At first I thought it was irritating, but there is a sense of accomplishment when you do mange to catch one as it slows down to change direction. It just requires some patience and a little luck. They do the same thing with the driving skill. There are Renegade driving orbs as well. 30 of each kind.
The weapons are pretty cool, though one frustration they didn't eliminate (go figure) from the first game is that you will have to equip and carry any new found weapons back to a tactical location so that you can use it in the future. It would be nice if you just unlocked them as you leveled up the weapons skill. But whatever, minor gripe. And it just occurred to me that they also did away with pistols in the game altogether, though obviously since I am just now noticing this (after playing through the entire game without noticing it), it isn't anything you will really miss. The weapons are essentially the same as the first game, but with different names. I would have liked to see an introduction of melee weapons though. Since you can pick up environment objects and swing them, it would have been cool to be offered a sword or a baseball bat or something actually designed to be used as a melee weapon (as opposed to picking up a car and smashing it repeatedly into enemies' faces!). Some vehicles also have weapons on them now. The Agency Buggy has a gatling gun, as do some Cell (gang) cars, as well as a rocket launcher variety. The Agency supercar also still has the 'Scoop' ability (You can drive under other vehicles and it scoops them out of your way without interrupting your driving).
My final advice is not to expect too much. I think a number of people did, and then were let down. This game should be played for fun. The over-the-top-everything in this game has to be the ends in itself, and not the means to the end of the story, because there isn't much of one. I still think that this game is extremely fun and addicting, even taken with all of the flaws it has. This game can provide you with hours of fun if you don't try to force it to be any more than it is.